| 3.1°C Dublin

David Robbins: It sure is a dog's life -- and their energy is catching

It's a dog's life. This is a conclusion I first came to in the summer of 1980, when I was sitting my Leaving Cert. There is an immutable law of meteorology that states that the weather will always be good when you've got exams. The more important the exams, the sunnier it will be.

So it was that year. I would arrive home between papers, exhausted in mind and body. I would find the house deserted. My mother and our dog were stretched in the sun in the back garden.

It was the dog I envied most. Not a care in the world. No Honours Maths. No Higher Level English. Not even a test in Bone Retrieval FETAC Level 4.

Now that I've got a dog of my own, I am even more convinced that canines have got it made. For instance, I'm pretty sure the whole euro thing has completely passed Pipsi by.

I also find that I like dog owners as a breed. They are by nature friendly. They have to be: some sort of exchange of pleasantries is required when your dog is nosing about another dog's undercarriage.

As a new owner, I've also discovered that dogs are pretty well catered for by Official Ireland. There is, for instance, an enclosed dog run in our local park.

Owners can lean on the fence and watch fondly as their pets explore the rich diversity of possible partners. "Oh, don't worry," is a familiar reassurance from the sidelines, "he's had the snip."

There is something cheering, too, about seeing your dog enjoying herself. You start to feel better. Their doggy enthusiasm is catching.

When I see Pipsi in full flight, ears back, low to the ground, leggy stride eating up the turf -- I often think of a passage in To The Lighthouse.

Mrs Ramsay is trying to call her daughter Cam, who dashes past "like a bird, bullet, or arrow, impelled by what desire, shot by whom, at what directed who could say?"

What is she running to, or after, wonders Mrs Ramsay. A bird, or a shell, or a fairytale castle? Or is it simply the glory of speed?

Mind you, dog ownership is not without its dangers, as I discovered recently. It began with a half-overheard snatch of conversation in a nearby park.

It was the phrase "singles scene" which made me prick up my ears. Two ladies of a certain age were walking briskly past, arms swinging. "It's a real singles scene down there," one said with a laugh.

"Oh I must bring mine down," replied the other. "Where is it again?"

"Just down by the river," replied the first. "There's a kind of park there just by the bridge. Most people don't even know it's there."

Now, a long career in newspapers has left me with an overly lurid imagination. Immediately I pictured some sort of outdoor swinging scene in the heart of suburbia.

The reference to "bringing mine" must refer to her poor husband, I supposed.

But surely not in this weather, I thought.

Then I remembered The Sexual Life of Catherine M, the bestselling sex-with-strangers tale set in Paris. These people don't stop just because the thermometer drops.

My years in journalism have mostly been spent fiddling my expenses and writing features. Now it was time for some investigative stuff.

I decided to bring the dog so that I might pass off as an innocent passer-by, simply out exercising the family pet on a winter's morning.

As I neared the park in question, I thought I heard the laugh of the "recruiter" walker. Sure enough, there she was by a park bench, bold as brass. Then I saw her companion and a group of others. And their dogs.

This was not a scene from a Michel Houellebecq novel; it was more like something out of James Herriot. The secret park was a poodle pick-up joint. It was Copper's for canines.

I had made the cardinal mistake, the one Sherlock Holmes had warned Dr Watson against time and again: I had theorised in the absence of all the facts.

Relieved, I let Pipsi off her lead. She took off like a bullet. Was it the glory of speed, I wondered, or the Cocker Spaniel from No 97?

drobbins@independent.ie

Indo Review