Deborah Orr: Buy yourself a dog and feel the heavy hand of the pet industry upon you

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The Independent Online

It's true what they say, then. A puppy isn't just for Christmas. A puppy, as it turns out, is an all-year-round retail opportunity. Things have changed since 1972, when I last got a dog. Back then a dog needed two bowls, a collar, a lead, a couple of injections and a licence that cost 37.5p. Nowadays, you don't need the licence in the one shining example of the rolling back of the state in existence but the list of other accoutrements you are assured are essential is mind-boggling.

Even before I got a dog, the signs were ominous. "You must get a dog flap fitted," I was told by one earnest pet-owner. "Otherwise your life will be a misery." In the good old days, dogs just stood at the door looking plaintive, and, if that didn't work, gave a little bark when they felt the need to go outside. The system worked just fine. Now, dogs want their independence, and homes or in my case, lovely french windows have to be horribly mutilated in order to give it to them. My dog is not going to have its own door. What's good enough for us is good enough for him.

We also, we were told, needed a puppy cage, which is necessary for training and restraint purposes. This too has proved to be an exaggeration. Imprisoning our dog in the vast Guantanamo that is our kitchen, since we don't have a dog flap, works perfectly well. This just goes to show how one thing leads to another.

The biggest shocker, though, was our vet's assertion that we really ought to have our puppy fitted with a microchip. This would ease overseas travel and simplify the purchasing of insurance two further things we felt our dog could manage without. It would also be practical in the eventuality of loss, theft or kidnapping all of which we're willing to take a punt on.

We thought the vet had seen us coming, but a straw poll has indicated that absolutely everyone one has their pet chipped now, as a matter of course, except us. We have instead invested in a tag with our dog's name on it, plus a phone number and the word "reward", which I suppose is just asking for a kidnap. (Interestingly, the tag arrived in an envelope addressed to the dog, who was unable to open his mail, or even understand that he had received it.)

We dimly understand that no one is going to believe that a reward from people too mean to get their dog chipped could possibly be worth having. We're standing firm nevertheless, since all those apostles of dog-chipping admit that in actual fact the chip has never served any practical purpose beyond "peace of mind". One cat in our straw poll did go missing, but the chip did not assist in the animal's recovery. Its whereabouts remain a mystery.

Still, I do admit that my "peace of mind" was momentarily shaken by the new universe of dog-ownership I was beginning to encounter, so I did invest in a puppy-training book. Annoyingly, the book is mostly taken up with explanations of how you should not even think about selecting a puppy until the book has been read and discussed at length by the entire family, and a representative range of different dog outlets have been visited.

One must never, it appears, get a dog that cannot already sit, lie and roll over at command, or come when it is called, at eight weeks. We just got ours given to us, so such demands would have seemed in the circumstances rather rude and picky. Anyway, I thought training your dog yourself was good for leadership affirmation and bonding, rather in the way of bringing up your own children. It used to be, anyway.

In the four weeks after the dog has been acquired, at exactly eight weeks, not one day less or more, one must introduce it to 100 people, or else it will never be properly socialised, according to the book. This, the book says, is easier than it sounds, and a lot of fun. I suppose this explains why people get dogs for "companionship". Already, as far as the book is concerned, we have done nothing right. Yet our dog seems perfectly delightful. The only conclusion can be that even the book was a purchase too far. And no, we did not get any Christmas presents for our dog. Why? Because he is a dog.

Go on, Kylie, flaunt it

Of course it is Not the Thing to utter an uneasy word about the sainted Kylie, who has just been appointed an OBE for services to cancer. But isn't she just a tiny bit tartily ubiquitous at the moment? Having her turn up in Doctor Who, dressed in some sort of French maid's outfit, left, was in some respects the last straw, yet in others a relief.

Yes, she was still trussed up like a bonkers sexual clich, and topped off with her new, horrible peroxide hair. But it was nice at least to see the girl not encased in PVC or swathed in black stretchy lace so unflattering that it performed the miracle of making Kylie's thighs look chunky. It was great, also, that she wasn't singing that rubbish single she's been plugging so desperately.

I'm reliably informed that the bondage-style clothing is being worn in reaction to Kylie's breast cancer. She is apparently revelling in her sexuality, and wanting everyone to know that she is still a whole and complete woman. How can we let her know that there's no need to strive quite so hard, and that it's OK to assume that people are presuming all this to be true, unless she wants to state otherwise?

How to be healthy, wealthy and wise

It is thrilling to hear of the Government's excellent new initiative, whereby employers will be exhorted to exhort their staff to lead healthier lives. One presumes the Government will, as usual, be setting an example. Perhaps it will even consider looking first at its own back yard. Maybe the National Health Service should work out how it could start addressing the interesting situation whereby up to a third of its employees appear to be clinically obese. After that, it could perhaps work out how to deal with those sections of the population that are not so thoroughly trained in healthcare.



There has been much aghast coverage of the record-breaking shopping days that have been racking up records since Christmas. There's an uneasy feeling that perhaps this is a final, two-fingered gesture to the idea that you can't live on credit for ever. My own experience, in a department store on Boxing Day, was quite different. I suggest that the allure of the shops this year might simply be free money. Exchanging a woolly for a larger size, I was told that it had been reduced by 53 in the sale and that my store card was being duly credited with the cash. It's an interesting consequence of the computerised stock-take, and one that is splendidly likeable.



It is good to see that New York is applying its customary can-do attitude, and setting up a task force to eject the unwelcome pests that have been invading the city. These include lake-choking zebra mussels, which no doubt will have been deported by Easter. There is much to recommend the Australian attitude to similar problems. Faced in Darwin with rampant molluscs, the locals simply dropped various objects into the water, inviting tourists to come back the next day and see what they looked like when covered in shellfish.

The least predictable people are disarmed by puppies. My husband behaved exactly as one wishes a husband to behave on the occasion of his baby-hungry wife announcing that a dog is necessary to complete the family, and accepted the news with stoicism. Sod's law, however, decreed that within 10 minutes of the dog's arrival, I had to go away for the week. I returned to find he had been leaving the light on for the dog at night, as well as Radio 3, in case the dog got lonely or bored. Which of these creatures is cuter? So hard to call.

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