‘I need a hypo-allergenic one’ people say, shamelessly. As if dogs were jeans – skinny one year, boot cut the next. Like the now ubiquitous gluten-free products, there are oodles of Oodles being produced and sold on that their USP, being hypo-allergenic. Am not saying that some people don’t need to go gluten-free or to go oodle, it’s just that it’s all become a bit much, hasn’t it?
When I was growing up, we were one of the few families in my area that had a dog. At nine years old, Tess – a tiny ball of monochrome fluff – was all mine, the fruits of a six year nagging campaign. At five weeks old she was of course far too young to be away from her working sheepdog mum but already sadly, irrevocably was, so we whisked her away to warmth, a ticking clock, coddling. She’d survived the culling of her siblings by hiding in the hay, the method of their death so classic it was a cliché: drowning. A stout corgy/collie cross, the sole survivor of an unplanned pregnancy, I was devoted to her – we roamed the woods every day after school and did gymkhanas in our back garden. She was ill disciplined – yapped to go out then yapped to come back in – but never any real trouble. She slept on my bed and survived on a diet of Pedigree Chum, Maltesers, and Chinese takeaways. She wasn’t ill a day in her life and passed away peacefully on my parents’ bed, looking out at the enormous Magnolia tree which we humans all adored. We hadn’t realised that she too appreciated its resplendent white blooms that turned sticky and slimy when they fell but that were so well worth it. Never underestimate a dog.
So I was ever, always a committed dog lover. I always will be. And it’s strange to hear myself saying this, but I think there are too many dogs in the parks. That perhaps – just perhaps – the concentration of dogs in our society is too high. I don’t have a job, I don’t have children, and despite fastidious devotion to the task and a budget running more into the thousands than the hundreds I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t managed to train our second (lunatic) dog, who we’ve had for three years. I can’t fathom how people with jobs and children manage it. Granted they probably don’t have a Jackson, but still.
I recently had two worrying conversations. One – a sensible, affable lady who basically liked animals had got annoyed at a dog (a cockerpoo) sniffing at her barbecue on the beach, its humans sniggering and giggling and doing bugger all to call him away. She’d been worried he was going to knock the fire over, and irritated that he might lick her sausages. Two – a friend of a friend who was going to get a dog even though she was quite open about actively disliking them. Her husband, an almost obsessive clean freak, didn’t especially like them either. But the kids wanted one, so they would be getting one – a hypoallergenic, bred puppy, of course. Made to order, reassuringly expensive. This highly intelligent, otherwise (presumably) socially intelligent person had no shame rabbiting on about all this to me – a self-confessed, vocal, vehement dog lover. She could so easily have been talking about an ipad or a coffee table.
When I was young, kids who expressed an interest in or even a burning desire to pet own usually got fish, hamsters, some sort of rodent – a cat if they were lucky. People just didn’t buy dogs for kids. To be fair they didn’t buy lots of other s*** for them either. There were far fewer dogs in the parks, people were less precious about behaviour, society in general was not so much of a pressure cooker. When an altercation did happen, it didn’t escalate into a full-on hoo-hah. I recently had a disagreement with an idiot whose 3 nasty dwarf bulldogs had packed on mine, one of them getting a ripped ear in the process. He subsequently threatened and stalked me. I – not one to give in to a bully – had to get a police intervention. Crazy days, really.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of my friends successfully have dogs as a not especially thought through addition to their human families. The dogs and children are happy (the more playmates and chaos the better), the parents are happy. And Thomas, the joyful miniature schnauzer, will be in situ to avert the otherwise impending empty nest crisis. But let’s look at the parks. Where there used to be the odd few dogs there are now dozens of them, many with dog walkers. Anyone who knows anything knows that if you put too many dogs who are not in established packs together it can turn ugly. Incidentally, dog walkers are not necessarily these days people who understand or even particularly like dogs, so when you put your precious fur baby (how I hate that expression!) with one, make sure it’s one you have personally vetted – and shrewdly. Preferably, I’d say, spy on them – but perhaps I’m being overly neurotic.
A dog is for life, not just for Christmas. Indeed, we’re all finally clear on that. A dog is also not for every Miles, Tybalt and Hugo whose parents decides a dog might look good on their Instagram feed, or who can’t seem to entertain the notion that dear little Tybalt can actually be said no to. And I do wish people would stop thinking that spending a lot on a dog will guarantee it grows up into a romping, adorable Timmy from the Famous Five. Some things just can’t – and maybe shouldn’t – be bought.