I have recently discovered a parallel universe that I never knew existed. And it’s taken me nearly half a century.
You see, our family had a new arrival in late August – Gracie. Gracie is a blue roan cocker spaniel, we think. More of that in a moment.
Never having owned and therefore walked a dog, I simply never knew that there were two kinds of people: those that owned dogs and those that don’t.
I had spent the last 47 years in the latter category not realising that I lived alongside a particular breed that I never knew: dog walkers.
Arriving as a puppy, Gracie was confined to home quarters for her first four weeks with us – a somewhat messy period although not without its own charms, particularly for our children.
Vaccinated and micro-chipped (dog not children), it was time to venture out with lead, a precautious supply of small plastic bags, some treats and a very excited puppy.
Even allowing for the friendliness of my local community, I wasn’t prepared for such new levels of social interaction. Suddenly, dog walkers, where previously we would have walked past one another, stopped.
Whilst our respective canines became acquainted largely through the somewhat intimate use of smell, walkers exchanged all manner of canine details: breed, age, pedigree, coat, diet, exercise, history, previous dogs owned.
And it wasn’t just walkers. Owners, past and present, were equally keen to stop and swap extensive doggy biography whilst they made a fuss of Gracie and I looked at them stroking and petting our new addition.
I’m quickly having to become an expert. My previous ability to identify breeds was limited: alsatians, labradors and poodles. All of a sudden I’m having to spot a bichon frise, a dandie dinmont or a schnauzer from a 100 yards.
Dog walkers are perceptive bunch. Several have already spotted signs of our dark doggy secret. Gracie came to us from a breeder in Lincolnshire – a breeder who normally specialises in beagles. It seems that the lack of thickening of Gracie’s coat as she grows older indicates there may have been a little extra-curricular activity at the breeder’s. Gracie seems to share some characteristics of, well, a beagle.
I remember as a new parent, the first forays with a pushchair attracted a certain amount of public interest and enquiry. But it seems there is nothing like a puppy to stop complete strangers in their tracks. There have been times when it has not been possible to progress more than a few hundred yards at a time.
Entirely free of any previous self-consciousness, I already find myself engaging total strangers and their dogs in conversation: How old is he? Where did you get him from? Does he need much exercise? He’s a bit like a dandie dinmont, isn’t he?
by David Tickner © 2012
David Tickner is Headmaster and an English teacher at Newcastle School for Boys. He enjoys writing, has a fascination with all sports and a particular love for Gillingham FC! David and his family have lived in Tynemouth for the past six years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.