Dog My Cats! – Australia’s Fur Baby Obsession


Nibbler and friend checking the p-mail at Elanora Park, Wynnum

Down at Brisbane’s biggest dog park, Elanora, a chap is loading two dogs into the back of a wagon – a black Labrador, and a white fluff dog. The big one had earlier snaffled my dog’s hard rubber ball and didn’t give it back. Fair enough, I reckoned, musing about the numbers of times our adopted Staffie has stolen other dog’s tennis balls and reduced them to slimy fragments.

I once knew a woman who named her dogs Kierkegaard and Kant, after famous philosophers. Imagine the neighbourhood mutterings when she called the latter-named from afar.

Kantian moral theory assumes the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfil our duty.  So if Kant (the dog) poops on someone’s lawn, he is fulfilling his duty (to empty his bowels). The rightness of the owner’s action depends on whether he or she brought a poo bag with them.

Brisbane City Council did a smart thing when fencing the 26,000sqm Elanora Park, which sits between hillside houses and the mangrove-lined foreshore at Wynnum. The park is split into two fenced enclosures; a large one for big dogs and their owners and a smaller enclosure for small dogs.

The park provides shade trees, obstacle courses for the bouncy mutts and benches for the owners to sit and talk about their dogs and how the Broncos are going.

There are water points and poo bag dispensers. The only downside is, if you happen to be there after 4pm, the mosquitoes and midges will find you.

I implied earlier our dog was a hand-me down from an adult child. We belong to a demographic where one’s adult children for one complicated reason or another, cannot look after their dog. As you probably know, the cry ‘I want a puppy’ often starts between the ages of 8 and 15. By the time your kids are old enough to smoke and drink and start dating, no-longer-a-puppy gradually becomes the parent’s responsibility.

We have owned dogs together and individually for most of our lives although there was a 10-year gap between Kia the wonder Shepherd and the brindle Staffie. The latter is a well-trained dog, but a bit of a sook; a 20-kilo lapdog with a propensity to ‘sing’ when being taken somewhere in the car.

I realise this is not a great pitch to anyone who’d like to mind the dog on the occasions when we are away, but here’s the catch: Staffies are bouncy dogs full of nervous energy with a tendency to whine and whimper for reasons not always apparent. The upside is Staffies are cuddly, affectionate and easy to train.

The broader question is, why do otherwise independent people in our demographic (70+), complicate their lives with a needy animal – in effect a toilet-trained toddler? Sometimes when dog-walking, I meet people who introduce an aged Labrador or a crossbreed that shies away when you go to pat it, as ‘rescue dogs’.

It surprised me to find that only 1.92% of Australia’s 4.8 million domestic dogs are rescue animals (abandoned and picked up by pounds and dog shelters or surrendered when the owner is no longer able to care for the animal). RSPCA data shows that 40,286 dogs were reclaimed, rehomed or euthanased in 2017-2018, a 10% drop on the previous year’s figures. The better news is that 34,709 dogs were rehomed, with a relatively small number (5,577) euthanased.

Let’s debunk the myth spread by current affairs TV and tabloid newspapers. Only 257 dogs were put down for ‘legal’ reasons. So despite lurid stories about killer (American) Staffies or Pit Bulls, the majority of dogs consigned to the celestial kennel had ‘behavioural’ problems.

Now that we are officially of no fixed abode, the subject of dog sitters/minders comes up frequently. A quick Google search revealed services that will hook you up with dog-loving people who will happily look after your pooch at your place or theirs. The average price is about $50 a day, so if you have a private arrangement that is less than $25 a day you are doing very well.

The free option is to engage a house/dog sitter and there are many online services which will match you and your dog with (ahem) pre-vetted sitters. People who don’t like the sound of that and want to go away for a lengthy period have no option then but to book their fur babies into boarding kennels. A friend who chose this option booked her two cats and two dogs into establishments while on a five-week UK tour. The bill would have paid for her airfares, but she was happy to do it for the peace of mind.

So, if you really want a dog, be aware it will cost between $3,000 and $6,000 for the first year alone. The BankWest Family Pooch Index estimated it can cost $25,000 to keep a dog over its lifespan.

The above does not factor in chronic health conditions. As vet bills mount up, more people are taking out pet insurance which can cover expensive items like a tick bite (involves an over-night stay).

Nor does the Pooch Index take into account occasions like when Fido wander s off through the gate left open by the meter man. After shelling out $250 at the pound, you chastise Fido and put up a sign: “Shut the Woofen Gate”.

None of this apparently dissuades the millions of Australians who own one or more dogs. If you want one, there’s a plethora of choice with 339 different breeds (a conservative estimate).

The term ‘fur babies’, much as I dislike it, rings true for people for whom a dog (or cat) is a substitute child. According to She Who Can Name Most Dog Breeds, the telling statistic is that 53% of owners let their pet sleep on the (marital) bed.

Some (like me), freely attribute human traits, emotions or intentions to an animal that cannot speak and lacks opposable thumbs. This trait develops as said dog increasingly learns to recognise words like walkies, drivies, dinner/breakfast, come/away, outside/inside, good/bad dog, off the bed and wait (exceptionally useful command when descending stairs or steps).

This anthropomorphic behaviour was in full bloom when the movers were emptying our house. I’d left the dog bed in a corner of the living room. He either lay upon it or stood staunchly in front.

Does the dog bed go?” asked Mover No 1.

“Touch my bed and I’ll rip your lungs out, Jim,” the dog snarled,* or at least that’s what I read into his body language.

“No, the bed stays,” I told him, assuring the dog: “It’s OK, mate. You’re staying with us… I didn’t know you liked that Warren Zevon song – aah wooh!”

“Yeh,” Dog said, warming to the topic. “I thought Night Time in the Switching Yard was his best. I quite like Harry Manx too. Did you know his album title, Dog My Cat, is a riff from a 1910 short story by O Henry where the character says ‘well dog my cats’, by way of an exclamation of incredulity?

“No, I did not know that,” I replied, marvelling at his musical and literary acumen and ability to sustain a 50-word sentence.

“I’d like to try my paw at the Mohan Veena one day,” he added.

“Stick with singing,” I advised.

 Beyond words, Harry Manx:

  • (I demur – I’ve never heard Nibbler snarl in all his life. Ed)

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