How to…intentionally increase the level of chaos and instability in your household (alternatively titled ‘How to decide to get a dog’.)

Following on from my informative post ‘How to accidentally buy your husband a kayak for Christmas’, I have decided to continue this ‘How to…’ series.  I believe I may well have a book’s worth of material helpfully explaining how to do all sorts of things that right-thinking grown-ups really probably shouldn’t do. In fact, I envisage the potential for this particular post to run and run with a never-ending series of additional parts until you, dear reader, start to feel like you may have stumbled upon a Harry Potter fanfic, such will be the extent of my attempts to get just one last story out of a fully wrung cloth.

So, as you may have gathered from the alternative title, our family has recently acquired a dog. It wasn’t just for Christmas (his arrival in early January was purely co-incidental; we have collectively memorised the warnings from the Dogs Trust and we know ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’). No, although it may be prove to be ill-advised, our foray into dog ownership has certainly been carefully considered and a long time in the planning.

We have – like many families – spent years toying with the possibility of acquiring a family dog. As a life-long cat owner new to the canine world, my entry into home owning adulthood at the age of 27 was accompanied by a thrill of excitement that I could, for the first time in my life – if I truly dared – make my own grown up decision to get a dog, unhindered by parents, rental agreements or imminent plans to move country. Despite this realisation, the terrifying prospect of becoming fully responsible for another living creature was just too much for me to comprehend, so I put my plans of dog ownership on hold until such a time as I felt grown up enough to handle it and instead, I had children.

On the ‘grown-up-ness scale’ having children comes higher than owning cats (a cat will, after all, take care of itself, paying little to no attention to its owners and requiring only that you leave it some food now and then) but dog ownership is another level up from having children.  Children start off helpless and needy, for sure, but they grow quickly and, alongside their physical growth, their power and independence increases until eventually, you need do nothing but provide a bed and a full fridge and they will be sated (much like cats then, in the end).

Dogs, on the other hand, need you. Forever. They rely on you to feed them, to love them, to take them for walks, and they look at you with hopeful, trusting eyes, firm in the belief that you will do right by them. Children are not so easily fooled. One slip up and they label you untrustworthy and you will NEVER win back that trust. A month ago, I managed to arrive 10 minutes late at the end of a full weekend Brownie camp (the other Brownies literally walked past me as I made my way to the building; they had not even left the site) and found my 9 year old daughter in floods of tears at the thought that I had abandoned her. My protestations of innocence and attempts to explain that I had been driving a kayak back from Weymouth (see previous post) fell on deaf ears, and since that day, she has refused to let me out of her sight and exhibits all the signs of a child accustomed to regular abandonment.

But I digress….
Assuming you can get them through toddlerhood without tipping them out of a pram or letting them fall out of a high chair (in my case, I failed on both counts and had the hospital visits to prove my ineptitude) children are a breeze. Dogs on the other hand, stay toddlers for life. And that is why I have made it to midlife without having managed to commit to the role of ‘dog owner’.

Having delayed such a momentous decision for so long, you may be wondering how I have come to the conclusion that now is the right time to get a dog, so I have complied a handy list of reasons:

1) I was 40 this year and can no longer cling on to the hope that someday soon I will become a grown up. I need to face facts: this is as grown-up as I am going to get, so I may as well get on with some of that grown-up stuff.

2) My children are older. At 11 and 9 they are clearly able to share in the responsibilities of dog ownership. I envisage my soon-to-be-secondary-school-aged daughter heading out for a brisk walk before carefully locking up the house and sauntering off to school. My 9 year old will naturally be more than happy to take on the responsibility of feeding and brushing the dog and we will all play our part in caring for our new family member.*

3) Our family is pretty volatile and life is often busy, noisy and hectic.  A dog – I figure – will sooth us all.  I am envisaging it as a beacon of gentle calm, bringing peace to a calamitous environment, although it could – of course – make it all much worse.  We’ve got a 50/50 chance so it’s worth a try, I figure.

4) It’s now or never.  When we were trying to decide the best time to have children, we eventually realised that it was possible to overthink these things and perhaps it was best just to take a leap of faith and hope for the best.  I have started to realise that this is true for many things.  You can plan and you can prepare; you can do research and you can ask friends about their experiences, but you can never really know if something is going to turn out OK until you actually bite the bullet and have a go.

And so, after years of pondering and months of planning, we finally made a commitment and welcomed Pirate – a 4 year old retired racing greyhound – into our family.  It was scary stuff and the night before we collected him, I felt the same mixture of excitement and trepidation as I felt the day before my first baby arrived. We were getting a dog at last!!  Collection went to plan and – much to my amazement – they let us drive away with him and didn’t run after our car screaming ‘No, we made a mistake; you are clearly a highly unsuitable family. Give him back!’ and so Pirate has become a Clarke and is now ensconced in our seaside home.  I aim to keep you posted on his progress and hope he doesn’t decide to cut loose and head to the high seas.

Wish our Pirate luck, me hearties: he’s going to need it!


*Of course, in the process of coming up with point 2, I have decided to brush over the fact that the 9 year old routinely traumatises the cat by smothering her with unwanted affection and the 11 year old will dig her heels in and refuse to leave the house if it is remotely cold making her an unlikely volunteer for early morning dog walks!

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  1. Jenny Gale says:

    Good luck Helena! I sometimes wonder if we may get a dog ‘one day’. I’m not sure I’d be good at the walking commitment though as I also dig my heels in and refuse to leave the house when it’s cold.

    • Helena says:

      Thus far (admittedly only 2 weeks in), I would unreservedly recommend getting a retired greyhound. They are very chilled, only need 2x 20 mins walks a day and it avoids all the hassle of having a puppy and doing potty training again!

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