I own a dog. I thought about getting a dog for years but was put off by the obvious dis-benefits, the smell, being restricted about going places, and the poo. It's a bit like thinking about having children, there seem to be a lot of reasons why you shouldn't, and no-one tells you about the really good bits. I got my dog because I work from home, and I was starting to realise I was in danger of never leaving the house, except to jump in the car and rush somewhere, and what a brilliant idea it was.
There are lots of benefits of having the dog - the main one being it makes me walk, which I expected, and is why I got him in the first place. What I hadn't expected was all the added benefits that walking more would bring.
My dog is called Ralph. Pre-Ralph in the mornings I would have breakfast, drive the kids to school then sit at my desk. At lunchtime I'd grab a sandwich, and stay at my desk until the kids came home. Often I would have no idea what the weather was doing, and on days when I didn't drop off the kids I might not even step outside the house. Now the first job in the morning is take Ralph down the lane, and it's wonderful. It gives me my first sense of the kind of day we'll have - that early morning feeling in the weather is wonderful. Then, in term time, we walk to school. It takes about 15 minutes longer than driving, but it is so much calmer, and we talk. We talk about all sorts of things, the kind of things that crop up in a child's mind, the things that are important to them. We're lucky that we walk through the woods to school, it's not good for keeping school shoes clean, but we see lots of wildlife. Our top moments this year have been seeing roe deer cross the path right behind us, and a family of woodpeckers feeding together.
Walking down the lane, and generally spending time outside means I meet the neighbours. Pre-Ralph I knew our immediate neighbours but not any others - now I know everyone well enough to chat to. We don't just live here now, we're part of the community. And it isn't just the neighbours we meet. I have more friends now than I have ever had - the social side of owning a dog is amazing. It's a bit like a not-so-secret society - anyone can join as long as they are walking a dog, it doesn't even have to be their dog.
My morning dog walks have become the social highlight of the day. There are regulars in both of the nearby parks, many of which are now friends, and then there are the people who have less regular patterns and who we only meet occasionally, many of whom it is a real treat to see. Having a dog with you is a great way to start a conversation, in our case usually "what kind of dog is that ?". This weekend Ralph earned himself 10 new friends. We walked into the local park, which was full of people enjoying the sunshine. A group of about ten young boys were sitting on a bank. At first they were a bit afraid of Ralph, but soon realised he posed no threat, so they asked if they could throw his ball. The boys were Asian, not many of our local Asian community own dogs, and many children are very scared of them - but by the time we left the park with one very tired dog at least ten more children realised that dogs are great fun.
But the event that prompted me to write this blog happened later the same day. It was a glorious warm night last night, and I took Ralph out before bed and was enjoying the warmth when i realised he had found something - it was a young hedgehog. This is the third he's spotted in a month, but the first youngster. It was about the size of my hand and tightly curled up. I love hedgehogs, but pre-Ralph I can count the number of times I've seen a live one on one hand. If I'd have been on my own last night I would never have seen it, or any of the ones earlier - Ralph can smell them, then simply looks at them unsure what to do. I'm delighted that there are still plenty around, and even more delighted that i have got to see them.
I knew I'd get more exercise when I got Ralph, but I hadn't realised all the other benefits, so if you are wondering about getting a dog here's my top 10 reasons why you should :
1. having time to talk to my children
2. meeting the neighbours
3. making new friends
4. seeing wildlife
5. watching the seasons change
6. being loved unconditionally
7. the best ever welcome when you come home
8. and of course getting fitter
9. and he makes me laugh
10. lots !