49% of British people own a pet. With over 20% of those being dogs one would like to think we are an active population. However, recent studies have shown that 93% of us want to get out with our dogs more than we already do, which suggests our dogs are not getting enough exercise, stimulation or quality time with owners. The most common excuse for not walking our dogs is a lack of time. I have spent the last month in Northumberland staying with friends and exploring the relationships between dogs and their owners, with a particular focus on those who work full-time, or have serious family commitments but still give their dogs the time and attention they need and deserve.
I myself am in an unusual and fortunate position. The nature of my job allows me to take Pig wherever I go, get her involved in my work and have her as a constant companion. When I took Pig on I made it my mission to give her the best possible life. She had spent the previous four years in a crate, being bred from repeatedly and was in a bad way. Over the years I have listened to her needs and adapted my life and job in order to allow us to grow together.
A dog is a huge commitment. We all love the idea of having a cute furry friend to greet us at the door when we come home from work, to snuggle up with us on a Sunday morning and to take cute selfies with, right? This paints a lovely picture, but when it comes to 6am wake ups and cold dark mornings its very easy to convince ourselves that our dogs don’t want to go out anymore than we do. We tell ourselves they’ll be fine with a run in the garden, or a quick game of fetch on the lawn. On the mornings we do manage to crawl out of bed due to a vague feeling of guilt or necessity we inevitably take our phones, put headphones in and distract ourselves with screens while doing the quickest and shortest walk possible. While staying up in Northumberland I noticed that nothing was too much for the dogs. Two long walks a day was absolutely standard, Adam and Nicola get up at 6am, winter and Summer, rain or shine to walk their girls. After a full days work, and an hour commute each way the girls get their second walk of the day, at around seven pm. The weekends continue in a similar vain, with the bonus of friends to walk with, and pub trips for Adam and Poppy. I have never met anyone who puts as much time and effort into keeping their dogs fit and happy as these two, and it really shows. These dogs are happy, stimulated and have welcomed Pig and I into their routine with ease. As well as the two dogs, Adam and Nicola have two cats and a handful of chickens, all rescued from the RSPCA West branch. It is a truly wonderful thing to see rescued animals land on their feet and continue their lives so happily.
One of the great things about owning a dog is the relationships one can form with fellow dog walkers. There seems to be an unspoken friendliness and agreement among dog walkers. One of my favourite things being that it is perfectly normal to know the names of and engage with the dogs, but somehow we constantly seem to forget the names of the owners.
I recently caught up with one of Nicolas friends to discuss how she juggles owning a very active spaniel Millie, as well as looking after her elderly mother who is sadly suffering with severe dementia, and how both of these things affect the rest of her life, her relationships, social plans and friendships. In actual fact, Kate readily admits that all of the above has fallen by the wayside. Caring for her mother has slowly expanded to fill all of her spare time, and has taken over time that wasn’t spare in the first place. Creating plans with her mother are not easy, and frequently end up being too stressful and difficult for everyone involved. For Kate, the easiest thing in the world is Millie. Her needs are comparatively simple and a joy to fulfil.
There seems to be an unspoken agreement between Kate and her mother about Millie’s needs, they both understand and accept that Millie is a young energetic dog and needs a couple of hours exercise a day. No matter how Kates mother is feeling she accepts Millie’s needs and thus Kate is still able to enjoy those few hours of solitude she gets everyday. You won’t see Kate staring at her phone screen vaguely throwing a stick for Millie. You’ll see her determined and purposeful stride, glorying in Millie as she launches herself into streams, catches a scent and tears across the moor, before skidding to a halt at Kates feet covered in mud, tongue out; truly happy.
To everyone reading this, and owning a dog. Try and take a step back from your screen. Leave your phone at home and remind yourself why you have your best friend. Get out, feel the rain on your face, the breeze through your hair and take solace in each step on your walk.