The most potent pain of my formative years came when my father sold the family boxer dog. It was 1994, I was 12 and the dog was my entire world. I was never actually given a reason beyond the fact that we were going on holiday to Spain in the autumn, and kennel fees would have cost too much.
The holiday was memorable if only for the fact that we were rained in for a week, and my father almost got into a fight with our apartment proprietor over the fact that he didn't want us to have a gathering in our apartment.
'No partay', screamed Manuel - that was seriously his name - leaping over partition walls to get his hands around my father's throat. Being twelve, awkward, not particularly wanting to be there at all, and overwhelmingly bitter about the sale of the dog, I rather hoped that Manuel would succeed.
This early betrayal of my trust left a wound that still hasn't healed. After one too many Chardonnays and the wind blowing in the right direction, I'm apt to get misty-eyed about it and can attribute this experience to not allowing myself to get attached to any animal for a long time afterwards.
In 2010, however, I caved in and welcomed Willow into my life. Owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are a dotty lot. If you ever complement them on how gorgeous their dog is, prepare yourself for them waxing lyrical about JUST how wonderful these dogs are.
Because they are. And clever too. Except in Willow's case, where intelligence waxes and wanes according to how tasty the prize is. Over the years we've had more soap-opera moments at the vets than you can shake a tail at. The latest being emergency treatment for consumption of chewing gum. It's nothing to do with the stickiness; the xylitol sweetener in sugar-free gum is fatal to dogs when consumed in large quantities. Who knew?
Dogs are one of the great joys in life. With the annual National Pet Month having come to a close at the start of May, I find myself thinking just how essential dogs are to our wellbeing.
And us to theirs. But this is a process which needs urgent work, according to a recent report in the Daily Mirror which cites new research by holistic pet food company Green Pantry suggesting that Britain's dogs will be the fattest in the world by 2027 if current trends continue.
Apparently, overfeeding and lack of exercise is leading to an obesity crisis among our furry friends with Green Pantry founder and dog nutrition expert Simon Booth saying that if pet owners don't change their ways then the UK will soon be a "'fat dog' country where a very significant proportion of dogs will be too unfit to run and play".
According to the survey of more than 3,000 dog owners, nearly 15 per cent overfeed their pets by up to 1,000 calories per day, while 93 per cent admit to spoiling their dogs with titbits.
But just 10 per cent give their dogs extra exercise if it has overindulged. As a dog lover, this is deeply concerning. Just like with humans, obesity can lead to significant health issues in our four-legged friends including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer.
Now, I know how hard it is to resist those little faces beaming up at you, awaiting scraps. I'm a feeder of scraps, and this report is as timely for me as it will be for the 8.5million UK dog owners. My knuckles were rapped by my vet, Graham Pursey of Danetree Vets in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, who offered up the following feeding tips:
- Keep your dog on a high-quality diet that's weighed out to the recommended guideline. Feeding with cups can mean they are getting more than they need, so be careful.
- Treats such as rawhide are very high in calories. A raw carrot can be an excellent, healthy alternative.
- Keeping your dog lean with exercise is good for their physical and mental health, and adding active games into their daily routine is a great way to increase the step count. Dog owners with fitbits may be interested to know there's an alternative for dogs called 'fitbarks' which suggest daily targets based on factors including age, breed, weight and clinical conditions.
- If owners are worried their pet is overweight then the first step should be to look into a diet for them as these promote healthy weight loss without sacrificing their nutritional intake.
We are what we eat, and this applies equally to dogs, so go forth and try to resist those big soppy eyes staring up at you. I admit, though, that I shall have a task on my hands with that!