Lockdown puppy love
Harry Wallop caved into the pressure of getting a Lockdown Puppy and discovers you can teach an old dog new tricks.
I always vowed that we would never get a pet. Despite my four children badgering me for nearly a decade, I stood firm. I argued that pets took up too much space, created a mess, caused allergic reactions - my wife sneezes by merely watching All Creatures Great and Small - and were far too much of a responsibility. Were my children really going to walk a dog, in the pouring rain, before going to school?
But, in truth, it wasn't the animals I didn't like. It was their owners. Their indifference as their rare-breed Persian starts destroying your new pair of shoes., their mawkish insistence on buying their pooch advent calendars, their smug bonhomie as their Doberman slobbers over you - as if somehow you should be lucky that their dog has chosen you as a mat for their muddy paws.
But then Covid happened. And, yes, we got ourselves a Lockdown Puppy, along with, it would seem, most of the Western World.
It's hard to pin down exactly how many extra dogs and cats have been purchased over the last year but the Kennel Club in the UK the last year has seen a 180 percent increase in enquiries from potential dog owners while the RSPCA animal charity has seen a 600 percent increase in visits to its puppy fostering pages. Pets at Home, the UK's biggest chain of pet equipment shops, said it had experienced a 47 percent increase in membership of their VIP puppy and kitten Clubs, a pretty good indication of actual new owners.
In my case, the children's pestering grew interminable. It had been low level for many years, surfacing occasionally when we went around to someone else's house with a pup, but as soon as I mentioned picking up dog poo or worming tablets their enthusiasm waned.
But the strange year we've all just experienced suddenly turned their simmering interest into a raging desire for a dog. The final blow was my daughter's PowerPoint presentation laying out the reasons why a dog would improve our lives. Just when you despair at all the fiendish fronted adverbials and grapheme-phoneme correspondences they shove down children's throats before they are barely out of reception, you discover primary schools actually teach something useful. When the final slide showed how a Cockapoo - a hugely popular cross-breed of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle - was hypoallergenic and therefore wouldn't cause endless sneezing. I finally caved in.
My wife, initially the most reluctant, embraced the project with the zeal of a convert. She started swiping on Pets4Homes - a sort of Tinder for Tiddles - with all the children egging her on. "Not that one!", swipe, "Aw, so cute!", "But she costs £4,000!", swipe, "We must have her! Please!"
And then the dog arrived. She has completely changed our lives in ways that I could not possibly imagine. It really is like having a new baby - not the sleepless nights (blissfully, we were spared those) - but in the way in which she dominates all our plans. Journets to far flung woods are undertaken just so she can have a good run around in a new bit of scenery. Instead of a babysitter, we now need to book a dog sitter. A family trip to anywhere that isn't the local park now necessitates us asking, "but will they take dogs?" It's exhausting.
But not quite as exhausting as trying to persuade the children to do some of the dog-care. Sure, they will play with her and give her treats for spinning around. But will they get up early to let her out for a pee? Will they take her for a walk in the rain? Will they even take her for a walk in the sunshine, followed by the promise of an ice cream? No, no and "maybe, but only if I get a flake."
I'm not sure how to resolve this, but mumbling "the dog was your idea" doesn't seem to cut it. Maybe it doesn't matter. They love her with a heart more open and solicitous than I thought possible. When the puppy was ill, they fretted anxiously as if their best friend was on life-support. When she managed to (eventually) to jump over a log, they cheered her and hugged her as if she'd cured cancer.
In the meantime, I've taken to trudging around the park in the rain, believing strangers should be grateful that my badly behaved puppt has ruined their clean trousers. In normal times, this would mark me out as an insufferable citizen. But as everyone in the park also has a puppy, I can just about get away with it. I hope.