Once upon a time, a million years ago, in answer to the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up', I would always reply - without hesitation, and certainly no trace of irony - "a kennel maid". As a child I could conjure no better employment prospect than working with animals as wonderful as my grandparents' lab, Kim. Not even getting bitten on the nose by Kim put me off. The poor dog had his mouth in his dinner bowl at the time and I had decided it would be fun to pretend to eat his food with him - on hands and knees, growling, as one does, aged 8. Kim snapped and drew blood. I cried but got little sympathy. Dinner time was the highlight of Kim's day, explained the adults dabbing at my nose, all 10 seconds of it, and Kim should allowed to relish those seconds in peace. It all made perfect sense to me.
By my teenage years my career ambitions had broadened somewhat (not much!), while my passion for dogs found partial satisfaction thanks to my parents at last getting a family hound: Moojik, a dear and un-trainable Tibetan terrier who ruled the roost and stole all our hearts until his dying day thirteen years later.
I think it was having children that finally saw off the last of the kennel-maid urges. The Commitment. The Responsibility. The Hard Work. Not Just For Christmas etc. And that was just the kids. They begged for a puppy, as children do, but I held firm and got two cats instead, one for each son. Both animals lived to a ripe age and could not have been more loved or loving. Job done.
Then I found myself divorced and my youngest re-started his Get A Dog campaign. One day I found this propped on my desk:
AGAINST: Time, Flexibility probs, Long term, Need to reinforce garden
FOR: Happy for 12 years, Healthy (prolong life), May make dog friends, New idea for book/blogs, Puppy tweets, Facebook pictures, May eat Tiger Lily (problem rescue-cat, now a sweetheart) , Companion in empty house, Incentive for people to visit, You may actually love it, New Chapter in life, If not now it won't be before you are 60 - poor dog!
I quote the list to show a. What a battle that child fought and b. What a clever, prescient chap he was/is!
But still I resisted, because, while the arguments were powerful - and TRUE - I did not yet feel ready in my own heart to take the leap. I wanted to get a dog when........... I really WANTED TO GET A DOG. The point being that, as with having children, the only way of enjoying the commitment is to decide to buy into it 100%. No resentment. No regret. Nothing but throwing oneself at the duties and the pleasures that go hand-in-hand.
And so here we are. Five years on and I have, for 3 weeks now, been the proud owner of Mabel, a golden retriever poodle cross. She is very fluffy. Indeed, the dog-keen son worries that she is 99% poodle and 1% retriever. Time will tell. But she has gangly legs, and a bit of a John Wayne swagger when she walks, and big floppy apricot ears, so I think lots of the golden retriever will push through. Not that I give a damn. I have fallen, you see, the proverbial hook, line and sinker, exactly as I hoped I would. She is Mabel. She needs attention, and clearing up after, and taking out in the mud and the rain, and playing with, and feeding, and training, and health check-ups, and watching like a hawk because her preferred choice of snack is pebbles and/or dead slugs/snails who may/may not have met their maker thanks to lethal slug pellets.
Looking at that 'Against' points now, I would move 'long term' to the other side. I want Mabel to be long term, you see, as long term as possible. What's more, the garden has indeed been 'reinforced' which means Mabel can not only call it a play-pen but the zillions of foxes fouling it for the last ten years have disappeared. That leaves the 'time' and 'flexibility' drawbacks, but set against the benefits of sheer joy, and entertainment, and health (mental as well as physical), they pale into insignificance.
And so far Tiger Lily remains uneaten.