As Brits we are a nation of dog lovers, we are renowned for it. This has only increased throughout lockdown, I am sure that there are stats on this, but just from the numbers of people walking puppies that we see out daily these days, my guess is that a lot of people have become dog owners who weren’t previously. There are many reasons for this, companionship being one, but also, I am a great believer in the healing power of animals and the benefits that they bring to our mental health, I have good reason to. My lifestyle precludes me from owning a dog, but 8 years ago, when I was felled by M.E, a friend got herself a puppy, Miss Maisie and she would drop her off at my house on all the days when I was well enough, it definitely helped get me through.
Despite me spending much of the interim back in India, she has never forgotten me and every time I have been back in the UK, I have walked her every day, Miss Maisie that is, not my friend. Each afternoon, she would sit in the window, waiting for my car to come around the top of the hill, at which point, she would go berserk with excitement. Every time, without fail. Never grumpy or reproachful and always happy to see me no matter how long I had been away, incessantly jumping up, whining, nibbling my hand and not leaving my side for a moment.
Taking her out for a walk was sheer joy. Little can compare with taking an unfailingly happy dog out for a walk, it is guaranteed to brighten your mood. No matter the weather, she would, when given permission, bound out of the car and find the first muddy puddle or place to swim, tail wagging so furiously as to be a mere blur on any photos I tried to take. She would periodically check to see that I wasn’t too far away, and then would carry on in a doggy heaven of mud and smells and other dogs to meet, or to ignore. To be fair, other than Jack Russells, which she had a bizarre fetish for, she was never too bothered by other dogs, but people, she loved people. She would happily go up to total strangers, and, knowing how cute she was, would sit on their feet and gaze up at them adoringly, lapping up any attention that they would give her, fickle to the last. Toddlers were more of a worry, her head was at toddler height, I lost count of amount of mini drunken people who got an unexpected slobber around their chops, or ice creams stolen.
Dogs trust us, rely on us and love us regardless of any of our faults. Shout at them in a perimenopausal moment, and they don’t sulk or answer back. We are forgiven any misdemeanour in a matter of moments. Forget to feed them on time, and you will at most get gentle nudges as reminders, perhaps a reproachful stare, and it will have been forgotten as soon as their bellies have been filled. They will sit patiently as you hammer back the wine with friends on a Saturday night, oblivious to shrieks and shouts. They will lay at your feet as you cry into the sofa after another failed attempt at a relationship, oblivious to the snivelling and snot building up all over your sleeves. They never once reproach you and conversely, they are also the reason that make you get up and get out and forget your own woes, they always need walking after all. Miss Maisie came into my life when I had M.E, was there when mum died and got me through depression when, for the second time, I’d lost everything when I was ripped off by two trusted colleagues. Nipping down for a Maisie hug or to use her an an excuse to go for a walk was my way through.
‘But it’s only a dog,’ is a refrain one hears from non-doggy people, but they will never understand this unconditional love and companionship that having a dog in the family brings, and that is what they are, a part of the family. A part of the family and yet placed in a unique position, because if you think about it, we let our dogs get away with so much that we would never accept in a partner or kids for that matter. Dogs, each with their own distinct personalities have so many shocking behaviours that we smile at indulgently, or perhaps groan at, or may become impatient with but only ever on a very temporary basis.
Why is this? Why is it that we forgive them so easily, when the same traits would be grounds for divorce in the human world? Well, of course, no matter how many human traits we credit them with, or how much a part of the family they are, we do, deep down know, that they are animals. I mean just how tolerant would we be if our partners:
- Had shocking table manners
- Bit the postman
- Ate the post
- Gate crashed picnics in the park, at speed
- Stole ice-creams from toddlers
- Wiped their beards on your jeans every time they’ve had a drink
- Sniffed their friend’s bottoms
- Rolled in fox poo and gleefully ran off when you tried to stop them.
- Stunk the car out.
- Demanded to go out at 0300, only to get to the door and look at you as though you are mad and then head back to bed and then snore.
- Waited until you were settled and comfortable with a hot cup of tea in your hand and then jumped onto your knee.
- Followed you to the toilet.
- Cried outside the toilet door.
- Jumped up and down and acting like they haven’t seen you for a week when you’ve been to the toilet.
- Wagged their tails every time they farted.
- Had bad breath, bad, bad, evil dog breath.
- Drooled every time they watched you eat.
- Revelled in getting wet and muddy.
- Dashed into the house after each muddy walk, forgetting to wipe their feet.
- Rubbed themselves, when wet and muddy, along the sides of your crisp, clean bed sheets.
Just imagine! Or perhaps they do. Perhaps you are more tolerant than me.
Miss Maisie was guilty of 90 % of the above. She was forgiven with ease.