Just sometimes, it would be nice to have useful pets.

You know, helpful ones that can fetch and carry for you, like the disability dogs you see on the telly. They can fetch your socks or your phone, pick up things you have dropped, turn on light switches, bring in the mail and change the oil in your car.

When I had great Danes I thought they could be useful as assistance animals. They were the right size to haul me out of my armchair should I need it, I thought, and I could use them to lean on while I walked.

One of the great Danes had already taught herself how to open the back door, which could have been handy except she never shut it after her and no amount of shouting "Oy…were you born in a tent?" made her change her ways. She also tended to open it for her own nefarious reasons rather than to be helpful. It was generally to steal food.


Once she let herself in while a birthday-party-full of children were distracted by a treasure hunt. She ate the entire birthday party…not just the chippies, lollies, cheerios and cake, but the party hats and birthday candles as well. A second treasure hunt had to be quickly arranged while adults hared towards the nearest supermarket for fresh supplies.

She wasn't the only robber. Her partner in crime once raided the bread from the bread-maker, while it was still hot. Hence my investment in shorter dogs these days.

So while great Danes would have been good for reaching things, they would have been rubbish at fetching you a sandwich. One of ours also ate socks and soap, so you would have gone unwashed and sockless if you relied on him for help. Another was partial to shoes. Entire shoes, so you'd likely have your shoes fetched under a "one for you and one for me" sort of deal.

And even if you did get whatever you sent them to fetch, there would have been the small issue of slobber. I'd probably rather miss a phone call than have my phone delivered awash with dog goobies.

We've also, over the years had a few Australian terriers. They were very bright and almost trainable. I competed one at obedience until he decided he knew more than I did and started making up his own variations on the tests.

After the test where he embellished the command "heel" to a more interesting "heel for a bit, leave the arena to roll in sheep poo, veer off to bark at the judge, resume heeling" we retired from competition.

The terriers tended to chew stuff up though. One of them had a particular liking for – or maybe an intense dislike of – stuffed toys and regularly turned the front lawn into a teddy bears' picnic massacre.

My youngest daughter was particularly devoted to her soft toys so I spent many rushed hours before school pick-up reassembling the victims and making sure that everyone had the appropriate arms, legs, eyes and noses sewn back on. Sometimes there weren't enough eyes or noses to go around, which was awkward.


Terriers could be good assistance dogs I think, if you only expected them to deal with hard objects and nothing they could get their teeth into. They'd be a bit rubbish at reaching to turn on the lights, but one of ours used to like the trampoline so there's a thought?

Chihuahuas though…if you're going to ask a chihuahua to pick up something you have dropped, you might as well bend down and get it yourself. It's not like it's going to be any further off the floor once a chihuahua has hold of it.

They would rather be in your bag than carry it for you and mine insist they need to be lifted onto the furniture, the bed or into the car thank you, so they are really candidates for having their own assistance dogs rather than being of any practical use.

We also had a whippet. He would at first glance appear to be a good candidate for an assistance dog. Nice height, agile, a bit daft but very speedy.

What they don't tell you about whippets is that they are indeed speedy, but only for about three and a half minutes a day. In that time, an assistance whippet would be able to do so much…fetch your slippers, bring in the washing, answer the door, find your car keys, cook a three course meal and chase the cat.

Then it would be asleep. Very, very asleep, for the next 23 hours, 56 and a half minutes.

You'd be on your own.

Still better than a cat though. I just asked my cat to pass me a tissue. She declined, told me to get it myself, casually pushed the TV remote off the coffee table on to the floor and suggested I pick that up while I'm at it.