WHEN our dog was young I used to make him watch Crufts in the hope that it would improve his behaviour.
He’d come from a long line of show beagles. I still remember, 11 years on, the medals on the wall at the breeder’s home.
We’d done our research, got all the training books, and with show-dog genes running through his DNA, we brought him – Bramall the beagle – back to Jersey entirely confident that life as pet owners would be pure bliss.
And then he got into the cupboard and ate a pack of blackberry jelly. I only discovered this during a walk the following day, when I bent down, poo bag in hand, and found myself asking: ‘Why is this purple and why is it wobbling?’
What followed has been a decade of madness, of utterly bizarre, inexplicable bouts of naughtiness that no one, not even the most resilient and well-prepped dog owner, could ever really be prepared for.
I got thinking about all this the other day when the paper published an article about the JSPCA trying to rehome some pets.
This story came amid the well-documented rise across the British Isles of abandoned ‘lockdown pets’ – animals which were bought during the early part of the pandemic and duly sent packing when normalish life returned.
So why do people give up their animals? Simple: life with a pet is rarely like it appears in the adverts. Or on Crufts, for that matter. It is not all cuddles, playing and standing back and beaming with pride as your dog carries out your orders to your exact command (unless you own a border collie – essentially a robot with hair). Don’t get me wrong, our beagle is a lovely, lovely dog. So loving and caring that he cries in the hall if I am not out of bed by 7am. So soft and gentle that he’s never shown the slightest bit of aggression, even when our children were very young and perhaps a little rough with him. He’s wonderful in so many ways.
But if we ever gave him up, he’d be a lifer at the JSPCA’s Animals’ Shelter.
I began to realise this in March 2013, when we first forced him to watch Crufts. We left the room for a matter of minutes and returned to find he’d eaten the rest of our Kettle Chips and got the bag stuck on his face.
If we ever needed proof that our hound was not destined for a life in the show ring, there it was, in all its sea-salted glory.
He couldn’t even work out how to get it off; he just sat there, seemingly paralysed, possibly thinking he’d gone blind. As punishment I just left it. I only took it off when the Hound section of the show came on, as I thought that would be too demeaning for the young dog.
Each New Year’s Eve since we have gone to bed hoping that the following year would be the year that things changed – it would be the year that he finally grew up.
But I can’t tell you how many times we have come home and he has skulked out of the kitchen and into the hall, looking up with his big eyes and a face that says: ‘Daddy, I love you very, very much. And something bad has happened.’
And then you go into the kitchen and discover he’s eaten a loaf of bread. And the bag.
Or that he has somehow got into the cupboard where we keep the bird food and eaten at least a kilo of nuts.
And then you wake up the following morning and the hall looks like an explosion in a Snickers factory.
They embarrass you, too, whenever someone visits. The friend, the postman, the tradesman, the vicar. Yes, the vicar.
Bramall’s finest moment came a few years ago when the parish rector came round to meet us ahead of our youngest son’s christening. Me and my wife were sitting on one sofa, the vicar on the other.
He was just explaining the bit about the holy water when the dog somehow got out of the kitchen, bolted into the lounge and jumped on him.
There’s no easy way to say this but the dog was clearly – visibly – very, very pleased to meet a man of the cloth. What’s odd is that he had never been ‘excited’ in this way before. Perhaps he’d just had a dream about a sexy poodle, or a bag of nuts, or whatever turns him on. Or perhaps it was the dog collar that did it for him. We’ll never know. All I know is that the vicar, who had not clocked that the hound was in an unholy state of arousal, was very fond of Bramall and flatly refused my multiple attempts to get the dog off him.
I can’t tell you how difficult it is to ask a vicar sensible questions about your son’s forthcoming commitment to God while simultaneously casting your eye over to your dog’s nether regions in the hope that his ‘interest’ in our guest was showing some signs of waning. Twenty long minutes went by as we chatted and the vicar gently stroked Bramall’s belly, each time unwittingly moving his hand further towards the dog’s appendage while I pleaded with him – practically begged – to let me remove the dog.
I brought it to an end when the vicar refused for the final time, saying: ‘No Richard, I love dogs and they love me.’ And I’m sitting there thinking ‘I can see that, vicar’ and so I scooped the dog up, dumped him in the kitchen and told him to have a cold shower or something.
The point is this: pets are great, but they rarely turn out as you’d hope.
Dogs do silly things. Cats will hate you. The only time they will ever show anything resembling affection is when they jump onto your lap and start ‘padding’ (essentially pushing their feet and claws onto your legs causing awful pain, but you let them do it just so you can have some form of contact with them). Fish do nothing. Absolutely nothing but swim. Hamsters, at best, run around on a wheel. Ask yourself, why would anyone want to watch that? Rabbits do even less. Snakes barely even move.
So for the love of God – quite literally in our case – think twice before buying yourself a pet.