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A dog is good for your health
I know this newsletter is supposed to be about healthtech but I hope you’ll forgive me if I write about the subject that has been uppermost in my mind this weekend - and believe me, there is a connection with health.
On Friday we took our much loved Collie cross Cabbage to the vet, knowing that it was very likely that we would return home without her. At 15, she was a very elderly dog, quite deaf and with poor eyesight due to glaucoma. But she was cheerful enough, even after last November’s ordeal when she and five other dogs were kidnapped along with the dog walker’s van.
Then soon after the New Year she got the gastroenteritis bug which has affected many London dogs. Although she recovered a bit after a couple of nights on a drip at the animal hospital, she was significantly weakened. She went off her food, needed carrying up and down stairs and her back legs kept giving way when she tried to stand.
Worst of all, she seemed miserable - any enjoyment in life had disappeared. After a conversation with the really sensitive vet who had cared for her during her illness we decided it was time to let her go.
We are, of course, devastated - Cabbage was such a sweet-natured animal and had been part of our family ever since we picked her up from the Dogs’ Trust rescue home in 2007. But I look back with great gratitude on what she has done for me.
I did not grow up with dogs and was somewhat sceptical when my wife suggested we got one, partly as a way of teaching our younger child some responsibility. It quickly became clear that it was she who really wanted a dog and for Cabbage, Diane was always the pack leader in our house, someone whose study she guarded fiercely.
But I rapidly made an important discovery - an energetic pet that needed three walks a day was good for my health. Fighting the middle-aged flab I took to running a three mile circuit around the park with the dog, stopping to haul her off football pitches where she was determined to prove she could be a star striker.
Without Cabbage, I doubt I would have run five half-marathons. She was not of course permitted to participate in the races but was my constant companion on training runs along the Grand Union Canal towpath.
As we both got older and more decrepit - I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2019 - the running slowed to a gentle walk. But, regular as clockwork, before 7 each morning we would set off for a 40 minute amble around the nearest park. When the pandemic arrived and one outing a day was all we were allowed under the first lockdown, I decided to document the walk with a daily photo on Instagram and Twitter.
Having a reason to get up and out each morning was good for my mental health - and dozens of people told me that seeing the daily photo raised their spirits too. A personal trainer got in touch this weekend to say the first thing he asked clients was whether they had dogs, and if so whether they walked them - which was his best keep fit advice.
On Saturday morning I woke up and realised there was no dog to walk. But I set out anyway for the park, where Cabbage would stand and wait, somewhat impatiently, for me to snap the daily photograph. I took a picture looking down the empty path - and suddenly it struck home how much I am going to miss that dog.
If one human year is seven dog years, then Cabbage lived to 105, and she had a very good life after a difficult start. So we have plenty of great memories to look back on. But now I understand what once seemed strange to me - that losing a pet is a bereavement.