Love me. Love my dog

NUI Galway student Jacqui Broderick on the fulfilling potential offered by a man’s best friend

Dogs have been part of our lives for thousands of years. Descending from wolves the separation of the two species is something that scientists are still studying. However, there is little doubt the dog/human relationship developed into a mutually fulfilling one. Man providing food, shelter and companionship in exchange for the dogs guarding and herding ability.

Archaeological records have proved that the remains of a dog found buried alongside humans’ dates from over 14,000 years ago.

For most of us, a dog is an extended part of our family, providing companionship, utter devotion and always a happy, nonjudgmental relationship. For others this relationship becomes more, becoming the whole focus of their life - and their love.

Miranda Carter leads the way up a spiral staircase from a downstairs room dominated by beautiful wicker dog baskets, draped in spotless fleecy blankets. Two enormous Rottweilers are curled, sleeping in the baskets. 'They need the space more than I do.'

Sixty-year-old Miranda says, ‘So I’ve given them downstairs and I’ve moved up here. Miranda settles herself into a beautiful grey velvet sofa. A black cat is curled on one arm. Miranda strokes its shining fur. ‘I took out the stairs and put in the spiral stair case to give them more room.’ The cat begins a loud, throaty purr.

Miranda has been alone, in the human sense, for over twenty years

‘I knew it was coming,’ she says, with a wry smile. ‘My husband and I just grew further and further apart. He’d go to the pub, I’d be out with the dogs.’ She paused to light a cigarette before continuing. ‘Then one day he said, ‘you prefer those dogs to me don’t you.’ From downstairs comes the gentle sound of one of the dogs snoring. ‘I couldn’t lie. I said yes.’

Miranda is not alone in her decision to live her life with a dog rather than find a human partner. And it's not just women who prefer their dogs to their partners. A recent study by dog food company Purina, of more than 1000 UK pet owners, discovered that 95% admitted they preferred their pet to their partner.

Men are equally love struck when it comes to preferring their canine over their partner. Richard Brookes, normally a happy-go-lucky man with a positive outlook on life, still gets tearful when he talks about his Springer Spaniel, Henry, his constant companion for over 12 years. 'After my wife died it was just Henry and I,' forty-five-year old Richard says.

‘I had a girlfriend for a while, but she didn’t like dogs. So she had to go.’

There is a darker side to the love we have for our pets which borders on something akin to obsession. Anna Sanders struggled to maintain human relationships and instead found love and support in her dog, Moo. When Moo became ill and subsequently died, Ann suffered a nervous breakdown and still struggles with depression. 'Moo was always there,' fifty-year-old Ann says.

‘She never judged me or betrayed me. My last boyfriend tried to con me out of my savings. A pet would never do that. You can trust an animal.’ Ann continues, ‘dogs never judge, they don’t complain, they never get moody, they don’t have affairs or lie.’

Artist Katia Smith has struggled with anxiety after the loss of her dog. Karen's husband died young and the dog was her constant companion for 14 years. 'She was my best friend, my partner and my child rolled into one.' Katia says, 'It's like I've had my family wiped out in a car crash. I'm left with an empty house.'

The windowsill in Miranda's house is filled with photographs of her animals. There are two human photographs amongst the dog images. 'My son's,' Miranda says, proudly, 'They both live abroad. America and Australia. I've four grand children I've never seen.' She stubs out the cigarette. Downstairs one of the dogs gets out of its basket and stretches, yawning loudly. 'The dogs are my family now,' Miranda says, 'Khama, Kismet and Hunter the cat are the only company I need.'

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