Any idiot can buy a puppy but the grown-up thing to do is rescue a dog
If you own one dog, there will come a time when you gaze at your silt-smeared house with its chewed skirting boards and decorative piles of gnawed squeak-squeak toys and you’ll think: “We should get a second dog.” Your wonky reckoning will tell you, “Our first dog needs a friend.”
Exactly like if you have one baby and everyone insinuates that it will grow into a boggle-eyed loner unless you hatch it a sibling, the solo-dog owner becomes suspicious that owning one dog – in my case, my labrador Betty – is really just dog abuse. And at that point your eyes will linger on doggy-shelter websites, and descriptions like “Lovely boy” and “Difficult start”, and “Looking for her forever home” will keep you awake at 3am.
I didn’t intend to become a two-dog household, but now on my dog walks I view those stalwart, welly-wearing old birds flanked by half a dozen yapping rescue mongrels with a proud sense of destiny. I love these women. They walk their dogs off-lead fearlessly on a Saturday, greeting snivelling joggers with an acrid hundred-yard stare that says, “Oh, pull yourself together. It’s a bloody 11-month-old Spaniel-cross, not airborne Ebola.”
Women like this are not overly concerned that of the six dogs they set off with, two of the more ratty-looking terriers went Awol near rabbit-holes 900 metres back. “Binky? Rhubaaaaarb?” they might shout, sans urgency, picking up a vizsla turd, bagging it, and then shoving it into a zipped section of a fleece. Beyoncé spoke recently of being the sort of strong, practical Texas bama woman who carries hot sauce in her handbag. I’m the sort who has a fossilised poo in hers.
We solo-dog owners are so constantly worried – so apologetic to dogophobes and fusspots. I knew I was on the two-dog turn when a journalist friend wrote a furious column recently about bloody people with two or three dogs, who completely ruin her outdoors British Military Fitness classes in the park because she can’t do star jumps – or whatever they do – without an excitable labradoodle sniffing her arse. It took me all my energy not to send a chihuahua-shaped flower arrangement with the message, “Have you and your sweaty cronies ever considered pissing off to the gym?”.
So now the conundrum is whether we’ll adopt another honking, labrador-sized amigo for Betty – while simply accepting that we’ll live in a crossfire hurricane of mud and pet-hair – or whether to find a tiny sidekick. I have some concerns about adopting a titch. There is, I find, a great beauty in owning a thunderous beast of 40 kilos or more – a ridgeback, a weimaraner, a mastiff – with paws like coal shovels who greets your return by knocking you on to the hallway floor and then trying to dislodge and eat your ear-wax. That, to me, is a proper dog.
I looked after a Yorkshire terrier recently which quickly set out its stall as preferring to be carried in my armpit.She was loveable, but in a weird way almost too loveable. We clung to each other like koalas for 24-hours. Less dog-owning, more intense baby-sitting. To make things more muddy, a lot of the small-breed dogs on adoption websites need homes because their owners have died, aged 106, leaving maybe a wheezing pug with one good eye, or an incontinent pekingese with a heart murmur.
This does not mean I won’t adopt them. Quite the opposite, in fact. It means I am in danger of hitting up the All Dogs Matter website on a premenstrual day and taking six or seven of them, and forming my own yapping, farting “Colony of the Abandoned”. My partner is monitoring my access to the Battersea Dogs Home website vigilantly. “But they are orphans!” I weep.
Now that I’ve brought Betty up from a tiny puppy and watched her turn into a loyal adult hound with her own character quirks and a vast love of human company – well, leaving all these unwanted dogs in cages just seems abhorrent. Any idiot can buy a puppy – British shelters full of “teenage” dogs chucked out like rubbish at around 14 months prove this to be fact – and I realise now that the ethical, grown-up thing to do is rescue a dog, not acquire a “new” one.
I hope Betty loves whoever we bring home for her, although I don’t worry greatly. Down on Hackney Marshes, Betty loves without boundaries. She loves big dogs and she loves small dogs. She loves squirrels and cats unconditionally, despite them hating her. She loves joggers and people with picnics. And football teams and folk with frisbees. Betty, like most dogs, loves without ration. Her love is boundless and unguarded. I’m hoping two dogs will feel like enough and that I’ll stop there. I have an odd feeling, however, that we’re going to need a much bigger sofa.