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As I fell into career and financial woes, what saved me was my dog

Byline portrait of Martin Robinson.
Byline portrait of Martin Robinson. / Matt Writtle
22 June 2023

ew Yorkers have shrinks, Londoners have dogs. Stress-filled, high-functioning, lonely, egomaniacs — that is, city-dwellers — on both sides of the Atlantic require safety valves. In the US, psychiatrists fulfill this function; here we have pets.

James Middleton, Princess Kate’s brother and an ambassador for the Pets As Therapy charity, recently said his dogs were the reason he managed to escape his “cancer of the mind” and they basically saved his life.

To the casual observer, which I was until a couple of years ago, London dogs are unlikely lifesavers: they either seem to be spoilt cockapoos called Milo practically breastfed by vaping kidult owners, or American XL Bully dogs called Thanos who terrorise communities.

My dog is neither. Small, scruffy, fox-like — a Portuguese Podengo — he’s cute but annoying. I kind of hate him. He stinks and won’t leave me alone and doesn’t understand most of what I want from him. When I take him out for a walk, he seems to think we have more of a peer-to-peer relationship, than a master-hound one. Like he knows we’re hanging out together but when he runs off to hump a picnicker’s knapsack, he seems to take my yells as encouragement, as if I’m a hooting crew member and he’s a hairy Mizzy.

Yet the little dickhead has undoubtedly helped me out of depression. As a dog bought during Covid to allay the boredom of lockdown, it quickly became apparent that his use for our family was as a comfort blanket with legs. As I fell into financial and career difficulties, followed by a Defcon One psychological meltdown, the damn dog became a priceless route out of myself and into contact with others.

It’s the walks, basically. And while the bit of fresh air and exercise is good, the real anti-depression work is done with the apologising. I have trouble talking to humans, I don’t know what they’re thinking, but when your dog has just urinated up their leg, you are forced to communicate with them. “I’m so sorry for the piss in your turn-ups…” is actually a good icebreaker. Any amount of Transcendental Meditation and ketamine microdosing couldn’t get me out of a black hole, but being forced to chat to people in the park worked wonders.

At the weekend, I found myself in a Father’s Day doom spiral of guilt and unease. My partner took me to the pub with the dog to meet her friend who has a miniature Schnauzer puppy and suddenly I was transported out of myself into a dog party. Strangers coming over, other dog owners, even young people with lives … it was nice. A nice thing to do with humans.

London can be a lonely place but it can also be surprisingly warm if you approach it from another angle. One of derangement. It doesn’t have to be deranged dogs, Londoners do different deranged things to connect: from trainspotting to pond swimming to entering politics.

None of it is reasonable behaviour, yet it works. Dogs are certainly not rational creatures, but humans shouldn’t always be either.

Ben Affleck’s six-pack shot is just wrong

On Fathers’ Day, J-Lo shared a photo of Ben Affleck which instantly went viral. I’d been quite liking Affleck of late — he seems quite grumpy at Awards Shows, is always sighing as the paparazzi flock around, like this fame game nonsense of his partner is not even sickening anymore, just boring. But then the picture came out and I hated him again.

The guy was shirtless in it, with that chunky kind of hewn-out-of-wood proper man six-pack which makes the boy band Bieber Influencer six-pack look like Lego in a pitta bread. That one image of Affleck brought the dad bod era to an end. I’d liked the dad bod era, in which fathers were celebrated for their middle-aged spread. Even if it was bullshitty NYC trend talk, I was happily sliding off into obesity under the delusion that it was somehow sexy. Now my delusion has been destroyed. Thanks, Ben, thanks a lot. Now I have to buy another dog.

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