I’m 27 weeks pregnant with my third child at the moment. This baby has taken 3 years to conceive as I had a medical condition that I only just discovered at the end of last year. Anyway the reason I say this is to explain why we got a dog in the first place. He was my 3rd child replacement. Well, he was meant to be! I had asked Ad a few times about it and he wasn’t sure we could manage it with two young kids. But then, in February 2016, he finally relented. I browsed Gumtree and found a private advert asking for a good home for an 8 month old Lab (the young family couldn’t meet his needs properly) and the rest is history. It was fate. We were meant to have Hugo in our lives. And even thogh he didn’t fill the gap in my life for another child, he did give us so much other stuff.
Here’s what Hugo brings to our family life…
1. It’s given me routine and responsibility
In my twenties my life was all about socialising and work. I enjoyed both, but without an anchor I swung wildly between working hard and manically almost, then blowing off steam like a whirligig a few times a week and at the weekends too! This resulted in not that great mental health on my part. At times I wondered if I was bipolar – I even got tested. What was missing from my life, and what I found when I was 30, was the routine and responsibility of family life. With kids to get up and look after, and eventually pets too – first a lovely tabby called Bert, later two more cats, Henry and Myrtle – and last but by no means least dear, dear Hugo a few years ago, I had to slow down, as I had other living things to look after. This sense of responsibility for me is both the ‘drag’ of being a parent and pet owner, but I know that ‘adulting’ is the thing that saved my life, and made me happy and content. Having a dog to feed, walk, talk to (!), pet, cuddle, be concerned about, clean up after, laugh at (we do that a lot)… well, it’s enriching in so many ways.
2. Our kids have learnt about how to respect other living things
The kids gain so much from having Hugo. Both of them adore him. But my son in particular is so close to him. He’s that bit older, so can understand him and his needs a bit more sensitively. Hugo sleeps outside his door, as Arthur’s room is downstairs, and in the morning Hugo and I go to wake Arthur, Hugo jumps on his bed, first his paws but then eventually he ends up fully on there! This strong, close relationship is so important for their development. Beatrix, also, has a close bond with him. She pets him lovingly – especially when they have been apart for the day or even overnight. She misses him and tells him so. The gentleness I encourage from them towards him is great for them learning about how to treat animals with respect. We are really strict on kids – not just ours, but friends and cousins too – not jumping all over him too much. Hugo is incredibly tolerant, but I don’t let them take advantage of that. They would never poke or taunt him – and are quick to chastise any other kids that do (often innocently, as all kids need to be taught to respect animals).
3. He’s a great destresser for all of us
Artie has had a tough time at school – nothing too serious, he just felt a bit down about it and had some teething problems. And there is nothing more relaxing or better for cheering a young boy up than a good fuss with his favourite big brown bear. I see the positive effect it has on him. It’s been scientifically proven that petting an animal can significantly lower stress and anxiety levels. That’s why they take dogs on hospital wards. When Bea has a tearful meltdown (quite common when you’re 5), she gets so much comfort from Hugo! I remember being a kid and when I fell out with my parents or just got upset for no reason, I would cry and my Labrador, Sam, would come over and give me his paw. The relationship between a child and their dog is so sensitive and they both seem to benefit from it. This isn’t just true for the kids. Adam has a very stressful job and after a long day of meetings or traveling he comes home and gets mauled by Hugo – he might try to resist at first but as much as Adam pushes him down from the sofa as he jumps up to cuddle him, eventually he ALWAYS gives in and Hugo knows that! And I can see the stress drain from Adam’s face.
4. Walking him is a reason to have daily exercise
This is a big one. Every day (almost without fail, but on the days when we don’t walk him which are very rare, we throw balls for him on the back garden) someone, normally me but almost as much, Adam, has to walk the dog. We used to walk him twice a day. But now we find one decent walk, with the ball thrower (essential piece of kit by the way – it trebles the exercise he gets on a walk) is enough. I take him for a 45 minute to 1 hour walk, over various routes. We live in the Peak District so we’re spoilt for choice really with walks from our door. At weekends, occasionally we pack a rucksack and take him on longer walks with the kids – not as much as we should probably but we’ve had so much house stuff to catch up on. As the kids get older we will do more of that. Even when our third child comes along in early September I will have to take him – the baby will go in a sling, so I can trek across fields, or in a buggy and we’ll do lane walks. When you feel a bit flat, or can’t be bothered, I find those walks are the ones that you often enjoy the most. It’s not so much the keeping fit aspect, which is important of course, but for me it’s the positive mental effects of walking that are so good. It’s great thinking time and I often come up with ideas on my walks for blog posts or videos.
5. He reminds us to live in the moment
When you look at Hugo’s face, he is so easy to read. Whether he’s sat at the breakfast table waiting hopefully for a morsel of leftover sausage, or waiting on his dog bed with sad, expectant eyes asking you why we haven’t been on our morning walk yet – it’s clear that all he’s thinking about is food, walk… and that’s about it! It’s a great reminder to live in the moment and simply. When you’re out walking all he is bothered about is the ball – there isn’t a better example of living in the moment that I can think of.
6. He makes me feel safe
I’m at home alone most days. The kids are at school, Ad is at work mostly though he does try to work from home one day a week. Being pregnant at the minute I have a really heightened sense of protectiveness over myself, but even when I’m not pregnant, I like to feel safe. So when there’s a knock at the door and a man is there, I’m grateful for Hugo’s vicious sounding bark behind me. It reassures me. Not only that but when Ad is away with work, Hugo seems to be more on guard than ever. The slightest noise in the night – say, someone walking past after a late night at the pub up the road – and he goes mental, barking like a good ‘un. And it does sound scary. It’d put me off burgling the house anyway! On dog walks – and runs, when I manage them which isn’t very often – I feel safe that he is there as I walk through woodland and down dark secluded lanes. Would he protect me if I were attacked? Who knows. I’d like to think he would!
7. He’s great company for me all day at home
Hugo is my constant companion. As I type he is sat a metre away on the floor, on his dog bed (he has recently been relegated from sofa sitting to floor sitting once more, poor love, as we try to make our home smell nicer!). If I stand to make a drink, or go to the loo, he might follow me. At the very least he raises an eyebrow and register my actions. He’s always aware of what I’m doing, and I him. When I hang the washing out he comes along. When I eat lunch he sits alongside (I guiltily eat my food and explain to him that I am unfortunately banned currently from giving him snacks as Ad says he’ll get fat). It’s lovely to have someone with me all the time. I chat to him, we have a cuddle. He’s great company.
8. He is a proper member of our family
He might not have replaced my third child, but he counts almost as much as one of the kids. He takes part in our life. When we’re on holiday, we’re excited to see him swim in the sea. The other day Bea, Artie and me were in hysterics at the dinner table and he laughed along too – that sounds insane but he got so excited which made us laugh even more. When I tell the kids off, he hangs his head low. He knows what’s going on. He picks up on the vibe and he joins in. The only difference is that he is silent!
I think back to when we didn’t have Hugo – and yes, it was one less thing to have to think about. But as I’ve said, I know I am the type of person who is better off with responsibilities; I thrive on them. He’s the easiest member of our family; I always say that to him! He gives us so much and asks for so little in return. To anyone who is thinking of getting a dog, I encourage them to think it through seriously. It is a huge commitment, the next one down from having kids. (I actually made a video last year about things to consider when thinking about getting a dog, check it out below.) Saying that, it’s also one of the greatest ways to enrich your family’s life that I can think of.
Do you have a dog? Tell me about him or her! Or are you thinking of getting one? What is holding you back? Let me know in the comments!