I don’t recall many times where there wasn’t a dog in our backyard when I was young. From my earliest memory there was always a benevolent furry presence who could always be drawn on to play. There were always bones carefully placed in strategic parts of the garden. I can even still recall the distinctive aroma of the special shampoo my parents would use to wash them.
We always had man’s best friend close at hand.
First it was Tiger, a corgi cross who was the baby before I arrived on the scene in 1975. I remember him being gentle, good to pat and deathly scared of storms. He grew to a good old age and then had to be put down as his quality of life was failing. His death, together with that of my grandfather, introduced me to the reality of life and the certainty of mortality. But in life he introduced me to the magic of pets.
Then we had Mishka, a german shepherd x kelpie. I remember her as a pup, nipping at our heels, jumping on everything (she ended up stuck in a tree once!) and having the thickest, most luxurious coat. When she moulted it would come out in clumps and the backyard would literally be full of her hair, rolling like tumbleweed through a town in the wild west. When she had to be put down prematurely after attacking another dog I remember writing a poem to express my grief at the unfairness of life.
Then there was Gus. The most beautiful pup with glorious red cattle colouring together with kelpie smarts. I have never yet met a dog that has come close to his gentle nature. He was a beautiful animal – intelligent, funny, companionable and friendly. He passed away a few years ago and even though I had left home years before, he was always dear to me and he was a loyal and faithful companion to my parents.
I have yearned for a dog of my own ever since I left home. It’s just been a given. I had a dog when I was young and I always intended for the same opportunity to be given to my own kids. It’s taken me a lot longer than I would have liked, but we finally have the pets that we have always wanted – our very own pug puppies, Evie and Mandie.
Apart from wanting to replicate the experiences of our youth (Nathan also grew up with dogs) there were a few other very valid reasons for us wanting to have a family pet.
Outside time. Most of my memories of childhood revolve around being outside. Our dogs were outside and so were we. For my own screen obsessed children, there hasn’t been a good enough reason to get them outside and away from Minecraft or YouTube. Our puppies are finally giving them a very potent reason to spend more time outside, in the great outdoors.
Responsibility. Pet ownership from a young age gave me the opportunity to help care for a fellow living creature. I remember helping to get meals for them, crushing up heartworm tablets, chasing them around the yard with a towel after their bath and giving them walks. I learned a lot from those early lessons in responsibility and I’m already seeing the same lessons being taken in by my own three little bears.
Overcoming fears. Our eldest, Gilbert, has always been uneasy around dogs and other animals. He is unsettled by their barking and by their unpredictable movements. We are already seeing a gradual change in his attitude to the dogs, just in the week the pugs have been here. While he keeps his distance for much of the time, he is coming to them and asking for the occasional pat. He is also less sensitive to the presence of other dogs which has always been an obstacle to visiting other houses or walking around our neighbourhood.
Family bonding. I can recall lots of occasions where my whole family would be together with one of our dogs in the backyard. It’s almost as if they helped bond our family unit together, like superglue. I would love my kids to have similar memories of their own childhood and I can already see the puppies becoming a positive focus for our family. We have shared in the excitement of their arrival and we are continuing to share all their firsts too. It’s early days but they are already bringing our family back together again with a shared focus and energy.
Improving mental health. The typical antics of a pet, particularly a mischevious puppy, can’t fail to bring a smile to your face. Their cuddles, their energy, their sense of fun and boundless adventure make everyone smile in this house, even Gilbert! I know too that having companions in the day has helped me become more accustomed to working in the solitude of home. I think the whole family has already benefited from their presence and from the boost to our collective mental health that they have already provided.
What do you think is the most crucial benefit of pet ownership for families?