Looking at my Facebook page, it’s not difficult to see that my main topics of conversation are politics and dogs. Dog owners make up about half of my followers and friends on social media. I very rarely post personal information on Facebook except when it comes to my furry family members. As we will see, dogs play many roles.
Why I love dogs
Most of my articles for Kent Bylines are triggered by personal experiences in everyday life. This one is no exception. When I lost the first of my two dogs, my Springer Spaniel Biscuit, I wrote
Sadly, on 22 October this year, my beloved rescue dog Bonnie died. I was devastated by both losses. Dog owners face frequent bereavement, since, depending on the type of dog, the average life span of our furry companions is between 9 and 16 years.
For me, my dogs are family members. A house without a pet does not feel like a home to me. Dogs are my company on difficult days, and they give me a reason to get out of bed on cold, rainy days. They make me fitter by making me go for long walks. They also make me feel safe, as they draw my attention to anything unusual happening. Their barking will tell potential burglars that they might get a hole in their trousers if they come any closer.
Dogs’ many abilities
Dogs play many different roles in people’s lives. Homeless people often need the company of a dog to keep them warm and safe. Recognising this, some vets run projects looking after these precious companions to desperate people.
Many people have practical reasons for wanting a dog. Guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs and dogs trained to sound the alarm if an epileptic fit is about to happen give their owners the freedom to venture out. There is research going on into how some dogs can sense cancer.
Military and rescue services also take advantage of dogs’ amazing sense of smell. Dogs play many roles in these situations. They can be trained to sniff out mines, often injuring themselves while saving their handlers’ lives. After natural disasters like mud slides, it is often dogs who are the last hope for people to find missing relatives, hopefully still alive, under the rubble.
However, an article about the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which last week arrested ‘a wealthy Russian businessman on suspicion of offences including money laundering’, described another astonishing ability dogs have. In these modern times of IT, memory cards, etc., police cannot simply pack up a few box files as evidence of crimes having been committed. Often, tiny microchips contain all the information they need to present in court to get a conviction. That is where, it seems, dogs come to the rescue.
The NCA’s press release said that the officers confiscated ‘a number of digital devices’, which they are now analysing. But how are investigators able to find digital information? Nowadays, it can be hidden on a tiny piece of silicon, behind a picture, in a book, anywhere no one can spot it. The answer is a so-called ‘digital dog’. These dogs can help police solve digital crimes. It was Jack Hubball of Connecticut’s Forensic Science Laboratory who realised that there were trace chemicals on a circuit board that dogs can find with their unbelievably sensitive noses. A dog named Selma, of the Connecticut State Police, seems to have been the first electronic sniffing dog, i.e. a canine super detector.
It is reported that a dog called Bear helped discover child pornography a couple of years later. In the UK, police are also using dogs to help in their investigative work. You can listen to a podcast about the FBI’s black Labrador Iris here.
Springer Spaniels against cybercrime
Having owned a Springer Spaniel myself, I love Milly and Mila, the spaniels the British police use in the fight against cybercrime. If you wonder how Flurry and Henry, Springer Spaniels at Lincolnshire police, are trained for digital duty, this video shows them chasing a tennis ball. My Springer Spaniel, Biscuit, would have been easy to train to do anything as his love of a ball was immeasurable. I still have two black bags full of golf balls that he sniffed out in the undergrowth at the country park and golf club we used to walk in. I offered my collection to the golf club, but there were no takers.
Dog owners will understand that I struggle with the idea of simply throwing the golf balls in the bin. I will never forget the joy with which my Biscuit presented them to me. Then he would dash off again, looking for his next ball.
A note to would-be dog owners
I want to finish off with a reminder to potential dog owners: even though a dog is a great companion and has a huge array of abilities, dogs are hard work. As a devoted dog owner, I have just adopted two dogs who lost their owners. They faced going into a rescue centre, where it was highly unlikely that someone would adopt them together as I did. These two are wonderful, intelligent dogs, but my life has to revolve around them. They need training to walk on a lead; they are traumatised and had to see a vet to get treatment for their indigestion.
This all costs time and money, and, unlike children, dogs don’t ever become independent of you. Please, don’t buy a sweet puppy without taking the responsibility that comes with it seriously. I think it’s worth it, but rescue centres can tell you how many enthusiastic owners realise that they had underestimated the commitment needed. I wrote about the impact of the pandemic on dog ownership and the rise in abandoned dogs. Don’t let the sweet puppy you buy become one of them.