Bruce Fogle: One Man and His Dog

'Telling people how much you love your dog isn't an escape from reality. If anything, it's the exact opposite'

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Let me lay my cards on the table. I'm sleeping with a couple of blondes – natural blondes – and I love it.

I've slept with one of them, small but symmetrically proportional, for some time now but recently, with her reluctant approval, she allowed me to invite an additional blonde into our matrimonial bed. My new, more youthful trophy blonde is a bit naive about life but has that vibrant and trusting optimism that so often accompanies green adolescence. And what a bod – a shimmering head of golden hair, taut muscles, not an ounce of flab, eyes that just ooze affection, moist lips, and a cold, wet nose.

Some readers may remember that when I wrote in these pages about the death of my dog Macy, I vowed one day to get a successor. I geared up for that by speaking to Julia, my number one blonde. "Let's get a brace of Jack Russells," I said. "We can use them as pillows when we read in bed." But Julia wasn't yet ready for either jokes or dogs. Death, even of a dog, is a real bummer and she needed more time to work through her emotions. And besides – how can I tactfully put this – she's a bit "breedist". Jack Russells are dogs. When she was ready, she didn't want a "dog", she wanted another golden retriever.

A few weeks later I told her about a retriever "with barking issues" at a rescue home. But Julia's a bit sexist, too, and he got vetoed for no more reason than the misfortune of carrying his reproductive articles externally rather than internally. Eventually The Chief relented. I'd made contacts in the curious world of golden retrieverdom and we acquired Lucca, a female pup.

After I wrote about my reactions when Macy died, many of you – all women – posted your thoughts on The Independent's website. On the other hand, the majority of emails and letters I received were from men, who wrote privately and personally.

Phil: "I sat for a long time after reading the paper today... a good deal longer than I normally sit when (at age 77) I get the occasional black-edged notice that one of my dwindling number of contemporaries has passed away, and then went over and put my arms around my dog Homer."

Christopher: "It reduced me to tears because it so perfectly summed up the special relationship that those of us who unreservedly love our dogs both rejoice in when it's vibrant and are torn apart by at its passing."

Jack: "I had to put the paper down three times to wipe away my tears."

It seems that women don't mind others knowing how they feel, but guys worry they might be thought mushy, slushy sentimentalists. So let me tell you this, men: you may try to hide your tender emotions but you can never get rid of them. Love, care, compassion, tenderness – these emotions aren't simply the products of social change in the latter part of the 20th century, they're hard-wired into the core of your being. Emotions and reason are not, repeat, not incompatible.

In 1828, a major in the British Army visiting Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, saw a dingo puppy and tried to buy it from his Aboriginal owner.

"I was very anxious to get one of the wild native breed of black colour," wrote Major Lockyer. "I offered (the man) a small axe for it; his companions urged him to take it, and he was about to do so when he looked at the dog and the animal licked his face, which settled the business. He shook his head and determined to keep him."

Sentimentality lies at the core of all cultures. That Aboriginal man was just as much a sucker for his pup's lick as I am for mine. Yet there's a deep-rooted prejudice in our society. Just read the book, film or television reviews in this newspaper. Professional critics think an entertainment goes intellectually flabby if the writer engages in sentiment. Most critics seem to think that enjoying something sentimental is like revealing you've got poor taste. Talking about your dog, talking about your emotional attachment to your dog, is like admitting you watch soap operas. But let me nail my flag up: there ain't nothing wrong with being sentimental.

When Lucca hops on to the bed, dive-bombs headfirst into my chest then stretches herself out between Julia and me, she's doing no more than triggering my biologically hard-wired tender feelings. Her large eyes, her still slightly clumsy movements, trigger an innate nurturing response. I can't help but want to care for her. As I write this, she's just trotted into the kitchen with my pyjama bottoms rolled up in her mouth. I don't know how she got them and I don't want her parading them around yet my reaction to the pride in her walk is a feeling of disarming tenderness.

"Too much feeling, too little common sense," you say? You'd be correct to say that sentimentality can be excessive or misdirected, but there's nothing wrong if a book, or a film, or a television show, or an article in a paper, or a six-month-old puppy snuggling with you provokes your tender emotions. A sentimental world in which I let Lucca sleep with me, or I have a calendar made with photos of my dog, is not a distorted one. It's an emotionally more complete one. Loving your dog is not escaping from reality. If anything, it's the exact opposite.

Acknowledging that tender emotions are part of our nature – ingrained over the millennia to help us survive – is a necessity, a precondition for engaging with life in the healthiest way. And now excuse me while I take Lucca for a walk in the park, where I know I'll be engaging healthily with the most amazing number of pretty women who stop and talk – to me, and of course, to my dog.



New Dog: Choosing Wisely and Ensuring a Happily Ever After, by Bruce Fogle, is published by Mitchell Beazley, £14.99John Walsh is away

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