My dog and I have a curious kind of relationship. She loves me unconditionally. I, however, put quite a few conditions on my affection for her. How muddy are her paws? Has anyone brushed her, or is she about to deposit a hundred long black hairs on my carpet? Is she looking calm or is she in of those bouncy I-must-lick-you-all-over-and-jump-on-your-lap moods?
Ella is an unusual breed. A Belgian Shepherd. Big, black with a small pointed head. My husband and daughter chose what kind of dog we were going to have. They assured me that, after extensive research, they had established that Belgian Shepherds were perfect family pets.
I said I was happy with their decision - as long as they would keep their side of the bargain and make sure they brushed and walked her regularly. With a busy job in television, I didn't need any extra work.
A few alarm bells rang in my head when we were introduced to our eight-week-old bundle of fluff. She looked like a little black bear, as cute as can be. But her owner looked at us sternly and said: "You do realise that this is a boisterous breed?"
Ten years on, "boisterous" does not come close.
"Complex" is closer.
"Barking mad" is perhaps the truth.
Even though she howls like a wolf at the full moon, screams like a banshee in any moving vehicle, is terrified of anyone chewing gum but also terrifies anyone who tries to approach our front door (often causing me to rush outside in my nightie to protect early morning visitors) - despite all this inconvenience, I do care about Ella.
And that's why I worried when I heard that a potentially fatal condition for dogs is on the increase. It is lurking in our gardens and parks. It might be lingering on your flowers and grass. And, most dangerously, it might be waiting on your dog's toys - especially if you leave them out overnight.
The condition is caused by lungworm. And lungworms are parasites that are carried by slugs and snails. And - with the wet weather we've all been having - slugs and snails are having a population explosion. Which is fabulous news for lungworms - but very bad news for dogs.
Even the tiniest snail, happily sunbathing on your dog's toy in the garden, could harbour a lungworm. If your pet accidentally ingests the snail, the outcome could be fatal. When your dog eats grass or plays with a stick, the same danger is there.
The symptoms are varied and difficult to diagnose accurately. But a cough is one of them. And a listless, tired dog is another sign.
Since hearing about lungworm, I've done a little research myself. And the best news is that it's totally preventable. You just need to incorporate a quick spot-on treatment in your usual routine of pet care.
Just like that brushing and walking routine my husband and daughter assured me would be their responsibility.
Ella, our little black bear, is now a big hairy bitch with whom I tussle and argue as I struggle to control her massive mane and stop it ending up on my carpets. And when we've finished fighting over her fleece, I take her for her walk by the sea. No-one else will. I should have known.
But, despite, all this - I do care about her. And I will protect her from those evil little lungworms.Suggest a correction