Stanley came into our lives three weeks ago. Getting a puppy was obviously a daft thing to do. We are moving in six weeks, have a house to sell and Christmas is coming — so there’s enough going on to pack our days adequately without further distractions.
I was not enthusiastic about taking on another four-legged friend. Puppies smell. They widdle on floors and make your house stink. Mats and rugs have to be taken up — if they don’t wee on them, they will eat them. They chew shoes and destroy laces. They are blind to brand, although you can bet on your favourite or most expensive ones being ruined. This is why my Balenciagas and Tods are now stored in cupboards.
In addition, puppies require constant attention. You cannot sit down for a moment. If you do, you’ll risk missing a lavatorial. Or find that cables have been nibbled, table and chair legs gnawed, and your new jumper has a new hole. Try and ignore them and they’ll find something to attract your attention, such as the continual squeaking of a novelty toy your mother helpfully thought they would like.
I love dogs, by the way. My problem was that we had one already. Barnaby is a 12-year-old Basset Fauve. They are a medium-sized urban hound and notoriously more difficult to train than virtually any other kind of dog.
The experience of teaching the recall still haunts me. In the summer of 2008, there I was in Battersea Park armed with treats, a training lead and a ball. Having practised a dozen times, I felt emboldened to remove the shackles. I threw the ball. Barnaby took one look at it, then at me — and promptly bolted in the other direction. He’d spotted a group of children playing cricket and had decided that looked like a lot more fun.
Obviously, I was told off when I arrived (flustered) some minutes later after Barnaby had totally disrupted their game. “If you don’t know how to train a dog, you shouldn’t have one,” condescended the games master. With a hound like Barnaby, you are destined to look like a bad dog owner. I spent hours teaching him how to do things and getting the house training done took forever. There were so many mishaps I ended up spending thousands replacing the wooden floor in the kitchen. Having to repeat this process all over again with a new puppy was not appealing.
You can perhaps guess why I caved in. The other third (I’ve been told I’m too fat to be called the other half) looked at me with puppy dog eyes and said: “Please can we take one of my sister’s dog’s puppies?”
When we went to collect Stanley, at a rendezvous in a pub car park near Oxford, any doubts I had evaporated. There’s nothing cuter than a puppy. Stanley is a working Cocker Spaniel — although no work is being put in by him right now, other than posing for photographs with his bright, inquisitive eyes, squashed little nose, oversized paws and ridiculously soft hair and ears.
But dogs are expensive. Barnaby cost £550 and Stanley £750. And, yes, I know I could go and pick a rescue dog, but I am not driven by Instagram hits. Plus there was the family connection — which means the other third is convinced that Stanley will be better behaved than my dog.
Then there’s pet insurance. No one tells you that after eight years of dog ownership and reasonable monthly fees of between £20-£45 (depending upon the level of cover) that the premiums will double every two years. And don’t think you can simply shop around to get a cheaper quote, because any pre-existing condition won’t be covered.
Barnaby is locked in to Direct Line. They have paid out when necessary — his double hernia and a major infection cost over £7,000. That said, his annual premium is now a shade under £2,000 a year, plus there’s a healthy excess and routine stuff isn’t included. Teeth, annual vaccinations and routine inspections all cost money, so be prepared to get your Amex card out.
I did more research the second time around, but there’s no discount for extra pets if you want continuation cover. Stanley’s policy is from Pet Plan — at the moment they seem to be the best option, with a reasonable excess.
That’s not the only expense. Yes, you can save money if you buy pet food in bulk, but when you go on holiday and the doggies end up in kennels, that all adds up to another reason why I cannot justify turning left on the plane.
And that’s before I go off to Mungo & Maud to buy him a luxury collar and dog bed (you won’t get much change from £250). In times of austerity when perhaps I should be guarding those pennies, I just doubled our dog-related expenditure. Argh!
Inevitably, you might wonder if this really is a Rich People’s Problem. After all, up and down the land people own dogs — it’s hardly groundbreaking or particularly expensive. But this isn’t just about cost. This is about time — and our time is at a premium.
With the continued political and economic uncertainty, earning money takes more time, effort and commitment. A puppy bouncing around the house that you need to take into the garden every half-hour is distracting. But I am concentrating on the long-term benefits. If you already have a dog, you’re going to be doing walkies anyway, so once Stanley is trained the extra time lost will be negligible.
The biggest gamble was what Barnaby would make of his new younger friend. Mercifully, they seem to get on. Barnaby has a spring in his step, and although a whirlwind, the first few weeks have definitively been easier as a result of an older dog’s influence. You can rely on an old dog to teach a young one new tricks.
For all the mess, destroyed possessions, inconvenience, cost and upheaval, the positives of dog ownership outweigh any negatives. The house would be cleaner, but it would feel far emptier. Any dog will take as much attention as you’ll give it, so you will never be bored or lonely. Their love is unconditional; they have an ability to connect you to others when human endeavour fails and can win you over with an overly enthusiastic greeting and a wag of the tail.
So while getting a puppy was a daft thing to do, it was also the best decision ever.
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