Sean Moncrieff: What puts me off dog ownership is dog owners
Human relationships have some grit, even with those you love most in the world
‘I found her again in the field that evening, her corpse stiff and wet, her lips curled back. I buried her there.’
My first dog was a mutt. A bit sheepdog with a bit of whatever you’re having yourself. But she was mine: she’d wait for me to come home from school, and when she’d see me rounding the corner on my bike would bound down the road, invariably obliging me to swerve out of her way. A few times I wasn’t quick enough, and I slammed into the ground. She excitedly licked my face while I examined my injuries.
But then one day she started acting strangely. My mother had gone to let her out of the garage where she slept, and the mutt had growled at her. This was a distinct personality change: normally, the dog was unrelentingly good natured, and rarely barked; except, for reasons no one could fathom, occasionally at the television.
I went into the garage to investigate, and while she didn’t growl, she seemed disoriented. She didn’t seem to know who I was.
When I got home from school that day, my mother had an explanation. Back then, there was no microchipping or getting shots or even taking your dog for a walk. We’d let her out and she’d sniff around outside the house or run around the fields at the end of our street. In the fields, she’d found some sheep to bother and the farmer who owned them had had no option but to lay poison. He’d called to the house to explain. The dog didn’t come home that night.
Since then, there have been a few others. There was the angry one, who after he nearly bit a child had to go and live on a farm. You know the place. There was the stupid one who thought his name was Eejit and the three legged one who tried to outrun a car.
It is like taking on a new child: except there’s no hope that this child will ever finish college and move out of the family home.
There’s been a long gap since, but now it’s back on the agenda again.
I’m not sure. And I’m not sure why I’m not sure.
Herself is fierce keen, as are the kids. We have the room. It’s just more complicated than it used to be. There’s paperwork and legal requirements and training courses. The demand is fantastically high. There’s a waiting list.
These are, largely, good things: for the animal’s welfare, and to reinforce to potential owners that it is a lot of responsibility. It is like taking on a new child: except there’s no hope that this child will ever finish college and move out of the family home.
But a dog isn’t a child. One of things that puts me off dog ownership is some dog owners: all that cuddling and putting hats on them taking pictures and talking to them in a baby voice. I find it creepy. It’s a kind of hard-core anthropomorphising that profoundly disrespects the dog’s dogginess.
On the other hand, a dog will never come home drunk or get a tattoo or refuse to study or generally be a worry. A dog will give you what humans are happy to interpret as unconditional love.
It could all stem from my first experience, which, it strikes me now, may have informed my subsequent attitude towards family dogs: tolerant, but a bit distant.
Perhaps that’s what I’m uncomfortable with: the unconditional part. Human relationships always have a bit of grit in them, even with those you love most in the world. A dog will never tell me I’m talking crap.
Or it could all stem from my first experience, which, it strikes me now, may have informed my subsequent attitude towards family dogs: tolerant, but a bit distant.
The first dog – her name was Lady – never came home again. But I did see her. The morning after the farmer called to the house, I was heading to school. She was in the field at the end of the street: chasing birds, which wasn’t like her. I called to her, and she halted: like my voice was a sound she dimly remembered but couldn’t quite place. Then she ran off.
I found her again in the field that evening, her corpse stiff and wet, her lips curled back. I buried her there.