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Being ready to adopt a dog is the happiest relationship milestone

Caroline O'Donoghue and her boyfriend are finally ready to adopt a dog. But the process has already taught her more than she imagined, she says

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

When I fill out the registration form on the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home website, I am asked what brought me to the dogs' home. The options are: social media, print media, word of mouth, other. I select “other” because there is no Picasso option. 

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but Picasso changed everything. 

I’m not talking about art, or the art world, or culture as a whole. I am not talking about Guernica or Cubism or depictions of the female form. I am talking about dogs.

Picasso had a Dachshund called Lump. A line drawing of Lump, I believe, is available at Ikea. Lump is one of my favourite historical dogs and there is no end to cute stories about him. The story of how Lump became Picasso’s dachshund is like this: Lump belonged to a friend of Picasso’s, a photographer called David Douglas Duncan. Duncan had bought Lump as company for his Afghan Hound, who promptly decided to use Lump as some kind of dog-gimp, treating him “much like a toy, rolling him around Duncan’s apartment”. When Lump met Picasso during a visit to his house in Spain, it became immediately clear to everyone, as it often does when dogs meet their True Owners, that Lump belonged to Picasso. 

I am doing a monologue about this – about Picasso and Lump – when my boyfriend, Gavin, says something entirely unexpected. 

“I think we’re ready,” he says, slowly. “I think we’re ready to get a dog.” 

I’m amazed. It is not unusual for me to suggest getting a dog. It is not unusual for me to suggest a cat, a Shetland pony or a move to Canada. I am the queen of getting very invested in an idea, and Gavin is the king of kindly telling me how a Shetland pony would probably settle badly into our flat. It’s part of the reason we work; I can be too quick to dive into things, and he can be too slow to. Between us, we manage a paddle.

We stay up late discussing it, teasing out how it would work. I work from home, so a dog would definitely get walked enough. Gavin’s parents live nearby, so we wouldn’t have to worry about holiday kennelling. We have plenty of friends in the neighbourhood who were volunteering themselves as dog walkers, so I knew we had a support system. Plus, in many ways, it felt like the right step for us – we're too broke to afford a mortgage and too lazy to plan a wedding. A dog would be bigger than a wedding, in many ways – a wedding is a single day of your life, whereas dogs can live for over a decade. Were we sure we wanted to take responsibility for a life? And a dog’s life – arguably the most pleasant form of life there is?

We concluded that, as large a responsibility as it was, we were as ready as we would ever be.

I wish I could tell you what was different about this dog, except that it was our dog, and I knew it

So we registered, took pictures of our garden, got written permission from our landlady and started looking. I didn’t want just any dog. I wanted to be a True Owner. I scanned adoption sites all day, waiting to feel the gut instinct, waiting for my dog to appear. After weeks of feeling nothing, I started to suspect that my expectations were too high – this was a pet, after all, not a daemon. And then I found him: my True Dog. A retired greyhound shuffled into a shelter filled to bursting with identical retired greyhounds. I wish I could tell you what was different about this dog, except that it was our dog, and I knew it. Gavin knew it, too. We even knew what his name would be right away: Zoom. His name was Zoom. 

We started making calls about Zoom right away and the more we learnt, the harder we fell. He had never won a single race. He was born in Ireland and shipped to England as soon as he was weaned. “He’s like me,” I kept saying. “Just a lost, loser Paddy, trying to make it work.” We read up about greyhounds, how, in many ways, they are perfect apartment dogs, as they tend to be so lazy. “Perfect!” we cry. “Like us!” 

I regret to inform you that we did not get to adopt Zoom. Zoom, it turns out, cannot do stairs. 

The wave of sadness that came after was, to tell you the truth, a bit over the top. We mourned Zoom, our True Dog, and we mourned him hard. We stopped looking for a while, a little stung by the experience. This week, I’ve started sticking my foot back in Doggy River again, though tentatively. 

There was something a little reassuring, though, about how sad we could be together about a dog we had never owned. How we were both able to recognise the same loser greyhound as our loser greyhound, without knowing why. We each knew what we were not saying, when we talked about our plans for Zoom the Dog – we were admitting to each other that we both wanted the same things out of life, and out of dogs, and, potentially, out of a future family. We weren’t racing towards some scary adult future of children and vet bills and outdoor barbecues, but we were, perhaps, stepping a tentative paw towards it. 


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