'If I could just pick up some cough medicine for the dog, I'll be on my way," I smiled at the vet while sneaking a look at my watch. With a week to go until the final sale of our house, sorting out our dog's cough before handing both collies to the dog minder was just one more thing on my frantic to-do list. Typical. Roly, our gentle giant, had never been sick in his 11 years and now he had developed a hacking cough. Perfect timing.
Then I saw the X-rays. Roly had lung cancer so advanced, there were weeks on the clock, not months. Back home, between cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, sat Roly next to his sister from the same litter, Bella. Tails wagging. Delighted with themselves. Oblivious.
Between moving vans, signing documents and slipping Roly some canine codeine sandwiches, Roly's bucket list was formed. Beaches, parks, and forests: each trip to Roly's favourite place was his last.
Four weeks passed and Roly was fine. Then, one day, he was far from fine. The tail had stopped wagging and a distant look appeared. The pain, it had become clear, had become too much. Our family had agreed that when we reached this stage, we would not allow him to suffer. The next step was as black and white as his fur, and we had to break it to the children: it was time to say goodbye.
In the end, it was quick. When his big old head flopped into my lap, I buried my head into his white fur and told him he was a good dog.
Two years have passed and Roly has left a dog-shaped hole in our hearts. Bella is still going strong - apart from the extra kilos she's carrying due to the sympathy ham sandwiches.
People keep asking me: are you getting another dog? Aren't you worried that Bella is lonely? The answer was always the same: no. Until that is, a whippet caught my eye on an animal shelter website. For us, taking on a new dog was not something we took lightly. We're talking a minimum 10-year commitment here. Not to mention the expense. True, we're dog people, always have been, and we know the hard work and dedication required. Still, there's so much to weigh up.
Advice from animal welfare charities is clear: don't take on a dog during a pandemic if you're not equipped to care for it long term. After all, a dog is for life, not just for coronavirus.
Once you're back to work, your dog is no longer enjoying your company and walks all day, and, instead, is suffering from separation anxiety and all of the destructive behaviour that accompanies it. It's no surprise that animal shelters and breeders across the country are reporting an unprecedented rise in pet adoptions and purchases. This is simply because people feel that it's an ideal time to take on a four-legged friend since many of us are at home more in the current climate.
However, animal experts are urging people to give deep consideration to the responsibility that comes with taking on a new pet.
Covid-19 won't last forever, so long-term planning is needed. Post-pandemic life will include a return to work and long periods of pets being left alone.
Despite the animal welfare advice, the whippet was on our mind. As for future planning, I'm working from home at present due to coronavirus, which is not my normal pattern. However, when I eventually return to the nine-to-five office grind, our childminder will be in the home with the kids, and my mum often checks on the dogs at lunchtime, so separation anxiety is not something that will likely be an issue. The kids are now old enough to walk the dogs after school, so the dogs' exercise needs will be met.
I'm a sucker for a whippet's sad eyes, but there's more to it than that. For starters, what will he be like with our 13-year-old collie Bella? A ball of energy with an incessant need to play would not be appreciated by a dog who just wants to snooze the afternoon away.
What will the dog be like with the kids? Temperament is everything. How will he fit in with our lifestyle? Will our new dining chairs get demolished? Dogs need a contained garden, and as a whippet can move at 35mph, we'd better remember to keep the gate closed.
Following endless research on whippets, it was time to meet Finch. A big hit with the children and Bella, we got to see his nature and how he interacted. At one-and-a-half years, he was painfully thin and there was a question mark on his background. But the family votes were in: we were going to be his forever home.
The first four days were a dream. Tails were wagging. My downward spiral began, as many downward spirals do, by jinxing it. "Yes," I bragged to a friend. "He's fantastic in the car. He's calm. Fab with the kids. Great with Bella. And best of all…" here's where I went and did it, folks… "he's toilet trained."
Then I proceeded to advise her on how to toilet train her new dog because I'm the expert now.
I'll confess there was a moment, possibly while I was elbow deep in a basin of soapy water scrubbing the contents of his stomach off the brand new landing carpet, where I feared we had taken on too much.
Just because dog numero uno can digest half-eaten sausage rolls, sit, lie down and refrain from eating furniture, there's no guarantee that the next one will. We were going from a mature, well-behaved dog back to square one, with toilet training and stair gates. Been there. Done that. Re-carpeted the hall, stairs and landing.
Managing expectations is key, plus future planning, and the ability to devote both time and patience. If you haven't got these by the bucket load, beyond Covid-19, taking on a dog is not the right choice.
Adding Finch to our home has brought us closer as a family. The kids will remember being part of an important family decision, and the walking and feeding is an extra responsibility for them.
As for me, I've realised that we can't expect perfection in the first few weeks. We're in this for the long haul, and we think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.