Andrew Livingston shares his brilliant story of the unintended consequences of unconditional love
‘There’s no such thing as bad dogs, only bad owners’ has been the discourse running through the media over the last month as debate raged around the belief that certain breeds of dogs should be banned.
The phrase has stuck with me. And if I’m honest, it’s made me evaluate my relationships with my own two dogs. If there are no bad dogs, I have to ask myself, what kind of owner am I?
My partner Ellie and I got Winnie first. She’s a long-haired standard dachshund; if you have never seen one, imagine the cross between a Labrador and a miniature dachshund. I won’t lie, when it was just the three of us things were easy. I was probably a good owner.
But, like most families considering a second child, we were lulled into a false sense of security by the calm and tranquillity of our easy ‘first-born’. And then you bring your second-born into the world …
First thing I knew, Ellie simply came home from work with Wilf. In fact she had brought home the devil. We just didn’t know it yet.
The photo shoot
Before I dare to release some suppressed memories of Wilf from the last four years, I have to admit how great he was at first. He was, without doubt, the most gorgeous puppy you have ever seen. A golden cocker spaniel with gorgeous puppy eyes that could melt a stranger’s heart at a hundred paces. He was the type of puppy that turned heads as we walked down the street.
He was purchased with the full intention of being used as a working dog. The only issue was that he was never treated like a working dog. He was handled more like Paris Hilton’s handbag-accessory chihuahua and he was only ever referred to as ‘Little Prince’ around the house.
Shamefully (and it’s not easy to admit this), Ellie and I did a photo shoot with our two dogs – and ended up financing a collage picture frame of us and our dogs for our living room!
Since having two actual human children (not ‘fur-babies’) we realise just how ridiculous the £1,000 picture frame was. It is now slowly being moved from room to room – it’s currently on the downstairs bathroom floor, collecting splashes as it waits to be hung up.
Of course, in hindsight we know that the over-loving and devotion we gave Wilf gave him a heightened sense of his own importance, to the point he simply stopped listening to us. Safe to say, when we are out and about, Wilf knows best.
When we moved from the Midlands to Dorset and I began working back at the farm I had worked at since the age of 15, my boss foolishly said that I could bring my dogs to work.
The problems quickly escalated.
For a start, the vet bills went through the roof. Plus the reasons for visiting the vets became increasingly outlandish. I actually had to ring Ellie and say, ‘I’m going to have to get him to the vet again, he’s just tried to eat a barbed fish hook and now it’s stuck in his mouth.’
It was at the farm where he also found his biggest passion in life: doing a runner. Being at the top of Whitesheet Hill you can see for miles down the valley – and I could quite often see Wilf, miles away, happily chasing birds from field to field.
The bottom of the valley rather annoyingly had a commercial shoot on its land, so on a work day Wilf would frequently enjoy popping down there to practise his skills for the weekend. On the first occasion, the gamekeeper threatened to do me a favour and shoot Wilf, but after the third or fourth visit I think the gamekeeper became quite fond of him – he even offered him a job! That, or he realised he was probably too quick to shoot …
It became quite the ritual in the end. I would finish work and promptly check the Beaminster Facebook page to see who had picked him up off the street today. Often I would turn up at someone’s house and he would be sitting cushty on their sofa, pretending not to know me in the hope I may just leave him there.
I was tempted on a few occasions.
I’ll admit things have become a lot harder for Wilf since we’ve had children – he’s no longer Little Prince in the house and I suspect he feels left out.
I’ll never forget the birth of my first child, Martha – we were at Dorchester Hospital and I was holding my daughter for the first time. Meanwhile my parents, who were looking after the dogs, were in the midst of a three hour search for Wilf, who had done another runner at Langdon Woods.
But it’s not Wilf’s fault. He really isn’t a bad dog … he just has one really bad owner!