Nadine O’Regan: When is the right time to get a dog?

Seven days of looking after Bailey the cockapoo and we’re putty in his paws

Bailey the cockapoo: interested in everything

This week, in case you didn't notice, was the week when Americans celebrated National Take Your Dog to Work Day. Of course, this being one of those Hallmark holidays, as manufactured as processed cheese slices, it’s all a bit of nonsense.

However, that wasn't going to stop me this summer, because for once I actually have a dog that theoretically at least I could have brought to the office on the day in question: Friday 24th. “Yes!” I replied jubilantly, when a PR company got in touch to offer me a doggie water-bottle and tray, if I had a dog with which to celebrate the day. “Yes, I would like to take you up on that offer.” Finally I was in the gang: a dog-owner, even if just temporarily.

For the past seven days, my husband and I have been custodian to my sister's lovable cockapoo Bailey – or, to more accurately characterise it, we have been hand-servants to the furry lord himself. Does Bailey have us wrapped around his little paw? As one tweeter observed, if you could look down from the sky and see us humans traipsing behind the dog as he tears towards the park, while we try not to lose our grip on the poo bag, you wouldn't have much doubt about who was in control and who was being controlled. One pleading look from Bailey – for treats, cuddles or the rejection of any social activity that doesn’t include him – and we’re putty in his paws.

While pooch-sitting is a joy, I'm grateful for the understanding that being around my sisters' dogs and my mother's dog have given me – namely, that dogs are hard work, no matter how much you love them, and that once you've spent three nights sleeping on the sofa because they just won't stop howling, the initial glow of attraction might well wear off.

Knowing my love of dogs, friends often suggest that we get a pet. But I grew up with dogs in our house in west Cork and the difference between owning a dog in the countryside and a dog in the city is considerable. In rural areas, there’s room to roam. In Dublin? Restrictions abound. You need to have your life set up well, and you need to be serious about making a long-term commitment, for everyone’s sake.

The pandemic made it seem as though it was possible for everyone to just have a dog. Dogs became trendy – people would post pictures of their pooches on Instagram and pets even got their own social media accounts. As the dog craze accelerated, I’ll admit I looked on with envy, suffering pang after pang as I clicked ‘like’ on cute pictures of pooches in bow-ties, and hummed and hawed about the downsides of ownership as against the equally considerable upsides.

Dogs have a remarkable capacity to help humans. Just petting your dog can lower your blood pressure, according to research, and there is no doubt in my mind that dogs are capable of utterly changing one’s mood. A stroke of Bailey’s head coming in the front door or the moment when he leaps with joy onto the bed in the mornings? Fantastic. (And yes, we do allow him upstairs, on the grounds that he's on his holidays and we can indulge him.) My phone is heavily populated with pictures of the three dogs in our family and if I'm having a bad day, just looking at them often cheers me up.

For all that we give them – food, protection, warmth – what dogs give us has the potential to be boundless. That's why sometimes commiserating with a person on the death of a pet can be almost as sensitive as grieving with them on the loss of a human being. Dogs might not be as complex as humans, but the love they bring into a life is a joy to behold.

There’s also a social dimension that can’t be ignored. We've been living in our area for two years now, and there’s a great community spirit about the place: we have lots of friendly neighbours. But I never meet people the way I meet them when I go for a walk with Bailey. Older people, mothers with excited toddlers: everyone wants to have the chats and say hello to the dog.

Left to myself, I could be listening to a podcast or music. I would physically be out walking, but lost in my own dream world. But with Bailey? Not a chance. He’s interested in everything – there is no tree trunk he doesn't want to sniff, no alley he wouldn’t explore, and, frankly, no trace amounts of other dogs' urine on lamp-posts that he's not willing to get invested in, as a thrilling detective saga for his good self. It’s an entirely different world with him around.

I know the timing isn’t right just now for a dog of our own. But the day will come when we’re convinced that we could give a pooch the very best life possible, with plenty of space to run around in, companionship and two humans who have plenty of time to spend throwing balls in the park. Until then, we count ourselves pretty lucky to have the occasional loan of Bailey. A rub of his fluffy head, and that’s your day made.