People in the country think I’m a serial killer, because I walk without a dog. It’s obvious I have bad intentions – and most probably, murder on my mind – in the absence of a furry companion trotting to heel.
“Where’s your dog?” locals ask suspiciously.
Sometimes I say the dog’s been left behind, like a neglected child abandoned by a bad parent. I’m not sure if canine carelessness is better or worse than multiple massacres. It’s hard to know what plays best in rural parlance when you’re an ‘incomer’, although I’ve owned a Wiltshire cottage for over 25 years now.
Sometimes I explain that I possessed dogs as a child, so people will be sympathetic and think I’m one of them. Maybe they’ll believe I care about mongrel matters, while the reality is our dogs in the Canadian Rockies rode in the back of a pick-up truck and slept in the porch. They weren’t fussed over like British pooches on down-filled beds, displaying tartan ensembles like more hirsute versions of Kate Moss on the cat, or should that be dog, walk. Besides, we didn’t really go on walks with our dogs back then.
Sometimes I just tell the truth. My husband has asthma, so we can’t have pets. I regurgitate the family joke we tell our children. “We couldn’t have dogs, so we had you as dog substitutes.” It’s always good to give your kids something to talk about in therapy.
The concept of dog as god is not a new one. In Celtic Ireland, chiefs and warriors took the name Hound to demonstrate bravery and devotion. It was also believed that diseases could be cured by applying the saliva of a dog.
Cavall, King Arthur’s dog, accompanied his master when hunting enchanted boar. And Argos, the faithful dog of King Odysseus, recognised his master after 20 years of absence, dying shortly after Odysseus passed by him.
In your dreams, a white dog represents purity and magic. A stray dog following you is a good omen, particularly on a rainy day, which could you bring you an extra bit of luck. Dogs in art symbolise devotion, fidelity and perseverance.
While the husky spirit animal reminds us that the journey is more important than reaching your destination, it’s hard to see how today’s humble mutt could reach the same philosophical heights. Is the whole country going to the dogs?
Not owning a dog you can regularly take for walks is akin to being the only man in a playgroup (as much as women pretend to accept you, they still worry you might be there for the wrong reasons). Us dog-less folk are not to be trusted, as having a dog is pretty much obligatory in these parts.
It’s not that I’m anti-dog as such. I like dog shows at fetes, especially when the animals run amok and small children are awarded ribbons for looking cute holding onto leads. My hairdresser has a French bulldog called Gizmo, who stars in videos chasing a broccoli floret round the living room (what’s not to like?). And I love Olive and Mabel on YouTube, with sports announcer commentating on their dog-eat-dog race to finish breakfast.
Sometimes I borrow a dog on walks with a friend from a neighbouring village. She’s the proud owner of a fluffy white Maltese, and tan and white Shih Tzu, both with fashionable little plaits. Holding onto a lead of one of the silky hounds lends me a form of respectability in the community, albeit fleetingly, as eventually I have to return the on-loan dog.
I’ll never be able to emulate Saint Roch, the saint of dogs, usually depicted with canine companions by his side. As an underdog without a dog, I suspect I’ll never totally fit into a society that places dogs above children, partners and friends.
But we could ask the question why someone who chooses not to have a dog for whatever legitimate reason is classified as different, or even downright dangerous. Those promenading without a furry friend beside us aren’t about to commit carnage on calm country lanes. Maybe it’s time to let sleeping dogs lie.