They have normally been brewing gently in the background, with tensions slowly flaring between two warring animals. A common sign will be attempted matings in same-sex groups, which should be seen as a sign of dominance rather than an attempt to procreate. You may also have observed some gentle chasing or scuffling over the previous weeks but have assumed everything would work out fine.
Share via Email Amanda Mitchison with her husband Jeremy and sons Sam left and Teddy right — and Alfie, the dog that attacked the guinea pigs. Photograph: Gareth Phillips In , we moved out of Bristol and put our two boys, Sam and Ted, in a lovely small village school.
We are now just outside the city boundary, near the football stadium and on the way to the airport. There are golf courses in every direction, and down the road lies an old estate owned by the council and used for outdoor festivals and dog walking.
So it isn't really countryside at all. It's dogland. Everybody here has dogs. Liz and Paul on our left have a huge black labrador, Dunstan. Robert and Ursula on our right used to have two golden retrievers. Outside the village store are steel bars that I thought were bike racks, but really they are used for tying up dogs.
Just up the road from the vet is a little shop selling Cash's name tapes and knitting patterns. The lady behind the counter gives a good stroke and throat scratch — you are practically not allowed in there without a dog.
And then there are the walkers. Every morning and every evening they troop past our door on their way to the old estate. Labradors, beagles, collies, pugs, alsations, terriers, greyhounds … Dogs, dogs, dogs.
Even the school has a dog. In a frame in the hall there are photographs of all the staff: a dozen smiling men and women, and a chocolate labrador called Rafi.
This is no act of whimsy.
He is trained to jump through hoops and tidy toys into a chest. He only pees and poos on demand. He also puts the hours in, doing a full working day in the school office with his squashed plastic chicken. Our older son, Sam, was instantly smitten by Rafi.
And the headmistress was very kind and let Sam walk the dog and give him treats. When things were rough — and school wasn't easy for Sam — he would go and give Rafi a cuddle. Inevitably, he started hankering after a dog of his own.
The head gave me newspaper cuttings on the Pets As Therapy charity. She said: "Sam really likes Rafi.
A few days later, the headmistress said: "I know you've been thinking about getting a dog. I'll keep an eye out. Here are the details. Hope had had an unhappy puppyhood. It had been stitched back on, but got infected. Five more operations followed. The poor creature had spent months with one of those awful dog lampshades round her head.
Now the breeder didn't feel she could sell her.
We could have Hope free, as long as we agreed not to breed from her. A bargain? Well, sort of … When I arrived at the breeder's farm, there was a sea of brown and black dogs. And, standing alone in a separate enclosure was one quite sturdy brown dog with its paws splayed out slightly like a ballet dancer.
This was Hope. And it was only later — for at that point I couldn't tell labradors apart — that I realised what a truly beautiful dog she really was. She had golden eyes and a face like a seal, and lovely — if slightly wonky — ears that were the texture of Jus-Rol pastry.
Soon I was zipping down the motorway listening to the radio and catching jets of dog fug that wafted out from the back of the car. This was the first thing I discovered about dogs: they really smell.
With dogs it's an actively emitted odour — as if they possess special smell glands with little motors working away overtime. By the end of our two-hour journey, the car had been thoroughly dogified.
It wasn't long, of course, before the house went the same way. And in other ways too, Hope settled in quickly. We reinforced the fencing round the garden, bought her her own squashed plastic chicken and a huge crate that took up a third of our tiny kitchen.
She made friends with Dunstan next door. She also played with our guineapigs, Snuffles and Nibbles, nudging them delicately with her nose. For Hope was a very gentle dog. She had a nice temperament and almost never barked. Jeremy, my husband, liked the fact that a dog in the family made long country walks not merely a private indulgence but a domestic necessity.
Sam and Ted adored her, and at night, when they were meant to be in bed, they would creep downstairs and crawl into her crate and nestle beside her.
The boys also crept in for a cuddle if they were upset. That is the great thing about a dog: however beastly and unreasonable your parents are, the dog will always be on your side.
And me? Did I love her?
In theory. In a Prince Charles "whatever love means" way. Certainly, I should have loved her. How could I not love her with her golden eyes and her terrible farts?