Last year in our local chemist shop my daughter and I encountered a middle-aged man holding a white Chihuahua puppy dressed in a pink tutu. (The dog was wearing the tutu, not the man.) My then eight-year-old couldn't resist. She asked the man if she could pat the dog and he happily agreed. "That's a kid magnet," I said.
As we made small talk I searched for any hint of embarrassment that his dog was dressed up like a Christmas fairy. I kept waiting for him to distance himself from the sartorial choices, expected him to explain that his wife had styled the little canine that day - but nothing of the sort was forthcoming. This gentleman owned this puppy in more ways than one. His pride in this cute pooch was evident.
And it got me thinking that certain dog owners are perhaps a little eccentric, a tad dotty - some would say perhaps even barking mad. If it's possible to consider dogs as family members based on one's relationship to their owners then I would be able to claim three canines as my virtual "stepsisters". Molly and Penny, a pair of black poodles, are regulars at the doggie beauty parlour and have recently had their portraits painted while Piper must sometimes hide from the local dog rangers because, with a wardrobe of at least ten collars (including a sparkling diamanté number), she doesn't always wear the one that has the council-issued registration tag attached. It's not easy being a pampered pooch.
Our obsession with dogs has surely reached an all-time high. Paws for thought, an article I wrote for Canvas magazine, told of one besotted owner who spent nearly $8000 on two lifesaving operations and post-operative care for her Jack Russell terrier. Following publication a friend of mine said I should have interviewed her because she'd spent a grand total of $25,000 on trying to nurse her beloved pooch back to health. These days my friend's garden boasts a plaque engraved with moving words dedicated to her now deceased pet so the jury must be out on whether that was money well spent.
The Telegraph explores our reactions and responses to the death of a pet in Why, like Ben Fogle, are we 'embarrassed' to show grief over our dead pets? One man described the loss of his dog as "more painful than losing my mother... I didn't live with my mother. I didn't put out her breakfast in the morning or walk her in the evening. She didn't sleep in a basket in my bedroom."
Readers' comments on the story revealed similar levels of attachment. "I was more upset about the loss of my dogs than I was about the loss of my parents," said one. Another told of returning home from hospital after a heart attack: "my now ex wife said just 'You're back then'. Nothing more, no smile, no embrace, nothing, meanwhile Sooty and Sam the two dogs were bouncing off the walls, barking with delight and smothering me with licks."
The contrast between the love and loyalty of canines versus that of humans was a common theme. One respondent wrote: "Most of the dogs I have owned were better friends than many humans I have known." All of which just might go to explain the intense attachment some dog owners have to their pets and their unwavering faithfulness. As for us, from time to time my daughter continues to point out noteworthy dogs for me to admire but there's not yet been one to rival that unforgettable tutu-wearing Chihuahua.
Are you a thoroughly besotted dog owner? What over-the-top behaviour have you witnessed? Is a pink tutu a step too far or perfectly fine? On a more serious note, how have you handled the loss of a much loved pet?