Little devil dogging our marriage: One besotted owner"s tale of the troubles their pet causes

Little devil dogging our marriage: One besotted owner's tale of the troubles their pet causes

Amanda Craig owns a Cavalier King Charles spaniel like the one pictured that controls her heart 'with a wave of his whiskers'

Amanda Craig owns a Cavalier King Charles spaniel like the one pictured that controls her heart 'with a wave of his whiskers'

The news that dogs are causing families to row three times a week was met with slack-jawed disbelief in our household.

Only three times a week

Were it not for our dog (and occasionally our children) my husband and I would live a life without discord.

Boring, but true: for 25 years, we’ve lived together in a state of blessed harmony. Except for when the dog came between us.

The dog, Lucky, is a 12-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and he controls my heart with a wave of his whiskers.

Yes, he has (in my daughter’s contemptuous phrase) ‘a brain the size of a spore’.

He has only to see a dinosaur on TV to start barking, and he has got into countless scrapes — from winding his lead round and round the legs of passing joggers to stealing sausages meant for the Sunday roast.

But what are brains compared to beauty

He may be getting on a bit, but from the seal-like dome of his head to his exquisitely feathery white tail, his beauty is such that it melts all hearts — well, mine at least.

We bought him after a long campaign of begging by my daughter.

She promised all the usual things, and once her brother was out of nappies, my resistance was worn down.

Of course, while she professed undying love for the puppy, picking up dog droppings in a plastic bag at the crack of dawn is now a daily part of my life, not hers.

‘Ugh, how can you bear it’ the children say, shuddering. When particularly bad-tempered, they like to claim my hands now smell of either dog-biscuits or dog-droppings — both of which I rebut furiously.

Dog rows

The first rows came about because everyone wanted a piece of the action.

My husband wanted to take Lucky jogging with him, and the children thought he’d be fun to go off with as they dashed about on bikes.

This, inevitably, led to disaster, with the poor puppy repeatedly getting lost.

Despite his microchip and dog tag, several agonising hours would pass until another kindly dog-lover would ring up and tell us where our beloved could be found — hours in which I would morph from a calm, happy woman into a furious, reproachful one, shouting at them for being so stupid and wandering the neighbourhood, repeatedly calling our dog’s name.

My family, mortified, would beg me not to make an exhibition of myself, but to me a missing dog is almost as bad as a missing child.

It became obvious that I was the person who could and should walk our dog every day, and that particular row stopped. Rain, wind, sleet or snow, I’m outside.

Despite this, Lucky never greets me with the adoration that my husband gets as soon as he returns from work — which is another bone (if you’ll excuse the pun) of contention between us.

We bought him after a long campaign of
begging by my daughter. She promised all the usual things, and once her
brother was out of nappies, my resistance was worn down

To Lucky, I am the top human in the house only until the Alpha Male walks in.

All dogs are terrific snobs, keen to align themselves with the most senior member of the household, and as Alpha Male is far sterner to Lucky than I am, then the dog assumes (rightly or wrongly) that Alpha Male is at the top of the pile.

‘He isn’t a person,’ my son points out in exasperation, several times a week.

‘Yes he is, he’s a dog person,’ I say.

‘You’re going to turn into one of those crazy old dog ladies if you’re not careful,’ my son says crossly.

‘You’ll be calling yourself his mummy soon.’

‘I can’t believe a woman as intelligent as you can be such a nutter,’ says my husband, adding: ‘If you ever call yourself his mummy, that will be the end.’

Despite all my efforts at self-restraint, I find myself unable to resist feeding him furtively at the table. I know, I know, it’s disgraceful — I shuddered at the scene in the Harry Potter film when the awful Aunt Petunia fed her horrid bulldog this way.

Lucky has learnt how to click his claws beneath the table like a flamenco dancer to signal his impatience for a tiny morsel of what we’re enjoying — and it just seems so mean not to share.

‘You’re revolting! Stop breaking his training!’ the rest of the family chorus — though it is I who took him to puppy school and trained him in the first place.

The first rows started in Amanda Craig's family 'because everyone wanted a piece of the action'. File pic

The first rows started in Amanda Craig's family 'because everyone wanted a piece of the action'. File pic

My daughter has even learnt to parody Lucky’s look of adorable pleading and hold up her hands like paws when asking for new clothes, which always makes me laugh — and succumb.

The fact that I spoil the dog more than any other member of the family is another source of tension.

‘Even his haircuts cost twice what mine do!’ my husband protests.

‘That’s because he just has more hair than you do,’ I retort.

Having a dog is a lifelong emotional and financial commitment, and neither can be undertaken lightly. Our dog costs us at least 500 a year, not counting things like dog-sitting when we go abroad.

Every time my husband complains about what Lucky’s insurance costs, or another luxurious dog-bed, I say that, as a member of the family, he deserves to be healthy and comfortable.

I have friends who buy their dog collars to match their own different coloured spectacles, so why shouldn’t Lucky have a lovely designer fake fur rug when it protects our sofas

‘But he’s just a dog!’ my family howls. Lucky is a substitute for a third child, and much cheaper than one, I frequently remind them.

This argument was somewhat undermined last autumn, when the poor dog became seriously ill. For five days, he looked as if he might not make it.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, we discovered he is now too old to be covered by our insurance (something the company neglected to tell us, while taking our money).

Everyone else longs to do some
long-distance travel, and my husband talks wistfully about how, when the
dog goes to the great park in the sky, we’ll be off round South America
or the Far East

A large chunk of the money we saved by sending our daughter to university last year (ignoring her pleas for a gap year) rather than this one, when the fees kick in, disappeared on vet bills.

‘If it ever happens again, I’m afraid it will have to be curtains,’ said my husband. (He doesn’t mean it. I hope.)

If Lucky spends any more time in our bed, I fear this may hasten his end. I know that our dog not only wants to sleep in our room, but in our bed, and even under the duvet.

Once, I woke up terrified that I was being attacked because he was lying on my stomach and panting in my face. (Even dog-lovers like me don’t find anything nice about dog-breath.)

‘I’m like Princess Diana — there are three of us in this marriage,’ my husband says, dropping the dog back in his own bed in the downstairs bathroom again and shutting the bedroom door with a bang.

As ever, the dog accepts this with saintly resignation. As my constant companion, who sits in my study while I write my novels, why shouldn’t he be allowed to sleep in our bedroom After all, his snores are no louder than my husband’s.

But apart from special occasions, such as when he’s terrified by fireworks, he is banished to his dog-bed. There can be only one Alpha Male in a house, after all.

Of course, Lucky has also curtailed foreign holidays. Everyone else longs to do some long-distance travel, and my husband talks wistfully about how, when the dog goes to the great park in the sky, we’ll be off round South America or the Far East.

‘Just think of it, being able to go off without any more responsibilities,’ he says.

I must admit, it’s a tempting prospect. But meanwhile, I refuse to go abroad for longer than a week and prefer holidaying in Britain with Lucky — ignoring the children’s complaints about spending their summers in lashing rain.

Without our dog, it just doesn’t feel like a holiday. And I think I’d even miss the rows.

Amanda Craig’s sixth novel, Hearts And Minds, is published by Abacus, 7.99. Her second novel, A Private Place, is reissued at the end of this month.