Inventive ways Irish people are spending time with pooches without actually owning one
Between cramped apartments and long working hours, an entire generation of Irish dog lovers are restricted from having a pet of their own. But that doesn't stop them from finding inventive ways to enjoy some doggie time, as our reporter discovers when she meets the people who own…
Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30
I'm sitting in a café just south of Dublin city with my fiancé Joe, but it's not just any café. While the French toast is delicious, it's not the food that's brought us to Pupp on Clanbrassil Street - it's the clientèle of the four-legged variety.
As you might be able to tell by the name, Pupp trades on its dog-friendly reputation and we've come to see if it's a suitable spot to bring our two rescue dogs, Dora and Jacko. Dora can be a bit excitable at the sight of other dogs, and also gets jealous if I show another pup any attention. As a result, we have to be careful when exposing her to new environments.
An ardent dog lover, I'm in my element here, thrilled at the novelty of sitting inside a café surrounded by dogs. There's a cavalier king Charles in one corner, a labrador snoozing under the table next to us and a French bulldog by the door. In fact, I'm quite pleased at that moment to be temporarily dog-free so I can pet my new furry friends without repercussions from my beloved pooch. You might think it strange to visit a dog-friendly café without a dog, but Joe and I are not alone. There are several other customers sans mutt, there to enjoy the atmosphere and mix with fellow canine aficionados.
It's no secret that we Irish are dog lovers - 91pc of dog owners say that their pet is part of the family, according to a recent study by Pedigree. But for many busy millennials living in small spaces and jugging full-time jobs, owning a dog of their own is something that's just not quite within reach right now.
"Some people have names picked for their future kids, I have names picked for my future dogs - is that weird?" laughs 33-year-old Anna Kavanagh. A dachshund lover, she already knows that she wants a pair of smooth-haired miniatures one day, "a brown male called Jonty and a black female called Bentley."
However, as Anna currently lives in a two-bed apartment with her fiancé Mark, she says the time isn't right to make her doggy dreams come true. "As much as I would love a dog of my own, I feel that it would be very selfish to get one at this stage as we're both out at work all day. It just wouldn't be fair on the pooch to leave him or her alone for such long stretches, as dogs can get lonely and bored without company. Maybe down the line when we have a house with a garden for Jonty and Bentley to run around!"
Anna works near Sandymount Strand, and says she goes for a stroll there at lunchtime to have a peek at other people's pets. "Just seeing dogs make me feel happier and more relaxed if I'm having a particularly busy day."
And to maximise her doggy time, Anna also volunteers with the DSPCA whenever she can. "It involves a lot of cleaning and picking up after the dogs, but the reward is that you get to help walk and 'socialise' dogs that are either strays, have been given up by their owners or in the worst cases, have been abused in the past.
"It's heart-breaking at first but it's really rewarding to experience first hand their capacity to learn to trust again. I'm always sad leaving them behind at the end of the day but the DSCPA works tirelessly to make sure their dogs go to great homes where they'll be well looked after by their new families. Volunteering is perfect as you get to hang out with all kinds of pooches, without the full-time responsibility of actually owning a pet."
Gina Caddell is a dog owner by proxy, she and her family foster pups for Dogs Trust. "Our daughter Catherine is eight and is obsessed with dogs. She's been asking for one since she started to talk, she has had dog-themed birthday parties and her room is full of dog teddies, but they are not the same as the real thing. My husband wouldn't have been very keen on us getting one though - he's not very keen on animals and would see them as added work and a huge commitment."
Gina says the fact that her family lives in a terraced house in Phibsborough is a contributing factor to not having a dog of their own. "My preference would be to have a large dog such as a golden retriever, I don't really think it's fair to have a big dog living in the city. Having a smaller breed has never really appealed to me. I would hate to get a dog and then for it not to work out and then have to give the dog up. It's such a big commitment, it's adding another member to your family, another personality, and I feel a lot of people rush into it without really thinking it through as a 10-12 year commitment, sometimes more."
Instead, Gina minds dogs for short periods of time. "We sat down as a family and discussed the idea - everyone had to agree that we would do it. It's a family project and that means that we all have to do the work that comes with the dogs. It can be very hard to give the dogs to their new owners but it's also lovely to see them go to their forever homes.
"We can coordinate with Dogs Trust and let them know when we're available. More often than not it is a puppy, so ideal for the children as there is always lots of excitement. Dogs Trust provide everything you need in order to care for the puppy and are on call all of the time for advice and support. We've had eight dogs now from Dogs Trust, but I don't think we're ready to commit full-time yet."
While it's good news for charitable organisations to get those longing for a dog on the volunteer books, businesses seem to be catching on to the idea of dog owning by proxy. BorrowMyDoggy.com is a service that matches busy pet owners with willing dog walkers and minders in their area, and is proving popular in Dublin - although of course, a large degree of trust is involved.
Apartment living and sporadic work schedules are the reasons that newlyweds Shane Gillen and Cat O'Broin don't own a dog of their own. "We'd hate to have a dog that would end up just bored and locked up inside all the time, it wouldn't be fair," says Shane. "If we had a garden, and time, I'd personally love to have a husky or a Bernese mountain dog - my friend has two and they're amazing. Cat is mad about bulldogs, there'll be one of them in our future, I'm sure."
The couple offer to mind other people's dogs "all the time" and have just handed back their furry friend Taylor after a fortnight of dogsitting him for friends in Co Wicklow. "We were looking into fostering for a while, when our schedules weren't as busy. Since we just got married, a dog surely comes next! Our plan is probably to travel, but whenever we settle, I'm sure a dog will be on the cards."
TV vet Pete Wedderburn says that dogs can certainly have a positive psychological effect on humans. "There is plenty of proof that pets are good for people, from childhood right through to old age. Dogs show us the ultimate in unconditional love. If you let them down, they don't bear grudges: they love you anyway. They also teach us to live in the moment, dogs are experts at making the most of each second. They're social facilitators too: if you go for a walk with a dog, it's easy to strike up conversation with fellow dog owners. The right dog will transform anyone's life for the better."
However, he's adamant that waiting until you're absolutely ready to own a dog is essential. "The key is 'the right dog, at the right time'. A dog brings serious responsibility - financially, emotionally and practically. If you can't live up to that responsibility, you shouldn't get a dog. You'll suffer and, worse again, so will the dog.
"If you decide the time is right, do plenty of research before taking on a dog. I'd recommend a rescue animal from an experienced dog rescue centre, because the staff will be able to advise you on the best sort of animal to suit your situation, and they're probably far more likely to be right than if you follow your own fashion-driven, dream-led ideas."
Being a pet owner is indeed demanding. Personally, I'm lucky in that I'm a freelance writer with a flexible schedule. In the past when working, I've had to put my two in doggy day care at considerable expense. And when searching for a place to rent three years ago, I found it very tough to find somewhere that would accept not only me, but my two furry family members also. I knew my cottage in Dublin 7 was perfect for all three of us when I saw the owner had installed a dog flap in the back door.
However, not everyone is in a position to spend weeks searching for the perfect place to accommodate a dog, and most people certainly don't have a landlord as lovely as mine. So I understand that for many of my peers, owning a dog might not be a responsibility they're able to take on.
Still, a dog lover is a dog lover and needs their furry fix - hence the popularity of Pupp and places like it, and events like The Doggie Do and Pawsitivity In The City. In fact, Pupp's owner Paul Froggatt has recently set up the Dog-Friendly Association of Ireland (dfai.ie) to help more businesses open their doors to canines in a safe and responsible way. And now I know that if I'm stuck for a petsitter, there are 17 willing matches in my location on BorrowMyDoggy.com.
pupp.ie; dspca.ie; dogstrust.ie
Here, Pete The Vet shares his top tips for prospective dog owners
Make a budget
"It costs a predictable amount of money to own a dog - from equipment to feeding, to vet costs, to boarding fees, not to mention the €20 annual dog licence. Make sure that you can afford a dog before getting one."
Make a schedule
"Do you have an hour free, twice a day, to feed, care for and walk the dog? A dog can be a best friend, and can change your life for the better, but remember that you also need to be your dog's best friend. There's no point in going ahead unless you can step up to that mark."
Adopt, don't shop
"If you are ready, go to an organisation like Dogs Trust, Madra.ie, DSPCA or ISPCA. If there's no branch near, there's a website called rescueanimalsireland.ie which lists nearly all the rescue centres in Ireland."