Are Harry and Meghan practising for parenthood with their new pooch?
Watching how your other half cares for a new pet can be an insight into how they would cope with a baby, says Katie Byrne
Two distinct groups of royal watcher have emerged in the last month. The first group are examining even the faintest suggestion of swelling around the Duchess of Sussex’s waistline while speculating about the future royal baby’s name. The second group are quite satisfied with the size of Meghan and Harry’s growing brood. They spend an inordinate amount of time looking at pictures of Meghan’s rescue dog, Guy the Beagle, and they were disproportionally excited when the couple adopted a black Labrador last month.
The name and gender of the dog has been the subject of intense speculation. For now we know that it’s a girl whose name may or may not be ‘Oz’.
It’s hardly a standing on the steps of St Mary’s Hospital moment but, for dog lovers, it’s more than enough.
We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Meghan and Harry have welcomed a new pet into their home during the honeymoon period. Kate and William did the very same thing when they brought home an English cocker spaniel just a few months after their wedding.
Besides, this is what millennials do now — well, at least according to a study which found that 44% of this generational demographic consider their pets to be practise for parenthood.
This cohort aren’t choosing pets over parenthood. No, they’re intentionally positioning pet ownership before parenthood — and they might even be on to something.
Between doggy daycare and puppy obedience classes, this generation are spending more than ever on their pets.
Older generations may baulk at this seemingly indulgent outlay, but they ought to remember that these expenses are teaching millennials lessons about modern parenting — and reducing the risk of hyperventilation when receiving their first crèche bill.
The benefits don’t stop there. In many ways, pet ownership reveals a person’s future parenting style, which isn’t always in harmony with their partner’s.
It’s a red flag when a permissive pet owner lets a dog sleep at the end of the bed while his disciplinarian bedfellow wonders why Buster can’t sleep in the kennel at the end of the garden.
It’s another red flag when one person gets left with all the work. The division of labour is a flashpoint issue in relationships, especially among new parents. Couples who own pets before they start families can count themselves lucky that they get some early insight on this matter.
They make a mental note when their beloved walks past a dirty litter tray. They tally up the number of times they get left with the dog walking or grooming. And whether they care to admit it or not, they wonder — if only for a few moments — if this behaviour is indicative of their partner’s approach to child-rearing.
The way couples negotiate the choices around pet ownership can also be quite telling. The cat-versus-dog debate is one thing; the rescue dog-versus-pedigree dog debate is quite another. Pet ownership can initiate uncomfortable conversations and shine a spotlight on the areas where a couple’s values differ.
It could be a capitalism versus socialism stand-off: “It’s far from designer dog collars I was raised!” Or it could be an ethical dilemma when the harrowing subject of euthanasia is first broached.
Either way, pet owners are judged for their choice, just as parents are. People will decide that you’re too strict or too lenient, that your cat is too thin or your dog is too fat.
This will frustrate first-time pet owners in the beginning, but they’ll be glad to hear that pets help cultivate almost beatific patience.
After all, the moment your new puppy decides that your stiletto is a fantastic chew toy isn’t all that different from the moment your toddler discovers the DIY decor joys of Sudocrem.
Likewise, the day your dog decides to go on strike and stop walking midway through your Sunday stroll isn’t a million miles away from a toddler’s tantrum in a bank queue.
In either case, we don’t stay angry for very long because the so-called ‘baby schema’ of large eyes, chubby cheeks and soft texture motivates us to care for young mammals, whether it’s a purring kitten or a crying toddler.
It might seem like a crude parallel, but there are similarities between pet ownership and parenthood — and this generation is learning from them.
NEW ADDITION: the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have a new dog as well as Meghan’s rescue dog Guy (inset)