You may think that a dog might just bring playtime, healthy exercise, hairy sofas and a lot of poo bags into your life. But actually, we've only just got started. According to the Dogs Trust in a recent survey, 85% of dog owners are more approachable with a hound at your heel and 60% find dog owners more attractive.
No, I wouldn't believe it until I acquired my first pooch at the age of 30, a terribly hairy Pomeranian called Nico. A yappy, bolshie, comedic dog who believes he's the size of an Akita, but in reality fits in my clutch. Not a moment goes by without a daily tale that gets me and fellow pedestrians in stitches. Yes, they lower your BPM a considerable amount, but they also introduce you to your neighbours, your community and even get you free coffee from your local shop.
Your dog will introduce himself to someone else's pup without asking, whilst sniffing each other's bums. My retort is usually to their owner, 'I'm so sorry; we've only just met. Can you imagine if humans did this on first meeting?' 'I usually wait til my third date' one stranger replied. Of course the routine of dog walking means you bump into the same people and it's rude not to say hello.
If Nico isn't with me, I'm bereft of conversation and usually keep my eyes to the pavement but groups of like minded pet lovers begin to naturally occur.
The 8am, 1pm and 6pm club organically grew around Potters Field. We'd stand there for 30 minutes whilst the dogs run around and ate people's trousers. A 30-minute conversation in a park, every day, gets you knowing people. A year later - they're on my speed dial. A lawyer for Facebook, the owner of two London Bridge arches whom I use as a potential venue to carry out commercial shoots. A restaurant owner who's Bulldog was chased by my 4lb monster, give us the best service when we dine there.
Our old building management had a special drawer for Nico's dog biscuits and the local café requested a special photo shoot with him near Tower Bridge.
On one particular occasion, I met an intriguing guy with tattoos up to his neck and owner to the most affectionate Staffordshire Terrier. For half an hour we laughed at how stupid my fluff ball looked compared to his muscle machine of a canine. More people joined us as it became 'walkies' time, and my new tattooed friend who introduced himself as Stephen, had to leave after Nico tried to get all 'cocky' and show who's boss. Embarrassing as it was for me, 'Stephen' was very polite and kindly retired from the park. The remaining crowd asked me if I knew who 'Stephen' was. 'Erm, yes, Stephen'. 'No, no' they replied. 'That was Professor Green'. Nico had no shame. I guess one of us should at least try to apologise.
Of course the biggest issue was for my partner, a 6"2' Adonis (my lack of humility has been influenced by the puppy) would often be approached by equally attractive gentlemen when I couldn't walk Nico. The attention (both male and female) soon deteriorated when Will explained the pooch was his girlfriend's. He soon learnt to hide the real facts and lap up the conversation for as long he could. Can we blame him?
On hindsight, it brings you together with the community, in a usually isolating environment (London isn't exactly renowned for it's 'chattiness'). The dog is your only icebreaker.
Do I find it hard to believe that people meet and fall in love over a four-legged friend? These days I can't imagine anything else. It's states your persona, your emotional attitude, your outlook on life and your sense of fun; before you've even opened your mouth.
At a time where dogs have been getting bad press, it's important to state that the majority of the time, they're nothing but the ultimate matchmaker for friends and lovers. It's time we thanked them for introducing us to a lost art form between people - the ability to talk to strangers. And the light hearted approach that can't help but be infectious on us mere humans.
So thank you Nico, for introducing me to my new friends, and for keeping fresh love alive. In short, you'd give Cilla Black a run for her money.