26 November 2020
I’ll just keep the puppies.
By Lynda Goetz
In a week when we have been told that for five days over Christmas we can make a bubble of three households, so that families can invite both sets of grandparents, but those with several adult children will have to choose between them; that we can host a care home resident as long as they are not over 65; that we can travel the length and breadth of the country to do these things, irrespective of which Tier we are living in; but that pubs which have spent thousands on making their premises ‘Covid secure’ will not be able to open if they are in Tier 3, the sense of the surreal and the ludicrous continues. Seriously, we have to choose which of our adult children is allowed into our ‘bubble’ for Christmas! What are they supposed to do? Roll dice? Toss coins? Draw straws? Or do we simply tell them they are not our favourites and we have decided they don’t make the cut this year? Admittedly, there will be families in which it is obvious which adult children (and their families should they have them) will want to join parents and which are delighted to find an excuse to stay away. For others, this is not a choice they should have to make at the behest of government. Likewise, if anyone over 65 is able to spend Christmas with family, this should not be a decision made for them by the state.
Dogs have been much in the news in the last couple of weeks. There have been several articles about the return of dogs to the White House following Joe Biden’s win; there have been articles about Lockdown Puppies and ‘Choosing the right Puppy for You’ and then of course there was the sad announcement of the death of Lupo, the Cambridges’ black Cocker Spaniel. So in order to avoid venting my frustration at the nannying, authoritarian (or possibly even totalitarian) state in which we currently live, I thought I’d take a look at the role dogs play in our lives, if not necessarily in our Christmases.
As I am not an American, I had not actually registered the fact that President Trump was the first President in over 100 years not to have any sort of pet in the White House. Thinking about it, it does seem rather obvious that he is not a dog person. According to an article in The New York Times, he said he didn’t have time for a dog; on the face of it, a perfectly valid reason for not owning one. They are definitely time-consuming. But then so are children and he does have a few of those. I wouldn’t be too sure though that he invested a lot of his own time in bringing them up, so surely he could have outsourced pet ownership in the same way? Well, the benefits of pet ownership are probably rather different from the benefits of having children (a subject for another time perhaps?) and almost certainly do need to be exercised in person rather than vicariously. In order to see why, we need to look at what exactly are the benefits of pet ownership and in particular dog ownership.
According to the American Kennel club (well, The Donald is definitely American) there are 10 Science–based Benefits of Having a Dog. Reading through these, they do seem rather repetitive, but essentially the conclusion is that the Science (no, not that Science!) shows that dogs increase the physical and mental well-being of humans. The former is partly due to the simple fact of having to exercise them, meaning we exercise ourselves at the same time, but also that owning or even living with a dog makes for lower blood pressure levels and improved responses to stress, resulting in improved cardiovascular health. On the mental level, having the unconditional affection of a dog, as well as the physical activity of stroking, petting or hugging it, makes us cope better with life and feel happier, as well as less lonely or isolated. Maybe someone should have explained all that to President Trump. His time in the White House and its ending might have been easier.
The psychological stresses of lockdown seem to have driven the demand and hence the market for puppies. The price of all breeds has risen exponentially. As crossbreeds or ‘designer’ dogs have become increasingly popular, these too are commanding ever higher prices. Even the maligned and lowly mongrels are fetching hitherto unheard of prices; although these dogs are probably worth every penny being less prone to the breathing difficulties, hip problems etc etc which are known to affect many pedigree breeds. Many more individuals and families have become dog owners in the last year than ever before. In some ways this is wonderful, but it can lead to problems, particularly owing to lockdown, the very thing that is driving this increase in ownership.
Firstly there are no puppy socialisation classes. Although this might sound very much like a middle class luxury, puppies do need to learn to deal with other dogs and with people other than their immediate family. If a dog’s ‘job’ is simply to be a companion, whether for a family or an individual, then it needs to learn how to behave. Secondly, what is going to happen to all these lockdown puppies once life gets back to normal (assuming it ever does)? The walks which dog and owner enjoyed together when people were working from home will have to be replaced with walks before and after work or school. Will these actually happen or will there be increased employment for dog walkers? If the dogs have not learnt to deal with other dogs and people will they suffer from separation anxiety? Have the new owners taken into account the cost of keeping a dog? Apart from food and treats, there are the costs of monthly flea treatments and worming and almost certainly at some point the need for a visit to the vet. As the article No Doggy NHS in the Vet Reality Check Blog pointed out in October and huffpost uk in a similar article last year, there is no NHS for animals. As a result of the ‘free at the point of delivery’ service we are used to with the NHS in this country, so many people get really upset at the cost of vet services. (see also Vets Love Pets).
The other downside with dog ownership, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge both know only too well, is that they simply don’t have the longevity of humans. If you are lucky and have a small breed (eg some sort of terrier), your dog may enjoy between 14 and 18 years of life. If you have a larger breed such as a deerhound or wolfhound then it is likely to live for only 8-10 years. Lupo actually died quite young for a Cocker Spaniel and I’m sure that such an early death was unexpected. However long your dog lives, you will almost certainly outlive it (unless you take one on in your nineties). That means many doggy bereavements in a lifetime.
We have three dogs, a brother and sister ( Labrador x Patterdale = Patterdors?) and a nine-month old puppy, which we kept from the litter of eight from mating Pepper with a neighbour’s spaniel (so a Patterdoriel?) in the spring. They give us all a great deal of pleasure and have also played their part in keeping us sane during lockdowns. They are a great pull for my several adult children (actually only three, but therein lies the rub), although the latest litter of eight (this one entirely unintentional and the result, clearly, of a visit by said spaniel after we had delayed getting Pepper spayed as intended) is proving possibly even more of an attraction. Sadly, we have not planned on keeping any of these and the plan is for them all to go to their new homes the week before Christmas. These are not just Christmas puppies, they are Covid-19 Christmas puppies. We should be making a fortune, but we won’t be (see Covid Puppies. Not a New Asset Class). We do not wish to exploit people’s increased wish for a puppy, nor do we wish to exploit one of our household members – oh, and also there is the vet’s bill for the puppy that had to be taken to the vet last night for an inexplicable infection. Never mind, in spite of all the feeding and cleaning they are incredibly sweet. Perhaps, as they already form part of our household bubble (no mention of dogs in the regulations, is there, Boris?) I will just keep them for Christmas and tell all the grown-up (?) children to make their own arrangements.