It's a Mann's World: A Dog's Life

BY Olly Mann

5th Oct 2022 Life

It's a Mann's World: A Dog's Life

This month, Olly Mann resists family peer-pressureto become a "dog person", although he might be fighting a losing battle…

My wife wants to get a dog. My kids, also, want a dog. My in-laws, who used to own a dog, but then it died, also wish us to get a dog (so they can dog-sit occasionally—this in marked contrast to their general stance on babysitting). My Mum—a member of a website where you can borrow other people’s dogs for the day and look after them, for free, just because you like dogs so much—also, guess what, wants us to get a dog. It’s a Royal Flush. 

"I’m only mildly dog-curious. Got it?"

So, I’m the dog-blocker. But it’s not that I don’t want a dog. It’s that I don’t want a dog. That’s clear, isn’t it? My family appear to be having some issues with this nuanced distinction, so let me spell it out for you: when I gaze into my future, and imagine myself doing all the doggy things—walkies, grooming, poop-scooping, chatting inanely to other dog owners about their dogs—I am unmoved. I don’t hate that version of my life; it just doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t feel like an improvement. It doesn’t make me actively want a dog.  

I am not, however, a Hard No on dogs. I might, potentially, even enjoy owning a dog. I just can’t say, because I’ve never previously owned a dog. I’m not dog-phobic; I’m just not a Dog Person. I’m only mildly dog-curious. Got it? 

Cats versus dogs

I was raised with cats—imbecilic, pedigree ones with pretentious names—and I love all the things about cats that Dog People hate: their aloofness, their independence, their psychopathy, their complete lack of humour. I enjoy fruitlessly attempting to earn their love.

I’m acutely aware, in a "Greyfriars Bobby" situation, that my cat Alvin would strip the meat off my corpse and poo down my holes, but it still feels satisfying when he sits on my lap one evening, because I know he is choosing to do so. He is not my "best friend". He is, in that moment, desiring to spend time with me (even if only because my tummy is more comfortable than the rug). Cats, I love. 

Cute cat lying on sofa

But dogs? Meh. All that "man’s best friend", intuitive intelligence stuff seems a million miles from the pooches I’ve known, who seem to dumbly demand their owner’s attention, indiscriminately pursuing them and licking them with full-hearted affection regardless of the treatment they receive in return. What’s so clever about that? 

Plus, dogs stink. Sorry if you’re a Dog Person and you’re reading this thinking, Other people’s dogs smell, but mine doesn’t. I’ve got news for you: your dog stinks too. Or at least, your house does, because you regularly crack open cans of jellied offal. Us non-Dog People can detect it instantly, like that cloud of nicotine that non-smokers sniff out on smokers’ hair and coats, regardless of whether they’ve been at the Juicy Fruit.  

"All that "man’s best friend", intuitive intelligence stuff seems a million miles from the pooches I’ve known"

None of this is unsurmountable. But perhaps more problematically, the presence of dogs doesn’t particularly delight me. I’ve witnessed Dog People, upon enjoying an afternoon stroll through the park, greeting an unmuzzled, enthusiastic pup bounding up to them with genuine affection and laughter, grinning at the creature and patting it gamely. On the surface, my reaction appears similar: I will smile at both dog and owner, but inside, I’m thinking, Please, don’t bite my toddler! 

Lest you suspect there’s some traumatic childhood memory underpinning this: nope. When I was about six I did get chased around by a farm dog, which was unpleasant, but I’m certain that’s not being triggered in my mind when I see an elderly labrador curled by a pub fireplace. I’m just thinking, Move along mate, you’re taking up the best space!

A family matter

I’ve rehearsed all these arguments with my family: none is apparently persuasive enough to withstand, “But try it, you might like it!” As if getting a dog were as inconsequential as trying rice pudding, or boxercise, or gay pornography. But I was an 1980s kid: I recall those "A Dog Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas" slogans as formatively as the harrowing images of blackened lungs that stopped me ever picking up a fag. 

Family with a dog

Even if I do try it, and like it, what an enormous commitment owning a dog seems to be! The daily walking regime, the pockets full of plastic bags, the holiday logistics. My kids, of course, claim they’ll do their part, but we all know that if muggins here didn’t sprinkle flakes into their goldfish bowl each night, we’d have a bowl of floating stiffs. I’m the one who works from home. I’m the one who keeps my walking boots by the back door. Surely I’ll be expected to do at least 50 per cent of the dog stuff?  

"Even if I do try it, and like it, what an enormous commitment owning a dog seems to be!"

Which isn’t to say I’m entirely against it. And with my entire family gunning for a dog, I can sense the direction of travel. The latest compromise between us is a bit of "Try before you buy": we’ve agreed that, the next time one of my wife’s colleagues requires a dog-sitter, we’ll step up for the weekend. What could possibly go wrong?  

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