It’s confirmed, being a dog owner is good for you. Esther McCarthy spoke to four celebrities about pride in their pooches.
They’re humans’ best friends, the canine companions who provide creature comforts to their loving owners. Now some of Ireland’s best-known dog owners have spoken of their close connections with their pooches, and how they have enhanced their lives with unconditional love.
All of them agree there are many physical and emotional benefits to dog ownership, and their experiences are backed up by research.
A recent survey published in BMC Public Health in the US showed dog owners walked on average 20 minutes more every day at a moderate pace and took 2,760 more steps than those who don’t have a dog. Numerous research has shown that dog ownership is good for your physical as well as your emotional health.
A 2017 Swedish study of over three million people aged between 40 and 80 revealed dog owners were associated with a 23% reduction in death from heart disease and a 20% lower risk of death from any cause over the 12-year length of the study. A survey by the Australian Heart Foundation found that people who own dogs tend to have lower cholesterol levels.
It’s not just your physical health — a study review by the British Psychological Society found dog ownership can improve therapeutic and psychological wellbeing and results in lower stress levels, greater self esteem and feelings of competence. We spoke to some of Ireland’s best-known dog owners about their pets and the impact they have had on their lives.
Tanning and cosmetics queen Marissa Carter has been a dog lover all her life, having grown up with German Shepherds as pets in her childhood. It was during a very difficult time in her life that she started to consider a return to dog ownership, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship with her pet, Cherry.
“I got Cherry just after I’d had a miscarriage and it was a particularly late miscarriage, at 13 weeks,” she said.
“I was feeling very low. I’d never really thought about becoming a dog owner. I just decided one day I was going to go get a dog. It was my third miscarriage and I suppose it wasn’t in a great place. I felt like I had a lot of love to give and when Cherry came into my life those motherly feelings that I had, she sort of nurtured that in me.”
In hindsight, Marissa said that bringing home Cherry, who she describes as very gentle and loving, brought her comfort.
“She really did. She still does. I feel like she’s very tuned in to the humans around her and their emotions. She gives so much love. She’s always slept at the bottom of my bed. Just a couple of weeks ago she started sleeping at the end of my daughter’s bed, Isabelle, who’s four. I just feel that’s so lovely - I think it’s so lovely that she’s minding the youngest in the house.”
Isabelle and her son Charlie (7) dote on the Bichon Frise, who came into the household at nine weeks old.
“She’s very calming. And I think because she’s so fluffy, there’s something really lovely about coming home at the end of a very stressful day and just curling up on the couch. She’s like a fluffy little hot water bottle full of kisses and love. And you know even though she’s 10 years old she still gets so excited if we’ve been apart for a few hours. Cherry actually comes to work with me in the office every day. Cocoa Brown HQ is dog friendly. Anyone who has a dog is more than welcome to bring them in. There can be a couple around at any one time but Cherry’s there every day when I’m there.”
It’s been a busy year for the businesswoman who expanded her empire with the launch of Carter Beauty Cosmetics last year. She also recently helped launch Dog Friendly Ireland Day for Dogs Trust.
“When people visit or come for meetings in the Cocoa Brown office she’s a little bit of an ice breaker. I always obviously ask: ‘Do you like dogs? Are you okay with dogs?’ She does this really funny thing where she hugs your leg, when she meets someone she’ll wrap both of her paws around their legs.”
BEE CLEARY BURNS
Bee Cleary Burns’ best friend is her Poochon Luca — a cross between a Bichon Frise and a toy poodle — who has become famous all over the world. That’s because the Cork dog has become a social media star, with over 17.2 thousand followers on Instagram @loveluca_poochon.
“It started off as my own personal page and I kept posting pictures of Luca on it,” said Bee, who works in the beauty industry.
“Gradually it became Luca’s page because all I posted on it were pictures of Luca. It grew and grew. I posted quite regularly and I enjoyed interacting with people on it. It has followers from all over the world.”
The Instagram page has even led to the formation of real-life friendships.
“There are a group of four girls who share dog photos on Instagram and we have become great friends. We’ve gone on holidays together and been to family occasions. They’re all from England and I would consider them among my best friends. We’re all going on holidays together in August to Wales with our dogs.”
Bee feels the benefits of dog ownership are numerous, and Luca goes to “granny daycare” at her mum-in-law’s house when she and husband Karl are at work.
“They take the focus off other things and all they want to do is play with you and love you. There’s a beautiful woods near where I live and I hadn’t gone there until I had Luca. It’s really good for your mental health because it encourages you to get out and to be in nature. They’re a big commitment time wise and financially but you won’t regret it.”
She feels Luca decided on his new owners when she went to meet him. “When I got there there were two identical dogs, one came over and jumped into my handbag, Luca picked me.”
Growing up in rural Limerick, her family always had dogs and she says they feature in some of her very earliest memories.
“My first dog Ralph, he was a legend. I remember we took Ralph on holiday to Kerry and he ran away on our last day. We were so late going home because we couldn’t leave without him. He was such a wanderer. He even wondered into our house, that’s how we first had him. He was a gorgeous, good dog, he just loved adventuring.”
Top model Thalia Heffernan is full of love for her two lurchers, Leonard and Charlie, who she describes as “a wonderful handful”.
Thalia, who has studied animal psychology and is an ambassador for the DSPCA, took both animals as rescue dogs. Leonard, named after the musician Leonard Cohen, was the first to come home. “First time dog ownership is as much a lesson for you as the dog. I know a lot of people can get quite scared early on. It can take a lot of your freedoms. It’s a lot at the start. But I was committed to it.
“I think some dogs have more dominant traits or more submissive traits. And with rescue dogs you don’t know what their background is. But the love that we (Thalia and her partner Ryan) feel from our dogs is second to none.”
Leonard, who she got around the same time as Cohen, of whom she is a huge fan, died, was a nervous dog who would cry when you left. “I did seek help which I think is very important with any animal you get, if you have any problems. Through a lot of hard work we got the worry out of him. He’s much better and he’s a brilliant dog in every other way.”
On travelling to England for work, they took Leonard but encountered a setback. “The boat journey triggered him and reversed him to the anxious puppy he was. We had to start again which was very disheartening. But we got there eventually. I wondered if he had a friend would it help?”
While helping her mum find a smaller dog to rescue, she came across Charlie and discussed taking him home with Ryan as a companion to Leonard. “He’d fallen in love with him as well. The minute Charlie and Leonard met they were almost like long-lost brothers. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, there were issues we worked through.”
But Thalia, who has always loved animals, feels both dogs, who she describes as incredibly loyal, hugely enhance her life. “My life would be a lot less full. It depends on what you need in your life, but people who do have dogs know how amazing they are.”
TV presenter and style guru Darren Kennedy is regularly seen out and about with his best pal, mini Yorkshire Terrier Harry. The bond between man and dog was always going to happen — growing up as a boy in suburban Dublin, Darren was an animal lover and had lots of pets.
“I had cats, fish, birds, turtles. My dad put a halt on it when I told him I wanted a pet lamb! I’ve always loved animals but dogs are my number one. You can’t compare the bond you have, the connection, with a dog.”
Harry came into his life after Darren decided he needed a small dog.
“I got in touch with the Kennel Club and they put me in touch with a breeder in Kildare. If you’re not rehoming a dog make sure you get to meet the dog’s parents and get it from a reputable source.
“I travel a lot, I live in the city centre so a big dog wasn’t on the list. Not only is he very small, he’s very portable. He’s as feisty as they come! He’s extremely loyal to the extent that he’d snub other people when he’s with me. He has a very tight group of people that he’d consider his pack.
“He’s a 1.75 kilo dog who thinks he’s a lion. He’s a little pocket rocket. He’s often out and about with me, everybody knows him.”
Darren has had a busy year, having launched his Kennedy & Co male grooming product range. He feels that Harry has greatly enhanced his life and frequently recommends dog ownership to others. He feels, for example, that they teach children about responsibility and ownership.
“I could never imagine my life without a dog in it. It’s something outside of yourself for starters — it’s another entity or presence that relies on you. A dog can teach a child about responsibility and they’re a lovely presence in a house. They bring an unconditional love, they’re just a constant.”