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Comment: Charity has got a good time licked
A year ago, I was not a dog person. I had grown up with a cat or two around the house, understood feline ways, and I’d come to the conclusion dogs and I shared a reciprocal dislike.
Every time I came near a dog, it would bark, or snarl, or both. For me, canine meant cannot.
And then, somehow or other, we ended up getting a pet dog.
What’s more, he ended up being utterly charming, a miniature schnauzer called Oscar who is kind-spirited, devoted and attentive to an extent far beyond most people.
Sure, he barks at strangers, but he’s about as innately frightening as a cushion.
The only time he appears to actually trouble people or, for that matter, other dogs, is through his determination to play with just about everyone or everything.
It turns out, I now discover, most of the time dogs are barking is because they want you to have some fun with them.
Don’t take that as a golden rule – if some pit bull fighting dog is barking at you, and snarling, I really don’t suggest you assume it’s playtime. But with Oscar, it’s safe to assume he’d like to have a laugh.
So now I’m a dog person, which is quite something to come to terms with.
It doesn’t mean I like everyone else’s dog, nor that I have all the paraphernalia that goes with it.
I am still to use one of those devices that hurls a tennis ball into the distance, but then again our dog isn’t much of a retriever.
Throw him the ball and he seems to like picking it up and then running off. I rather like that.
This weekend, we took him to what was basically a dog’s dream excursion.
Imagine a trip to Alton Towers, transfer it to the mindset of a ten-month-old puppy and you come up with the summer open day at the Dogs Trust centre in Harefield.
It’s a place I’ve heard of before – they take in lots of strays and unwanted pets and try to find them new homes. But I’d never been there.
It’s a brilliant place. Big fields, obstacle courses, classrooms to teach the basics of how to train them and lots of people who want to do nothing more than make dogs and owners happy.
And on Sunday, with the sun beating down and the car park full, it was like some huge social occasion for dogs.
They came in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. I’ll be slightly vague here because, despite my new-found zeal for these pets.
I don’t know many of the breed names. I can spot a Labrador or an Alsatian and I’m a dab hand at seeing schnauzers.
But beyond that, I’m more into the realms of small, medium or large. And there were lots of all of them.
The latest thing seems to be dogs that are part poodle and part something else.
You can tell these because the hair is curly, and also because the breed has name that ends with – “oodle” or “poo”.
A labradoodle is, as you'd imagine, half Labrador, half poodle; a cockapoo is a blend of poodle and cocker spaniel.
A Yorkshire terrier version is called a yorkiepoo, which is a name that conjures up some pretty unpleasant images, especially as I’m rather partial to a Yorkie chocolate bar.
It’s all about diversity. Dogs have become such a complicated business that one stall at the open day even offered a DNA service to work out who and what your dog actually is.
You can pay £60 – or £75 for the silver service – for the company to test your dog’s DNA and find out what breeds lay in his or her past.
That, in turn, might explain why it behaves in certain ways – some dogs like chasing animals, some like barking at strangers, some need to be exercised almost constantly, others just like digging holes.
Dogs do come in this dizzying variety of shapes and sizes and so do their owners.
The beauty of this open day, as well as the stalls and the displays, was the infectious informality of it all.
It’s hard to be standoffish when your own pet is introducing itself to everyone else’s pet, twisting his lead round theirs and nuzzling each other’s tummies.
At times like that, it’s hard to stand in stoic silence.
So we all say hello, and assure each other our dogs are friendly and share a few notes on health, and food, and how training is a lot harder than it looks when you see Crufts on the telly.
And then you wander off and it starts all over again.
There were, incongruously, also a few people wandering around dressed as screen heroes and villains. A cyberman (fifth doctor vintage, I believe), Cinderella, Judge Dredd, Snow White, Batman and the bounty hunter Boba Fett from Star Wars. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me what they had to do with dogs but – hey – what’s not to love?
The serious side to all this is the Dogs Trust does spectacularly good work.
Each year it has to deal with 17,000 lost and abandoned dogs and it relies on donations to fund it all.
Forty-six dogs per day is a lot to cope with, so I wish them the best of luck. And if you’re ever in Harefield and fancy a cup of tea, they also have a very lovely little café. Dogs, it won’t surprise you, are welcome.
Talking of nice people . . . to celebrate my son’s birthday, we visited six car dealers in Watford.
Production cars are his absolute absorbing passion and so when it came to a special birthday treat, an afternoon visiting car showrooms was his number one request, just as it had been a year before.
He would like to have seen more. Ideally, we’d have gone to a dealership for every single manufacturer, but six was still a good return and what was lovely was everyone was welcoming, friendly and encouraging.
We were taken for a spin in a VW, doors were opened to new cars wherever we went and he had his in-depth questions patiently answered.
The man at Peugeot, who had, on a previous occasion, been quizzed about the minutest variations in the RCZ and 208 model ranges, greeted Eddy like an old friend and threw open the driver’s door of their newest car.
Car dealers, like journalists, don’t always have a great reputation and sometimes, like journalists, they probably deserve it.
But I’ve visited more of our local showrooms than most people over the past few years and we’ve always been welcomed with open arms and generous spirit. Car salesmen and women – thank you.
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