Frontlines – the social effects of dog owing

One of our team of practitioner columnists gives her take on the social effects of dog ownership

How do you reconcile the wishes of dog lovers and dog haters who live next to each other – a dilemma faced by Jennifer HarveyStand up for Social Care 125x125

They’re your best friend, your baby and your security system. They improve your physical and mental health by encouraging you to exercise and get out into the park or countryside. Stroking them lowers your blood pressure and eases away your stress.

Or you may take the view that they’re dirty, smelly, noisy and dangerous. You’re allergic to their fur and saliva, and they keep you awake all night with their barking. Your streets are full of their mess, which can cause blindness.

Dogs. They’re almost as contentious as smoking. It was in a very smoky working men’s club, some years ago, that I attended a meeting on this subject. The club was full of tenants from an inner city council estate. I was a newly elected local councillor who had been “dropped in it” by my more experienced ward colleagues. Perhaps they thought a small woman would be more likely to placate an angry mob. I should mention that I got to know many of these tenants quite well during my four years as a councillor and that, individually, they were decent, level-headed people. But dog lovers and dog haters, living together, with communal walkways and gardens? Let’s just say that tempers were frayed.

During the evening, several people told me that if a no-dogs policy was enforced and the dogs were removed, it would be like losing a child.

I also heard from a man who lived below a flat where an alsatian was left all day whining on a balcony. It existed in its own mess, which was never cleared up for months at a time and then thrown on to the grass below where the children went to play.

An uneasy truce was reached. Some “good” dog owners kept their pets if their immediate neighbours agreed. Some dogs went to animal rescue centres.

People still want dogs because they’re lonely and their life is empty, or just because they like dogs. Sadly, not everyone has the skills to look after them, and then everyone suffers, not least the dog.

Shortly after this meeting, my council colleagues received a paper on the positive effect of dog ownership on mental health. It was by US psychologists Dobermann and Rottweiler, alias J Harvey.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties

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