While many people identify strongly as either a cat or a dog person, for most of my life I’ve been more of a guinea pig person.
But a little while ago something unexpected happened.
My family had been lobbying for a dog for years. This involved repeated verbal requests, PowerPoint presentations on the benefits of dog-ownership, the appearance of a dog on Christmas and birthday lists, and the planting of propaganda in my work files.
I resisted resolutely and happily, safe in the knowledge that dogs:
- are unsophisticated and indiscriminate in their affections
- take up time and space
Then a few things shifted. I started working from home, quality time with the guinea pigs a perk. My children grew older and more persuasive. A friend’s dog came for a mini-break at our house and no rip opened up in the space-time continuum.
On the day I begrudgingly began to consider the possibility of starting to think about maybe getting a dog, the first item in my Facebook feed was a film clip with the title ‘You really should get your children a dog.’
The snowball of Mitchell enthusiasm that had been careering down the mountainside smashed straight into me. A few days later, we went to meet the dog I never thought we would have.
She’s a small black spaniel with the speed of a greyhound and the energy and focus of a highly caffeinated toddler. Released from her lead, she rockets across a field like a missile. Fortunately, she alternates this with curling into the shape of a bagel, sighing and sleeping for long periods of time. Anyone who comes through the door is met with a gift (whatever she can find nearby – often the fragrant towel we use to wipe her paws) and a bendy-bodied dance of quivering excitement.
In short, I am utterly in love with her.
My family laugh openly at my metamorphosis from non-dog person to dog fan to my core. While the speed and comprehensiveness of this volte-face is embarrassing, the benefits it has brought far outweigh any desire I have to maintain a sense of sophisticated dog-sceptic complexity.
Named for my brave and decorated great-great-uncle George, she has fast become a profoundly valued member of the family. Her vocabulary may be limited, but she’s already taught me some invaluable lessons:
1. Never say never. Life is too short and interesting to be inflexible. Sometimes it’s time to review how rigidly we define ourselves, and to question a tendency to say ‘no’ to something just because we always have.
2. Revel in the moment. Sometimes I wish she might revel just a little less in a particularly fetid ditch, but unleash her in a stretch of green and you can almost see the joy course through her veins. She is entirely alive in the moment. She doesn’t miss what’s in front of her because she’s chewing over a comment from yesterday or fretting about a deadline.
3. Be wholehearted. She knows what she loves: unpleasant smells, birds, her people, and snacks – and nothing can distract her. Her focus is extreme, and her loyalties undivided. She’s never too busy to notice a new person, never anything less than ridiculously excited to see us, even if we’ve just been in another room.
4. Find some wild. I have no choice but to put the list-making, task-juggling and plate-dropping on hold – whatever the weather – to accompany her on a walk each day. Some years I’ve had my head down and pretty much missed the heady, blowsy generosity of May and June. But now I notice the turn of the seasons and the shape of the sky. There’s wonder worked into the sap and marrow and sinew of the world around us, and my daily walk with Georgie is nothing short of sacred space.
5. Work within constraints. Her existence imposes limits on us. She’s inconvenient. But constraints can be rich soil for creativity. When we explore a city we walk in its green spaces more than we ever used to, eat outside or in more relaxed, embracing places, and enjoy a slower, wider view than we did in pre-dog days.
6. Luxuriate in rest. When she’s not running full pelt, she’s curled into a snoring ball, or flopped flat-out wherever she stopped. We can so often feel too distracted or guilty to slow down properly. But sometimes wholesale surrender to rest is what exhausted minds and bodies need.
7. Connect. Like so many other dogs, she is a bridge of connection in our community. Old people stop to pat her, sometimes misty-eyed as they remember a dog they loved long ago. Children ask if they can say hello. She creates endless opportunities for walking and talking with the people I love, time that might otherwise have slipped too quickly away.
Life with a dog is certainly not without its challenges. She may eat plastic, trample plants, steal shoes, spread dirt, and be capable of making some of the most evil odours known to humanity.
But to me, she mainly smells of sunshine and biscuit – and I wouldn’t have her any other way.