I've always loved dogs.
A story that was apocryphal in our household was that aged three I announced I wanted to be a dog when I grew up. [Insert own joke about being a bitch here].
I had a dog as a kid and I wanted to have one as an adult but knew it wouldn't be fair on said mutt to leave it alone all day whilst the husband and I were at work. So my cunning plan? Get one whilst I'm on maternity leave, go back to work part time. Have a kid and a dog, all good.
Only it didn't work like that.
When, after a year of trying to conceive, my office moved to 9.5 minutes walk away from my house (I know, I properly lucked out on that one), I decided I didn't want to put my life on hold any longer. I didn't want everything to rest on me getting pregnant.
We knew we couldn't get a puppy because we weren't around enough during the day for the whole puppy training thing. And we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing not just being naive about wanting a cute doggy without properly thinking through the responsibilities.
So we went to the famous Battersea Dogs Home. First we had to fill out a questionnaire with questions varying from how much does it cost a month to feed a dog to would we get pet insurance.
Next we had the interview. I knew I'd be Ok but warned the husband (who had never had animals before) to let me do the talking. He only put his foot in it once. We had agreed that we wanted, you know, a proper dog, one that looks like a dog not a tiny ball of fluff on the end of a lead/ in a handbag. How did the husband articulate this?
"We don't want a gay dog".
Now, let me make this clear we have no problem with the sexual orientation of our dog, or for that matter our friends (most of whom would also not want Paris Hilton's excuse for a dog any more than we would). I cringed and shuffled a bit so my copy of the Guardian was more obvious. 'No really we are nice liberal folk, we'll love our dog no matter how it turns out'.
We explained our situation; we'd walk the dog morning and evening and I'd come home every lunch time to take it out for a wee. She suggested an older dog, fine. And asked us if we had considered a greyhound.
I was amazed. I'd always thought that they'd need masses of exercise (more than London had to offer anyway) and were way too big for our modest space.
We knew we weren't leaving with a dog that day but were still allowed a tour of the dogs home. Which was pretty depressing. I'd say 90% were pitbull / staffies. Clearly bought by people who hadn't considered how much energy they have and wanted them so they would look tough so had done nothing to curb their breed aggression. But there weren't any greyhounds and pretty much all of the profiles said "Would not be suitable in a household with small children". Ever optimistic we knew our dog would have to be able to adapt to a baby in the house, one day.
That night we went home and were immediately on t'internet checking out greyhounds. Turns out an ex-racer would suit us really well. Use to being in kennels our flat would seem like a mansion, they also have a rigid routine of when they are let out and when they are shut in, so leaving it whilst I was at work (and nipping home at lunch time) wasn't going to be a problem. And the exercise thing? They are sprinters, so no stamina whatsoever. The books and sites agree two 20min walks a day. Easy!
It was the breed temperament that finally sold them to us. Good natured, loyal and mostly great with kids. More inclined to move away if being poked than snap.
We went to retired racing greyhound shelter. They did a home visit to check that we would be responsible owners. We passed. It wasn't lost on us that, had we been able to conceive, we would have been able to get on and have a kid with no questionnaires, interviews, home visits or checks.
I call my Dad and told him of my plans. His response:
"Having a dog is an awful responsibility. What about when you go on holiday? Why don't you have a baby."
What the fuck?! You don't think I am responsible enough to own a dog but in the same breath suggest I have a child. That's screwed up.
Or, as I actually said.
"We've decided this is what we are going to do".
When we chose the dog we were careful to ensure that we got one who would be good with children. So I took my 18month old nephew along to the kennels, my sister seemed fine to have him used as a guinea pig. The dog we chose is incredibly placid, he took the fingers in the eyes without complaint and didn't seem nervous by a child running around him.
And he is great. It is a responsibility but has actually made my work life balance better. I HAVE to take a lunch break, and it has to be a whole hour. I have to leave on time(ish), well certainly can't work too late unless the husband - who works further away leaves work on the dot, which he rarely does.
And the affection I get when I walk in the door is immense.
But we do have rules. He is a dog. Sounds obvious but when we talk to the dog we refuse to refer to each other as 'Mummy' or 'Daddy', he doesn't get to sleep on our bed*, he doesn't get chocolate.
Although I didn't expect to get a dog before a kid. It has been a useful halfway house. I can't begin to pretend that getting up at 7.30am on a Saturday and Sunday is anything like the night feeds I'd have to contend with as a mum, but I never used to get up much before 11 at the weekend before. And now, whilst I can still go out I have had to curb my nights out a bit, I can't go out straight from work and don't like to leave the dog two nights in a row, so we're building up to the grinding halt a child will have on our social life.
I've passed the half way test. Now can I try it for real with a baby?
* Forgot to add favourite joke. He doesn't sleep on our bed 'cause we're just not into dogging. Worth the re-edit?!
Update: Our dog is a retired greyhound from Walthamstow dog track which closed yesterday. Which will mean that there will be many many more ex-racing dogs needing homes over the forth coming months. Just on the off-chance that this blog comes up when people are searching for information on re-homing retired greyhounds and want to know more feel free to email me any questions regarding the ups and downs of owning a greyhound. And I highly recommend reading Cynthia Branigan's Adopting the Racing Greyhound BEFORE you commit to owning one.