With the demise of the Queen’s beloved corgis and the rise of the PetNup, we ask why are we a nation so besotted by our pooches (other pets are available)?
“If I’d had him first, I don’t think I’d have bothered with children,” a neighbour remarked recently as she sauntered by with her cockapoo. And I’ve a friend who appears overly attached to a t-shirt proclaiming, “If I can’t bring my dog, I’m not coming.”
These may be somewhat extreme examples of the nation’s obsession with our pooches but they set the tone for the more than eight and a half million UK dog owners. The reasons for bringing a furry, four-legged friend into the family unit (and around one million of us acquire a puppy every year) aren’t entirely altruistic– all the research suggests they benefit us socially, physically and mentally.
Dog owners tend to be fitter, have greater opportunities to meet people, enjoy the benefit of an in-house security guard and, with that irresistible “always pleased to see you” trait, having a dog can boost our mood, help us destress and even reduce the risk of depression.
Those benefits are also finding their way into the corporate world with the likes of Amazon, Airbnb, Google and The Blue Cross all proudly sporting their “dog friendly” workplace credentials. Tunbridge Wells’ CT Travel has its own wellbeing director in the shape of cockapoo Willow.
A study of 2,000 dog owners found they have made four new friends while out for walks or at puppy school. It also identified 54 per cent of people believe having a dog has boosted their confidence as they talk more easily to strangers, have seen stress levels reduced and happiness enhanced. Some even found love, meeting their other half while taking Fido around the block.
The research, commissioned by children’s tv channel Boomerang, also highlights the need to recognise dogs are pack animals and require early socialisation in order to avoid separation anxiety.
“Dogs that mix nicely together can form strong bonds and learn a variety of social skills from each other that humans may find hard to spot or recognise,” says dog behaviourist Nick Jones.
“Similarly, dogs are the perfect ice breaker to start conversations you might otherwise miss and are proven to bring numerous health benefits, including enhancing our mental and physical wellbeing.”
In fact, so besotted are we with our canine companions that the issue of custody is now arising when relationships break down, as Kirstie Law, a partner at solicitors Thomson Snell and Passmore – and self-confessed dog lover – explains:
“Dog ownership comes with future responsibilities similar to having children. What would happen to the dog if you died and, if you own one jointly, what happens if your relationship ends?” says Kirstie.
“We know prenups are increasingly used by couples, but have you considered a petnup? Would you share the pet if you separated and how would this work in practice? You should also consider – and sorry to sound like a cynical family lawyer – things may not be amicable.
“Could you really ‘co pet own’ if your now-ex behaved badly? A petnup can be prepared to specify it’s your dog and will live with you if you separate. And, given how most of us see our dogs as an integral part of our lives, you should also consider the need to specify a ‘godfather’ or ‘mother’ in any will.”
As Ricky Gervais has said (more than once) on social media, “We don’t deserve dogs.” Clearly, millions of us agree.
Honey Holds Court
Many modern care homes now resemble plush hotels, with cinemas and salons, restaurants and art galleries. Brook Court in Kidderminster though has a particularly pawsome addition – Honey, a live-in rescue dog who’s on-hand for residents to cuddle, walk or just spend time enjoying her company.
The team at Brook Court noticed how much residents were enjoying visits from a local greyhound trust, so came up with the idea of introducing their very own ‘canine relations manager’.
Gill Pratt, Brook Court’s manager, says: “It’s been a joy introducing Honey to the residents. She has made a difference to their lives already, bringing a smile to everyone’s face the minute she walks into the room.
“One of our residents living with dementia speaks very little but becomes animated the instant Honey is present. She will hold her head very gently and stroke her entire back. It’s lovely to watch.
“We know how beneficial animal therapy can be for older people – especially those living with dementia – and Honey is so friendly and calming. Being close to animals can lift a person’s mood, stimulate social interaction and ease agitation. Honey is brilliant at doing all those things!”
In fact, such has been Honey’s impact on the home, Sky News recently popped along to see her perform her daily duties.
Care UK (careuk.com) is looking to welcome ‘canine relations managers’ to some of its other homes.
If you thought Instagram was purely for endless photos of random people’s dinner and pouting young ladies Photoshopped within an inch of their lives, think again. There are dogs on social media with followings of which some c-list celebrities would be jealous.
Take Bella Takahashi Rudberg. The way-too-cute two-year-old miniature schnauzer from Stockholm has almost 12,000 followers addicted to her daily updates of playing ball in the park, landing a mean high-five on her owner, and generally having “mummy” and “daddy” at her every beck and call.
While most dog owners are happy taking their charge on nice walks, having a cuddle on the sofa and catching up on the day’s news (come on, we all talk to them!), for some nothing is too good. Enter the rise of the pet spa and pampering delights such as deluxe pedicures, tear stain treatments, blueberry and vanilla facials, oatmeal healing baths and tea tree conditioning for sensitive skin. Who said, “it’s a dog’s life?”
Did You Know?
The Tunbridge Wells Canine Society (twdcs.co.uk), founded in 1884, is one of the oldest in the UK. The first Tunbridge Wells dog show took place in Calverley Gardens in August that year. Held over two days, the catalogue records an entry of more than 500 dogs along with promenade concerts and gardens decorated with floral displays and arches together with 2500 Chinese lanterns and lights – all gas of course
Mine’s a bowl of water
Kent authors David and Hilary Staines know a thing or two about the best county walks having written several guides. They’ve now turned their attention to the best dog friendly pub walks with the publication of a new book featuring 20 tried-and-tested circular routes that combine maximum off-lead time with a warm welcome for canine clientele in the hostelries at the heart of each walk.
Kent Dog Friendly Pup Walks is published by Countryside Books (countrysidebooks.co.uk) at £8.95.
This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of The Index Magazine. Photo: CT Travel Group.