Matilda Battersby: Humankind's best – and most expensive – friend


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The Independent Online

Pet peeves are niggling annoyances of little importance that, in my case, normally relate to unfair distribution of the washing-up.

However, my current pet peeve is more literal than that. It concerns an actual pet: Wally, the (now deceased) lurcher dog, to whom Camilla Parker Bowles' niece Emma wrote an extensive tribute in a Sunday newspaper yesterday.

Emma Parker Bowles describes popping into Battersea Dogs Home to find something to love ("the dog was a nightmare, but I knew in my bones he was my nightmare") to help her battle alcoholism. There are slightly eccentric elements in her story; she says Wally stayed up all night waiting worriedly for her while she was "drinking absinthe in a hotel with a Formula 1 driver" after falling off the wagon.

However unhinged it sounds, the sentiment seems genuine. My peeve is that the newspaper took advantage of someone in a fragile state (the piece is rather extraordinary and shows a worrying lack of self-awareness), probably hoping to embarrass the Royal Family.

The support from dog lovers that Parker Bowles, right, has received on Twitter, however, demonstrates how important animals are in our society. Normally, anecdotes about a doggy accident on a carpet so expensive "it was more like the Bayeaux tapestry", and other bafflingly privileged remarks, might be expected to provoke condemnation rather than commiseration.

Despite the dire economic straits, Britons now spend an average £17,000 per pet during its lifetime. The bulk of this, apart from food, goes on vet bills as owners lavish their life savings on keeping precious Rover alive, often through gruelling and painful treatments, because they can't bear to be without him. There are even animal ambulances now, voluntary services treating pet emergencies with doggy respiratory masks (the aptly named Oxygen Fur Life) and high tech, costly equipment.

With all this money being spent on vet fees, it's interesting to consider claims made in a new book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human, which suggests that the disjoint between animal and human medical research risks vital insights into both sides of the modern medicine coin. I'm not sure it'll be added to the NHS agenda any time soon, though.

Parker Bowles called Wally a "healer" and indeed dog therapy (cuddlier than cod psychology) is hugely beneficial to sufferers of all sorts of mental health problems. Charity Pets As Therapy treat 130,000 people every week with the help of dogs and cats. Equally you can send your pet to a human therapist, to interpret their dreams, unpick their puppy traumas and improve behaviour.

At this rate we'll be including animals in the i 's obituary column. RIP Wally.