We had thought about getting a dog for months. Living with my wife's family inbetween house moves had been the turning point. They had a wonderful Springer called Oscar, who would have been about 5 at the time. Oscar was very much part of their family and his unconditional love was clear to see.
To be honest I hadn't imagined we would ever get a dog. We had our new house with a new cream sofa and near white carpets. Hardly the best choice for any prospective dog owners. We had though moved much closer to work (about 10 minutes drive) and gained a decent sized garden.
It was my wife who decided we were to have a dog. She registered on some reputable looking breeder sites and several months later announced a litter of Springers were available from St Helen's. We were soon off to see the pups and, like many people, instantly fell in love.
There was just one dog in the litter. He was amazingly cute. We both knew instantly that, subject to the breeder accepting we were going to give the little chap a good home, he (Finney) was the dog for us.
Our first lesson was that puppies aren't cheap. Bedding, bowls, puppy crate, toys, vaccinations, insurance and the cost of buying Finney from the breeder all mount up very quickly in the first few weeks. Then there was the time off work to make sure he was never really alone for the first few months with us. Holidays away were cancelled in that first year and we did 2 week 'shifts' to make sure Finney settled in to his new surroundings and mastered the basics like toilet training. There were plenty of disturbed nights sleep listening to the pitiful whine from the kitchen so in more ways than one, we were glad of the time off.
Our second big lesson was that puppies can get ill, and that when they do they do downhill rapidly. Soon after his second injections and first walk out, he developed diarrhoea and became lethargic. Within 24 hours he was so weak he couldn't stand. The emergency duty vet gave some injections and care advice but when we finally fell asleep exhausted that night a part of me was terrified that he'd be gone when we awoke. One of the happiest days of my life followed, when our bundle of fluff wandered shakily out of his bed and wagged his tail. If we hadn't known before then, we knew now that the relationship with a dog is special.
As with all special relationships, there are some aspects that need working on. We soon realised that puppy teeth are sharp, like needles. Finney liked nothing better than to launch himself at us and sink those needle sharp teeth in to ankles, cushions or any other closeby object. Chew toys became our greatest assets. A firm 'no' our most used word. In many ways we were lucky though. At no time did he try to eat the kitchen, sofa or any other major item!
Balancing work and home was our next challenge. We found a great local company who were able to come round every lunchtime as needed and take him out for a walk. Although we worked locally, it look the pressure off in terms of having to get home by a certain time at lunchtimes and we soon found it to be an essential part of dog ownership for us. 5 years later, Chris and Martin, who walk him, are now as much a part if his weekday routine as we are.
Training came next. Every week we attended training classes and over 18 months or so progressed to the Gold award. 5 years later the dog might have escaped but I continue to help out as best I can.
So what else has changed for us? Holidays. To be honest we have never been great sun worshipers. For the past 8 years we have headed down to Cornwall once or twice a year. All that really changed for us is that Finney comes too, and we enjoy our holidays even more as a result. There are plenty of good places to stay that welcome dogs. Restaurants may be out of bounds but we have found some amazing pubs and cafes. In nice weather eating pasties or fish and chips on a harbour wall, with a dog drooling at your feet, becomes a treasured memory.
Walking the dog is never a big issue. He is as happy walking down the road, with all its familiar smells, as he is walking further afield. We have enjoyed walks in places across Lancashire that I would never have been to if it hadn't have been for him. Over the past year or so my quest to seek out new places has been replaced by a more relaxed approach, just to enjoy those places which I know are a pleasure to visit. Even a couple of hours with a ball on our local park is great.
Owning a dog is wonderful, but it is huge commitment lasting maybe 10 to 15 years. In that time the dog doesn't grow more independent like a child. It will stay dependant on you for everything it needs, even going out to the toilet. Days out without the dog (football, shopping, fishing and more) will become rarer unless another family member is prepared to stay at home. I have found that raking my wife and friends to the Trafford Centre provides a good excuse to visit Dunham Massey with the dog. As your dog gets to old age it will need you even more, unlike a teenager who will no doubt be trying to spend as little time with you as possible.
A dog really is for life and changes your life, in a big way. For us, getting a dog has been wonderful. Hopefully he'll be with us for many years to come.
Oh, the carpets. Replaced with a darker pattern after about 6 months. Finney owns the sofa!