Dogs may be man’s (and woman’s) best friend but require a lot of love and attention — as well as time and money, writes Vicki Notaro.
It’s often this time of year that as we curl up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night, we imagine ourselves with a furry friend to snuggle — a real life companion and best friend in the form of a dog. And thanks to Hollywood films, most dog lovers have dreamed of being handed a box with airholes on Christmas morning and opening it to find a beautiful puppy wearing a bow.
However, animal charities advise against getting a dog at this time of the year, as many new owners get caught up in the festive atmosphere and then realise canine ownership isn’t as easy or glamorous as it may seem. The result? A spike in abandoned animals in the new year, with pounds and rescue centres full to the brim with discarded dogs.
We asked four well-known pooch aficionados what life is truly like as a dog owner, how much responsibility they’ve taken on, and of course, how their pets have added to their lives.
Munster and Ireland rugby player Peter O’Mahony and Roxy
“I got Roxy — a black labrador — from a gun dog breeder in my local gun club. She was 12 months old when I got her, so it was a bit late to be changing names.
“She’s now about six and a half years old and lives with myself, my partner Jessica and our baby daughter Indie — she’s a good pet as well as a good gun dog.
“Since I’ve had her, I’ve been playing rugby so I’ve been away. She knows I’ll be always coming and going. But I always get a good reaction when I get home.
“There’s a lot of training to put into a gun dog — there’s looking after them, going to the vet with them, there’s a huge amount that goes with it. It’s certainly something you can’t take for granted.
“I’d be quite strict with Roxy’s food, especially with her being a lab as they can be quite heavy. I’ll change her food whether she’s in the hunting season or out of it. If her workload is high or low — she has more or less food depending on how well she works. I suppose that goes for any dog.
“She’s helped some kids who’ve been afraid of dogs. I’ve brought her down to them and they’ve overcome the fear because she is so gentle and placid.
“We also have Saylor, a 14-week-old springer spaniel. She came with the name Duchess but Jessica changed that.
“Saylor is only here three weeks but she’s starting to win over Roxy, who is still probably at bit put out.
“I built a run out the back with an integrated kennel so Saylor is going to be outside — Roxy sleeps inside.
“I’m getting another pup after Christmas, a labrador, so there will be two gun dogs up in the run. They will keep each other company.
“I’ve always had an interest in dogs. My ex-team mate Tom Gleeson put me in touch with a man whose son had received a dog from Jennifer Dowler from Dogs for the Disabled. When I did a bit of research I was hugely impressed by the work they do. The difference the animals can make to the kids’ lives is incredible. Kids who probably should be in wheelchairs are walking now with the benefit of a fabulous friend to help them along.”
TV presenter Darren Kennedy and Harry
“My teacup yorkie Harry is 10 years old, he celebrated his birthday in August. He’s managed to maintain his youthful glow, people mistake him for a pup all the time. My partner and I have had him since he was six weeks old, so he’s part of the fabric of family life. He only weights 1.5kg. He’s been pretty healthy up until now, but he recently lost his front tooth probably from age, so that was a vet visit.
“I’ve always had dogs while growing up, they’re a constant in my life. Canine companions have played an important role in my life because they’re non-judgmental, just pure love and fun. They can really give you purpose. I used to want to be a vet growing up, but the combination of not having the brain power and being too squeamish put paid to that.
“We did a lot of research on the type of dog that would suit us before we got Harry. We needed a small dog that could live in the city and that was easy to manage. We travel a lot for work, but it’s not a big ask for family to mind Harry because he’s so small and doesn’t require a huge amount of food or exercise. But saying that, he’s also quite fragile and too small for kennels, so we’re lucky that they’re so willing to help us out.
“If you’re thinking about getting a dog, take it really seriously. It’s a huge commitment for at least a decade if you’re lucky. You have to consider your travelling, work, if you can afford a dog minder or walker if you’re not going to be home much. It’s another being that you are responsible for and requires love, attention, grooming, companionship, and someone to look after their health.
“Once you’ve taken all that into account, why not mind someone else’s dog for a week two, or even foster a dog. A lot of people have a rose-tinted view, and when it gets down to the nitty-gritty they might think the animal is too much hassle. But for the people who adore dogs, they make it work.
“I have so many stand-out moments with Harry, from cycling around town with him in a bag on my back to shopping with him in the city. But one very important memory involves him coming to the ballot box with me to vote for marriage equality, decked out in a little rainbow flag bow.”
Model and foodie Roz Purcell and Wilko
“My sister and I adopted Wilko (or Willy, as we tend to call him) in April from the ISPCA. We really wanted a dog for the past year or so and had our minds set on a rescue. Once we got clearance from our landlord, we went on a hunt.
“We both attended Pawsivity in Merrion Square in Dublin, and we met Wilko’s litter there. We had a jack russell growing up called Dan who was like a brother to us so we loved the idea of getting another one. They’re smart, fun and a little nuts.
“Four weeks later we picked him up. It was so strange holding a puppy on the way home, he was so quiet and calm — not like now — and it’s exciting and nerve-racking being responsible for a life. He changed everything, he is like a child.
“The reality of being a dog owner is not so glamorous. Everything I own now has little holes in it and all the laces from my shoes are gone. Picking up poo is part of my daily routine and I have lint rollers all over the house, but it’s just the new normal for us. I can’t remember what life was like before him — I feel like I’m his mother which doesn’t give me much faith in what I would actually be like raising a child because he’s a little rascal and gets away with everything.
“I remember once he choked on some of his food. I never thought I’d have to practice the Heimlich manoeuvre on a small dog. I rushed him straight to the vet, he was whimpering and kept falling asleep — I think he was actually fine, he’s very dramatic like his mother.
“Willy doesn’t cost us a fortune; we have pet insurance but we haven’t had to pay for training or kennels, as our family mind him back in Tipp when we go away.
“Those thinking of getting a dog need to really consider their lifestyle. Are you ready to sacrifices a little extra time in bed in the morning for walks? Can you afford a dog, and are you responsible enough to remember feeding, worming, water, flea drops and all the rest?
“Wilko is spending this Christmas on the farm with our parents as Rachel and I are going to Asia. He loves spending time with their dogs, and I think it’s really good for him to roam free around fields. I think mum and dad prefer to have Wilko for Christmas than us! It’s definitely eased the pain of us leaving them.”
Blogger Holly Carpenter, Gus and Toby
“I got my first dog Molly for my seventh birthday, and when she turned 11 we were worried she was getting old and might like some company so we adopted Gus from the Dogs Trust.
“He was found in a plastic bag of puppies with his brothers and sisters and he was the only survivor. We fell in love with him the minute we met him and he gave Molly a new lease of life.
“Later, when Molly was 15, she didn’t have the energy to play with Gus anymore. That’s when Toby was introduced to the family in 2015.
“I’m lucky that my mum and dad help take great care of Toby and Gus so I don’t have to worry about leaving them home alone all day, there’s almost always someone with them. I have to keep my bedroom door closed though as Toby likes to mark his territory on my bed and steal my socks.
“Gus had a seizure recently while we were on holidays in France. It was really scary he collapsed and started shaking and whimpering. My mum and I were screaming and splashing water on him (as if that would help!). He’s been OK since, but the vet said he may be epileptic. We were advised to film him if it happens again to show the vet. Toby is fit as a fiddle as he’s very young.
“The lads appear on my Snapchat quite often, and I think I overheard Toby in the park the other day shout at a passing pug ‘Don’t you know who I am!?’ Gus often needs to be taken down a peg as he can be quite attention seeking and loud.
“It’s your duty as an animal lover to investigate where your dog is coming from. Some people sell dogs online and hide the cruel breeding conditions behind the scenes. If you decide to adopt a dog it’s important to make sure you have the time and money to ensure you can keep them happy and healthy.”
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