Is it a dog's life being a dog owner?

By Julie Hill

Recently two friends have both lost a dog. Both deaths were a shock, both through illness, and both dogs could have expected to have many more years to enjoy. Both owners were left with a sharp grief, and had to cope with losing a constant and loved companion.

It underlined for me how very unfairly short a dog’s life is. Depending on the size of your canine, at the very most, you can expect eighteen years of companionship, and for the majority of breeds it is much less than that. Even the longest lived breeds get to share only a small fraction of our time, and we have to resign ourselves to this.

I realised that I am often ready to complain about the downside of sharing my home with a dog. How can one dog shed all that hair, necessitating daily clean ups that yield sufficient amounts of dog hair to stuff a small armchair? How can four medium paws walk all that mud into the house? How can one mouth carry all those stones, and then hide them under the sofa?

In addition to this no activity can be undertaken or plans made without taking him into account. Days out have to be organised around dog friendly venues, or else be for a suitably short length of time unless a sitter can be arranged.

That’s just the beginning though - water from the drinking bowl turns the kitchen floor into an impromptu paddling pool. The lawn we struggle to cultivate is systematically scratched away. Wallpaper is rubbed, shoes are chewed, clothes are turned black with dog hair, carpets develop a decidedly doggy odour, and no upholstered item of furniture is entirely mine any more.

Dog-free vacations are spent with some part of my mind wondering whether his carers are really taking as good care of him as I would.

What, you might ask, is the return for all this upheaval and disruption in my life?

My trouble is rewarded a thousand fold.

I know that I have in my life someone who loves me unselfishly, unconditionally, and unendingly. Whenever I leave the house, I know someone is impatiently awaiting my return. Even if I have ventured out only to empty the dustbin, there is a concerned nose pressed to the window monitoring my progress. On shared outings I have a friend to accompany any and every adventure; in the house I have affection lavished on me, and I never feel alone or lonely.

In short I have someone who regards me as the centre of their world, and is happy in return to be a part of mine; I have a dog.

I have a dog, and I should never forget to be grateful for that fact. The extra cleaning, whether sweeping up or mopping is a small price to pay, and one that both my friends would happily pay if it meant their lost friend could return to them. Stray dog hairs on my clothes should be worn as a badge of honour. Every minute I am lucky enough to spend with my dog should be savoured and cherished, because all too soon they will tick away.

I can’t lengthen my dog’s life, but I can make sure he has the happiest one possible. I can share with him the relish with which he approaches our shared existence, and the few inconveniences involved? - I can stop complaining about them.

When the seemingly endless tasks of taking care of my myriad pets threatens my good humor, I just sing to myself these lyrics I wrote—to be sung to the tune of the folk song "The Water Is Wide."

The doggies are white
and the cats are dark,
and I live in
a Noah's Ark.

With two of each,
including birds;
and all I do
is pick up turds.

Being able to laugh at their upkeep, I find, helps me accept my role as in-home zookeeper. That, and always reminding myself that living without all my beloved critters would be the equivalent of hell on Earth for me. I lost my third Westie, Mortimer, two weeks ago, and I know I'd be ready for the proverbial padded room were it not for my remaining six animal companions. I found my other two Westies, Blanche and Keely, are quite absorbent, too. They both soaked up gallons of tears recently so that they could coax back my smile.