You will all remember the snow in January, I certainly do as I had to drive to an appointment in the country. Getting there was okay as it was bright and rather picturesque but on the way home it was a different story. Visibility was poor, the earlier snow-covered scenes suddenly became eerie and dangerous. I took a wrong turn on my way back to Belfast and ended up in a small (blink and you would miss it) village. I pulled over, to get my bearings and couldn’t help but notice how few shops lined the high street.
Hailing from a city I wondered how one would cope with such little choice? At that moment I thought, I certainly couldn’t. Yet on further inspection I found that the people of the village had all they needed. A shop, a pub, a takeaway, a few (what I can only presume were) hardware shops and a grooming parlour. Yep, you heard it correctly, a grooming parlour. I couldn’t help but laugh. Clearly this tiny village’s priorities were reflected on its streets.
Recently, I have been applying my observations from that January night on a wider scale. From what I can see, people’s priorities and in some respect what they value as a society, can be viewed on any high street and that goes for village, town or city. In Northern Ireland I think it would be safe to say that this is very true. Just take a look at any shopping area. In the vast majority of cases you will find a pub – or two, sometimes even three. You will find a take away – or two or three. You will most certainly find a convenience store, maybe a petrol station, sometimes even a hairdressers, a bank or cheque cashing shop, almost always a church and increasingly grooming parlours. If we assume that our high streets reflect our values, then Northern Ireland’s populace along with loving a drink, food, their cars, money, God (whoever they perceive him to be), also love their dogs.
I love animals and I have a soft spot when it comes to dogs. Woman’s best friends have always had a place in my life. The rise in doggy services shows that I’m not alone. A very long time ago, when I was a child I was met with bemusement when my little dog was given pride of place in my house. Then the norm was that a dog ate the scraps from the household, a dog was kept outside and pet insurance was unheard of. Dogs were often seen roaming the streets and strays were common place. I remember when a popular brand of dog food aimed at small dogs was advertised, I had to order it from my local super market!
How times have changed. No longer is it strange to see a dog wearing a coat or a dog clipped to perfection. Some, so well-groomed, that they no longer resemble their canine heritage and now look more akin to teddy bears. In a country that adopts very few new concepts, people or traditions it seems we have adopted something. Our love for dogs.
This love is displayed all too often via the new trend of ‘designer’ dogs. If you ever are in need of cheering up you only have to look at the creativity employed in creating and naming such breeds. Visit the pet section of any local newspaper or website and you will find an array of dogs for sale, their titles raging from the sublime to the ridiculous. The labradoodle was only the start of it. We now have Cockapo’s (Cocker Spaniel x Poodle), Jugs (Jack Russell x Pug), Cavachons (Cavalier x Bichon), Pushons (Pug x Bichon), the Bugg (Pug x Boston terrier) not to mention my own favourite the Wauzer (Mini Schnauzer x West Highland Terrier). When my little dog impregnated a lady dog last year I struggled and gave up as to what this new breed would be… a schnauzer crossed with a chizer? For those not in the know a Chizer is a Chihuahua, Shih Tzu cross!
Simultaneous with the rise in the multitude of new designer breeds is the rise in local pet services. We now have;
Pet grooming parlours where your furry friend can be pampered and preened to perfection. They groom the dogs so well that often I have observed that my dogs are better groomed than I am.
Pet hotels and resorts. Boarding kennels are fast becoming a thing of the past. Now when we are leaving our precious pooches behind they can avail of a luxurious stay. Your pooch can listen to piped music and be kept snug with purposely installed underground heating. They can even avail of a pampering groom and a daily hike.
Pet friendly hotels and accommodation. If you really can’t bear to be parted from your furry friend then holidaying at home with your pet has become an attractive option. We now have hotels that are dog friendly and an assortment of self-catering apartments where your pet is more than welcome.
Pet friendly coffee shops. No longer do you have to leave your furry friend at home when meeting your human companions. Now many coffee shops, pubs and restaurants openly advertise as dog friendly.
Doggy day-care. Don’t let your working hours become a barrier to owning a dog. Now your little friend can spend the day with other dogs in state of the art day care centres. You can even have pictures sent to you of the fun day your pooch is having! Dogs are walked, fed and spoiled until it is time for collection or delivery right to your front door.
Dog walkers. Not one for walking? Well once again no longer is this a barrier to owning a pet. Dog walking services are now ten a penny, your dog can be collected from your door, exercised (with pictures to prove it) and left home at a time to suit you.
Dog pools. Tired, old or ill dogs can now avail of a relaxing and therapeutic treatment in a custom-made hydro pool where all their stresses are worked away.
Puppy schools and dog trainers. Even if you struggle to train your little pooch, no need to worry. One of the many trainers can be at your door with just a press of a button to ease all your canine cares.
I love dogs, but when I looked at the array of services provided I can’t help think that we have gone a little barking mad. This was confirmed when last week on a visit to BM’s when I kid you not….I saw doggy shoes!! I think it would be fair to say that maybe we have gone a little overboard. We need to put our love for our dogs into perspective and this isn’t hard when you consider the rise in animal cruelty. Perhaps it would be beneficial for all those who can and do avail of the above services, to spare a thought for all the little dogs who aren’t quite so lucky. Loving dogs and pampering your pet, yet passing the pet food bank for strays at your local supermarket seems a little bit of a contradiction to me.
As with everything here, there is a split. On one hand we have multitudes of animal lovers but on the other we have a hidden world of animal abusers. Who could forget the heart breaking story of Cody? How can we turn our backs on the very real and frightening dog fighting images that flood the internet? Puppy farming is helping to supply the increased growth in designer breeds. Not all designer breeds come from farms but if we keep demanding them then some inevitably will. So, when looking for a dog, always be vigilant, especially when buying a puppy. Or better still visit your local pound and consider saving an unwanted dog’s life. This will prevent a perfectly healthy dog from suffering an unnecessary death. Eight years ago I rescued a dog from a pound. I was rewarded tenfold. I couldn’t ask for a more loyal dog. I could however ask for a less greedy dog! A lot of great work is being done daily to eradicate animal abuse in NI and I would urge you to support that as much as possible.
How do we report animal cruelty? It’s quite simple, if you suspect animal cruelty and that goes for all animals (not just dogs) the USPCA have many options to report it.
Details can be found at http://uspca.co.uk/how-to-report-animal-cruelty/
Thankfully most of us cannot do enough for our pets and see them as valuable family members. The rise in dog services (well some of them) makes me feel vindicated in that I don’t feel alone in being barking mad. In my opinion looking after a dog involves compassion and if so many of us are doing so, it goes to prove that contrary to popular opinion we definitely do have a compassionate side in Northern Ireland. What lessons can we take from how we value our pets and their increasing prominence in everyday society? How does this translate in our daily lives? In the most simplistic of terms I suppose one could argue that If only we could be more acceptance of people. If we can take anything from our dogs we should learn that whether their breed hails from China, Germany, Alaska or Mexico or whether they are large or small, pedigree or crossed, long or short-haired that they are all the same ….dogs. And they are all made welcome here. This is maybe the most basic yet profound message that having a dog can bring. It’s time Northern Ireland, we applied this to humans.