Will the huge surge in demand for puppies and kittens during lockdown lead to a lot of abandoned pets when life returns to normal? That’s the concern of various professional bodies and animal welfare organisations. The Kennel Club has warned those searching for puppies on its website that a dog is for life, not just the coronavirus, while Battersea Dogs Home initially slapped a ban on rehoming, allowing only fostering during the crisis. ‘Now isn’t the right time to bring home a puppy, or make an impulsive decision to get a pet,’ warned Holly Conway, head of public affairs at the Kennel Club.
The Young family acquired Malinky, our five-month-old cavapoochon, just before the country was placed under lockdown, and I don’t think there’s much danger of her being abandoned once this madness is over. Caroline has already declared that she prefers sharing a bed with Mali to me, and my four children are deranged with love. My 16-year-old daughter Sasha holds her up for my inspection, eyes shining, saying: ‘Don’t you think she’s just so sweet, Dad? Don’t you just love her so much?’ Well, no, not really. On the contrary, if I were a bachelor who’d bought her to keep me company during my virtual house arrest I would be sorely tempted to drop her off at an animal shelter on my return to work.
To begin with, there’s the industrial quantities of poo she produces. For such a small dog, it’s really quite remarkable. Her bowels must have some weird, Tardis-like quality. If she confined these hourly deposits to one place, it wouldn’t matter so much. But she’s turned the back garden into a minefield. If I venture to my ‘home office’ after dark — in reality a garden shed — it’s like tiptoeing towards a Taleban stronghold in Kandahar. One misstep and I’m in a world of pain.
And it’s not just the outside. After living with us for three months, Mali still isn’t housetrained, thanks to the blanket ban the rest of the family has imposed on ‘negative reinforcement’. It’s okay to praise her — and praise her they do, effusively, day and night. But the slightest hint of criticism is verboten: ‘Don’t be so mean, Dad.’ The upshot is that the house is littered with little ticking bombs.
You’ll think I’m making this next bit up, but it’s absolutely true, I swear. The other morning I got out of bed, still half asleep, and felt something small and cylindrical underfoot. I thought it was a Nerf Gun bullet and absent-mindedly tried to pick it up by curling my toes around it. The scream I let out when I realised my mistake could be heard across the neighbourhood.
But this is nothing compared with Mali’s disgusting habit of actually eating other dogs’ faeces. Whenever I take her for a walk on Wormwood Scrubs, she will sniff it out like a forager looking for edible mushrooms and, as soon as she finds any, happily start munching away. Sealed in a little plastic bag? No matter. She’ll gobble that up too. And when she’s finished this little treat, she’ll flip over on to her back and roll around in the residue so as not to leave the tiniest bit behind. What a delight it is to stick her back in the car after that! And to cap it all, the little horror suffers from travel sickness, so all the poo she’s consumed on her walk will often come back up on the way home. Suffice to say, my one-year-old VW Touran no longer has that nice new car smell. When I fling open the door on arrival back home, gasping for breath, sparrows fall out of the sky and roses wilt on their stems.
Yet as far as the rest of the family is concerned, Mali is still the most adorable little thing in the whole world. They’re so bedazzled by her cute little face, they’re oblivious to the fact that she’s really a disgusting little animal — like some sappy teenage girl in thrall to a sociopath because he looks like Leonardo DiCaprio. The truly incredibly thing is that my children will happily let her lick them all over their faces. They giggle with delight as she sticks her tongue in their mouths, even though, ten minutes earlier, they’ve seen her devour a turd the size of a meatloaf. It gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘love is blind’.
I guess I’ll have to get used to sharing my home with this little piglet disguised as a handbag ornament. In a few years, when the kids have left home and my wife is spending all her time at the local tennis club, it’ll just be Mali and me, staring daggers at each other. But I daresay that by then I will have fallen in love with the demonic little furball as well.