Animal

I’m so grateful to my dog for helping me to make friends during the pandemic


Sometimes my boyfriend joins us, but many times it’s just been Bert and I; a dog and the woman who loves him with her whole fickle heart (Picture: Kate Leaver)

Just after 9 o’clock every morning my dog, Bert, barks at me. Not near me, but at me.

This wonky-eyed little shih tzu has lived with me for three years; I know which bark means what. This particular bark translates roughly to ‘Oi! Time to go for our walk!’

(By the way, canine experts suggest that dogs have a pretty good sense of time. Bert knows it’s walk time and he’d really appreciate a bit of punctuality from me).

And so, I put on my outside trousers, lace up my walking boots, slip into my big tartan coat and pull his little harness over his unusually sturdy head. He stares at the edge of the door until it opens, waits for the squeak of the gate opening and dashes down the road to the local park on an extendable lead that keeps him within five metres of me.

Sometimes my boyfriend joins us, but many times it’s just been Bert and I; a dog and the woman who loves him with her whole fickle heart.

Inevitably, we run into Simon and Maisie. Simon: human male, over the age of 50, dressed in a leather jacket and flat cap no matter the weather. Maisie: a poised, cheery schnauzer who doesn’t much like to get her feet dirty.

We always check in with each other, swapping book recommendations, Netflix reviews, curry recipes, health updates on family members and miscellaneous opinions. I love an unpredictable intergenerational friendship – they’re highly recommended.

It’s a comfort to see those two familiar faces – one human, one hairy and noble and grey and long-snouted – every morning. It’s a little sign of normalcy, a reliably cheering interaction.

Bert is well known on our street, not because he’s vocal or naughty, but because he’s paraded about with such pride (Picture: Kate Leaver)

We’ll usually pass Marmite, too, another schnauzer, and the man who loves him. I don’t know the man’s name; in our interactions, it’s always ‘How’s Marmite today?’ and ‘Is Bert having a good morning?’ which is, I think, code between dog people who’d like to ask after one another’s wellbeing without imposing.

If Bert’s lucky, we also run into Coco, a chocolate-coloured, elegant little poodle he fell in love with well over a year ago, but whom he greets respectfully because we’ve been told she’s romantically linked to his mate, Marmite.

There are others, of course. Marley the ageing shih tzu and his gentle people, who stop long enough to chat. A cockapoo called Mozzarella whose person has a broad, beaming smile. The two blonde Daschunds who howl sorrowfully at the woman who tries patiently to train them. The six-moth-old leggy lurcher, followed sheepishly by the man who cannot keep up with her.

Toddlers, French women doing yoga, kickboxing instructors, mums with prams, a perpetually running man we’ve nicknamed ‘running man’. They’re all there, most days, and it’s so reassuring.

I’m extremely fond of my dog park friends and grateful that little Bert gives me the perfect excuse to talk to them (Picture: Kate Leaver)

And then there are our neighbours! Bert is well known on our street, not because he’s vocal or naughty, but because he’s paraded about with such pride by the, ah, besotted woman who walks him.

The people on our neighbourhood WhatsApp are currently trying to solve a local crime together, which thrills me. They’re also sweet and generous and supportive and helpful. They buy us broccoli when we can’t get it in our shop, they turn up at my zoom book launch, they swap tips for the best Indian takeaway for special occasions.

They also, bless them, indulge me in treating Bert like a local celebrity – especially since he appeared in the newspaper to promote my new dog book, partially about him, called Good Dog.

These people are all part of my community. They make me feel like I belong. They make me feel safer, and cosier, and happier in the area we live. They mean a surprising amount to me, considering the actual level of knowledge I have of their lives.

I really value these casual, reliable friendships. They may not be the most intimate, but their proximity and the frequency of contact make them important nonetheless.

I’m extremely fond of my dog park friends and grateful that little Bert gives me the perfect excuse to talk to them. He’s the ultimate conversation starter. A squat, furry little reason for strangers to speak to me and maybe even become friends.

Our brains crave ritual and routine – especially during times of crisis. Over the past horrendous year, I’ve noticed myself leaning into that, enjoying the predictable moments in my days. Life has been all about what little joys we can find.

For me, it’s been cuddles, re-watching New Girl, putting a whole burrata on top of my pasta, phone calls with my parents, this stupid alien murder mystery game you can play online and Yoga with Adrienne.

It’s also, truly, been about the cute little interactions my dog and I have at the park.

Cute, but true.

Kate Leaver’s book, Good Dog, is out now



Metro.co.uk Lifeline 2021

This year sees the return of our brilliant charity campaign: Metro.co.uk Lifeline.

Our aim is simple – to raise as much money as possible for charity with YOUR help.

For 2021 we have chosen to support Medical Detection Dogs, a vital organisation that helps train dogs to sniff out serious diseases such as cancer, Type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s and coronavirus.

As well as sharing their story to help raise awareness, readers, charity supporters and celebrities will also be taking on a 26-mile trek or 10k dog-friendly hike across the Oxfordshire countryside on Saturday 19 June, 2021.

To make a donation, click here.



SIGN UP TO THE 2021 METRO LIFELINE CHALLENGE

What: Two sponsored walks to help raise money for the charity Medical Detection Dogs.

When: Saturday 19 June, 2021

Where: Goring, Oxfordshire

Walk 1: Woof and Walk for MDD – marathon distance trek (42km)

Who is the event for: This is the perfect route for those who want to challenge themselves. This walk is graded as tough and is not suitable for dogs or children.

Cost: Registration fee of £35 when you book, plus raise a minimum of £300 for Medical Detection Dogs.

To sign up click here.

Walk 2: Woof and Walk for MDD – 10km Dog Walk

Who is the event for: This event is open to all with an adventurous spirit. Perfect for dog lovers, families, and friends!

Cost: Registration fee of £35 per family, plus a minimum of £300 raised between them for Medical Detection Dogs. (A family is two adults and up to three kids. Dogs are also welcome and go free!)

To sign up click here.

Anything else I should know? Once you’re signed up we’ll invite you to join our Metro.co.uk Lifeline fundraising and Facebook pages, where you’ll get meet our other walkers, share top money-raising tips, as well as getting handy hiking advice from our experts.

For T&Cs from our event organisers Charity Challenge, click here and for further details of how we will make this a Covid-safe event click here.

Good luck!

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk 

Share your views in the comments below


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