Dogs make the world a bet­ter place The power of pooches

Au­thor Lynne Truss was never a ‘poochie per­son’, un­til a cer­tain ter­rier came into her life...

Woman & Home (South Africa) - - In this issue... -

Years ago, I used to go for walks with a friend who be­haved in an odd man­ner. She kept stop­ping to say hello to dogs. Not be­ing a doggy per­son, I’d hang back in con­fu­sion un­til she’d fin­ished. What was go­ing on? It was true that the dogs re­sponded to the at­ten­tion, but on the other hand, what about the hi­lar­i­ous anec­dote I was in the mid­dle of telling when this ran­dom pooch came along? I hon­estly didn’t get it. Was she mad?

Fast for­ward a bit, and I’m not con­fused any more. Nine years ago, Hoagy the Nor­folk ter­rier en­tered my life, and now I’m the mad­dest of the mad be­cause I’ve sim­ply ac­cepted the truth I was blind to: that dogs make the world a bet­ter place. They are not only nice in them­selves, but are also the cause of nice­ness in oth­ers. My two dogs – I added a puppy, an­other ter­rier called Django, two years ago – are so adorable that peo­ple’s faces light up with smiles at first glance of them. I love it!

Now, I know all of this is a bit su­per­fi­cial. Hello, hello, hello – that’s how it goes with dogs. The dogs say hello to peo­ple; peo­ple say hello back. I say hello to other peo­ple’s dogs; the dogs sni„ each other’s bot­toms (which we draw a veil over), and that’s it. It’s not deep. I have ob­served through liv­ing with my dar­ling boys that they are ter­ri­ble at good­byes, and not par­tic­u­larly good at sus­tain­ing the mood af­ter the ini­tial hel­los, ei­ther.

In the dog-train­ing books, they tell you not to make a fuss of the dog when you come home from shop­ping. I say to hell with that. Be­ing greeted at the door with their fan­tas­tic “hello-hello-hel­lohello!” is of­ten the best bit of my day.

When I’m out and about, I’d rather have a su­per­fi­cial hello than the usual noth­ing, wouldn’t you? We move in a world of strangers, stren­u­ously re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge each other’s pres­ence,

‘A dog cre­ates eye con­tact and breaks the ice with strangers’

and in­creas­ingly en­cased in pri­vate bub­bles of sound. I per­son­ally find this de­press­ing and fright­en­ing: mak­ing eye con­tact is in my na­ture, and I’m bad at pre­tend­ing other peo­ple are in­vis­i­ble.

Hav­ing a cute dog cuts through all of this. Once, when walk­ing Hoagy on a quiet street, I no­ticed there was a gang of shouty youths lop­ing threat­en­ingly to­wards us. “This is it,” I said qui­etly to Hoagy. “Never for­get that I loved you.” And then two of the group spot­ted the dog, smiled, and all the scari­ness in­stantly de­parted.

Bark­ing mad

Whether en­ter­ing Dog World has made me a bet­ter per­son, I don’t know. I do ad­mire the straight­for­ward­ness of dogs, and I try to adopt their habit of liv­ing in the present. With cats, you can be­lieve that they a) nurse grudges and b) are se­cretly hatch­ing elab­o­rate plans for world dom­i­na­tion – so the past and the fu­ture are what they mainly think about. But with dogs, the only tense is the con­tin­u­ous present. “What’s hap­pen­ing now?” they ask, wag­ging their tails.

The one down­side? I’ve be­come a slob. There’s just no need to make an e‡ort with one’s ap­pear­ance when other peo­ple’s at­ten­tion is drawn down­wards into your pets’ faces. I’ve let my­self go to a shock­ing de­gree: it won’t be long be­fore I start go­ing out in my PJS.

But in Dog World, that’s just how it is. You are just an arm with a big, out-of-fo­cus blob on the end of it. Look­ing back to days when my friend was stop­ping to talk to dogs, I don’t re­mem­ber her be­ing much in­ter­ested in the peo­ple hold­ing the leads. So why not let the dog do the work of break­ing the ice? “He’s very friendly,” I say to the tops of peo­ple’s heads (they’ve usu­ally bent down for a spot of dog-pet­ting).

I feel pride, and a small pang of sad­ness. What a shame that it’s only in the con­text of dogs that friend­li­ness to­wards strangers is OK.

Lynne’s book, A Shot in the Dark (Blooms­bury),

is avail­able now. w&h

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