Thinking of getting a special someone a dog this Christmas? MICHELLE MURPHY lifts the lid on what it’s really like living with man’s best friend
“SO,” my colleague enquires “any plans for the evening?” The young woman in question is meeting her boyfriend after work, they’re going to grab a bite to eat and then see what’s on in the cinema.
“Nothing much,” I say — “sure, by the time I get home and get himself sorted and grab something to eat…” I trail off — not bothering to bore my co-worker with the mundane details.
As I watch her skip down the street, not a care in the world, I can’t help but feel a pang of envy. The days of spontaneously hot- footing it, well, anywhere really, are but a distant memory for me. The occasional weekend away has to be planned well in advance. Anything more than a couple of hours out on the town finds me looking anxiously at my watch, feeling a mixture of guilt at being out at all and anticipation at the warm reception I’ll get when I get home.
But I’m not rushing home to a baby or small child — I’m heading home to my dog, Toto.
Growing up in the country, I was used to having dogs and cats round me from a young age. Over the years my siblings and I had various furry friends. Pip, a Terrier-Pomeranian cross that was often mistaken by visitors to the house for a pet fox, was my dog and very fond of him I was. Alas, Master Pip eventually had to go to live with a family in the city.You’ll be relieved to know that this wasn’t a country dweller’s equivalent of that unfortunate euphemism — in this case, he really did go to live with a family in the city, who had an enclosed back garden, as farmers had begun to complain that he was chasing their livestock. (I heard soon after that he was apparently digging the back garden of his new home to pieces, in a nod to The Shawshank Redemption, no doubt!)
After that incident, we decided cats were perhaps a more suitable pet for our country lifestyle and while I don’t want to get into the whole ‘are-you-a-dog-or-a-cat-person’ thing, I will admit that when I eventually bought my own house a couple of years ago, never once did it occur to me to get a feline friend.
My mother, in particular, cautioned against the idea of my getting a dog, pointing out that “you get very attached to them and then they die”. I replied that the same could be said about husbands and that she’d love me to get one of those…
Still, I reckoned that there might be some truth in what people were telling me so I decided to start small. First off, I began dog walking once a week at my local animal shelter, Munster Lost And Found. This very quickly progressed to weekend dog fostering, which in many ways was the best of both worlds. I had all the ‘fun’ bits of owning a dog whilst happy in the knowledge that I would be handing him or her back on Sunday evening.
I remember my first ever weekend foster dog, a Lurcher called Lucky. We spent countless Sundays on Inchydonney beach, walking for miles. I also remember the unexpected phone call I received one Monday morning, from Lindsay Kelly, general wonder woman and co-founder of Munster Lost And Found. They had potentially found a new home for Lucky, she explained, but she wanted me to have first refusal.
At that point, I didn’t even possess a dog kennel, let alone an enclosed garden — Lucky, living up to his name, used to spend his weekends indoors snuggled up on the sofa in front of a fire. With a heavy heart, I told Lindsay to go ahead with the arrangements, knowing it was in the best interests of the dog.
You’d think then that this heart- wrenching experience would have put a stop to my doggy gallop. But no, undeterred, I simply went out and arranged for a dog run to be built in my spacious back garden and told Lindsey to sign me up for any long term dog fostering opportunities.
One afternoon, I got the phone call from Lindsay that was to change my life. And if you think I’m talking some schmaltzy, Hollywood-type scenario, well, I’ll stop you right there. Undoubtedly Toto, my West Highland Terrier, has enriched my life in so many ways and there is no way I would ever be without him now. However, having somebody entirely dependent on you is a big responsibility — you have to constantly take him/her into consideration.
Now, no doubt there are people with small children reading this thinking that I should try looking after a toddler for an afternoon — to which I say, point well and truly taken. But imagine a new mother phoning up her friend and suggesting she pop over for a cuppa with her little darling in tow, only to be told: “I don’t want that child in my house p****ng all over my new carpet!”
Or imagine calling over unexpectedly, being invited inside and then asked to tie your child up outside in the back garden because your friend is ‘not really a toddler person’. Unfortunately, if you’re going to become a dog owner you’re going to have to accept that not everybody likes dogs and that’s their right.
Also, if you harbour any fantasies about how your pooch might act as some kind of romantic intermediary between you and Mr Right, well, you can get that idea out of your head right now. This isn’t Sleepless in Seattle, this is Cork city and if Harry met Sally and she was walking her dog, she’d most likely have a big, steaming bag of dog poop swinging from her hand because there are barely enough rubbish bins around the place, let alone ones designed specifically for dog litter — hardly a recipe for romance!
Then there’s the little things like meeting friends for lunch or going to the pub. If you’re determined to include your fur baby in your day-to-day life then this obviously includes weekends.
Know that unless you are a beer garden kinda gal or are happy to eat outside with the smokers, it will be nigh impossible to bring your dog with you. If you’re a bit of a social butterfly then maybe you really would be better suited to owning a cat.
Personally speaking, there’s no way I would have considered getting a dog during my 20s, which were spent travelling, partying, renting and studying. Dogs are social creatures, they need company and routine — it’s no surprise that in recent years cases of depression in dogs are on the rise with puppies being left home alone for hours on end, whilst their owners go out to work.
So before you rush out and buy a dog this Christmas, think long and hard about whether you have enough time, money and energy to give a dog the life it deserves.