Paul Hopkins: Remember, a dog’s not just for the pandemic...

Donald Trump was the first US president since James Polk in the 1840s to not have a pet in the White House, probably something to do with the dogged pup that is the outgoing president. Now, after four years without a pet at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it will be dog days again when, in January, Major, President-elect Biden’s German shepherd, will be the first rescue dog ever to live in the White House. With him will be 12-year-old Champ, the Bidens’ other German shepherd.

This news, surprisingly or perhaps not, has been met with almost global elation on social media, reflecting a growing embrace of rescue dogs.

Dogs can be ongoing victims of commercial-scale operations that breed solely for profit, often without ensuring proper health care and such. There has been a glut of such operations – and dogs stolen – in Ireland in recent years.

I like dogs, a lot, but I guess I’m more of a cat fan. Not surprising given I’m a Leo and travel often to Africa in pursuit of the big ones. I like their majesty, their independence and their fur coats. Dogs, meantime, are so much more dependent on you and you always need to walk them.

Not everyone agrees. It was Alfred North Whitehead, the mathematician and philosopher, who said if a dog jumped onto your lap, it was because he was fond of you; but if a cat did, it was because your lap was warmer.

During a pandemic, when people can be stressed and fearful, research has shown that the presence of a non-human companion — especially a dog — reduces stress and makes us feel better. Going for ‘walkies’ speaks volumes for mental and physical health.

Early in the pandemic pets were being abandoned in their droves in Wuhan in China and there was the belief that such would follow suit elsewhere but worldwide it was the opposite with a surge in adoptions and rescues. Like Ruby, a most loveable one-year-old rescued by my daughter Niamh and husband Gary who has brought untold joy to their lives. And mine.

The pandemic has been replacing Christmas as a time when people get a pet but, now, many owners are unable — perhaps because of lost income or families having returned to work and school — to properly care for the latest members of their families, according to the Irish Blue Cross. And are abandoning them to cat and dog homes.

Una O’Toole, head of veterinary services at the animal charity, says: “We have noticed a much greater level of phone calls from concerned pet owners. We expect the coming weeks to be busy with looking after dogs people can no longer look after.”

Elsewhere, Dogs Trust says it is concerned that, as children had returned to school and people moved out of working from home, there will be a growing increase in the number of dogs being given into their care.

It says numbers are already beginning to rise after a significant drop in the early days of the pandemic. Between January and August this year there were 624 surrender request calls to the charity, compared with 1,266 in the same period last year. Last month, however, the charity received the highest number of surrender request calls from dog owners since April.

Meanwhile, those in the know say the biggest mistake we humans can make with our dogs is to treat them like humans. We tend to look at our canine friends as little humans when, in reality, they are canines who have a very different thought process. What differentiates Man from others in pack species is that, with others, there has to be a specific ‘order’ from the leader on down to the mere followers. Everyone has their place: the leader is the strength of the pack, while the followers need the leader to guide them.

According to my friend Sharon, a registered dog breeder, the mistake is made when the humans in the pack only give the dog love and overlook other needs. To a dog, constant affection without rules and limits goes against every grain in its instinct. Dogs simply love affection. However, that alone does not make our four-legged friends happy; rather, satisfying their instincts does and that means showing you have an orderly pack.

That is the ideal, but most of us know otherwise. It seems like dogs always call the shots from their vantage point couple-of-feet-above-the-ground world.

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