Bray People

Ir­ish love of dogs is stronger than ever

- PETE WEDDERBURN Lifestyle · Good News · Pets · Pet Health · Dogs · Hobbies

THE COVID cri­sis has meant that we have all been forced to spend more time at home, and that means that we have, by ac­ci­dent, spent more time with our pet dogs and cats.

Cats are in­de­pen­dent lon­ers by na­ture, and much as I adore them, they are prone to car­ry­ing on do­ing their own thing, even when we spend more time at home. Yes, they may en­joy play­ing with us, or re­lax­ing close to us, but they don’t gen­er­ally be­come as deeply en­gaged in the same way as their ca­nine cousins.

Dogs are dif­fer­ent: they are pack an­i­mals, and they see us as fel­low pack mem­bers. So when we are able to spend more time with them, they revel in it. They grow closer to us, and their re­la­tion­ship with us be­comes stronger than ever.

This sum­mer, I have no­ticed that the bond be­tween Ir­ish peo­ple and their dogs has deep­ened in in­ten­sity. When I have vis­ited public places like beaches, parks and stately home demesnes, there are more dogs than ever be­fore, and peo­ple seem to be more af­fec­tion­ate to­wards them, and more en­gaged with them than pre­vi­ously.

An Ir­ish author has just writ­ten an emo­tional book about his life­long re­la­tion­ship with his dog. “To Love A Dog”, by Tom Inglis, is a mov­ing ac­count of his eigh­teen year long re­la­tion­ship with his Wheaten Ter­rier bitch, Pepe. The book opens with th­ese lines: “She has learned that I am the source of all that is good in her life. In her magical world, I am the light. I am God. So wher­ever I go she must fol­low.”

The author goes on to com­bine dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives: telling the tale of his life with Pepe, while scat­ter­ing in­ter­est­ing facts about dogs through­out the nar­ra­tive.

The author is a pro­fes­sor in so­ci­ol­ogy, and he has an in­trigu­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal view of how dogs fit into Ir­ish homes. He in­cludes sur­veys and sta­tis­tics, and we learn that 94 per­cent of own­ers see their dogs as mem­bers of the fam­ily, while over half (56 per­cent) of own­ers ad­mit that when they come home, they say hello to their dog first, be­fore any hu­man be­ings.

None of this sur­prises me: I’ve known since child­hood that the love of a dog is en­tirely un­con­di­tional. Par­ents may be­rate chil­dren for hav­ing messy, un­tidy bed­rooms: their dogs will adore them as much as ever.

Spouses may give out to their other halves for di­vert­ing to the pub on the way home from work for an un­planned pint: mean­while the fam­ily dog will be de­lighted to see them, with no frowns or grumpi­ness. There are many other ex­am­ples: dogs en­dear them­selves to us by their ador­ing be­hav­iour, and we re­cip­ro­cate by ador­ing them in re­turn.

On a more som­bre note, as a vet, I have seen abused an­i­mals, kicked and beaten by their own­ers, creep­ing back to their own­ers sub­mis­sively, wag­ging their fright­ened tails, plead­ing for ac­cep­tance and ten­der­ness. They still seem to love their own­ers, de­spite the abuse.

Dogs are very slow to stop lov­ing their own­ers, and we hu­mans re­spond well to this wor­ship. We be­come deeply emo­tion­ally in­volved with them: they be­come close friends or fam­ily mem­bers. This is a huge cul­tural change from a gen­er­a­tion ago, when dogs were seen as work­ing crea­tures, liv­ing their sep­a­rate lives in farm yards.

We do need to keep this in per­spec­tive. Self-aware­ness is still im­por­tant. We should re­mem­ber the ad­vice of Anne Lan­ders, the fa­mous Amer­i­can agony aunt: “Don’t ac­cept your dog’s ad­mi­ra­tion as con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that you are won­der­ful”.

At the same time, the two-way re­la­tion­ship with a dog is one of life’s high­lights, and it’s some­thing worth cel­e­brat­ing.

Tom Inglis was in­ter­viewed about his book on the Bren­dan O’Car­roll show a few weeks ago, and he made a good point. Many Ir­ish peo­ple now live on their own with their dogs, and they of­ten see their dogs in the same light as they would see hu­man fam­ily mem­bers, even as chil­dren. And most of us are not good at recog­nis­ing this and re­spond­ing in an ap­pro­pri­ate way.

At the most sig­nif­i­cant level, when some­one’s pet dog dies, we should all re­mem­ber that for them, the be­reave­ment can be as deep and painful as if a hu­man fam­ily mem­ber has passed away. We should of­fer them as much sym­pa­thy as we can, we should al­low them space to grieve (if they need a week off work, that’s en­tirely un­der­stand­able).

We should talk about the lost pet in the same re­spect­ful way as we would talk about a re­cently de­ceased per­son. This is not pan­der­ing to peo­ple’s pe­cu­liar sen­si­bil­i­ties, as some cyn­ics may think: it’s re­act­ing ap­pro­pri­ately to the very real emo­tions that peo­ple are feel­ing.

And it’s not just at the time of a pet’s death that this is im­por­tant: if you meet some­one who is close to their pet dog, they will ap­pre­ci­ate your kind­ness if you ask them en­gag­ing ques­tions about the an­i­mal. Just as you might ask a par­ent how their teenager child is get­ting on, or an older per­son about how their el­derly par­ent is do­ing, so you might ask a dog owner about the life of their pet. How is the dog’s health? If the dog is with them, you might com­ment on the an­i­mal’s ap­pear­ance.

This is the new cul­ture that we live in. Dogs are now part of our fam­ily. They ap­pre­ci­ate us, and they are ab­so­lutely de­serv­ing of our ap­pre­ci­a­tion in re­turn.

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 ??  ?? So­ci­ol­o­gist Tom Inglis has writ­ten about his dog, Pepe
So­ci­ol­o­gist Tom Inglis has writ­ten about his dog, Pepe

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