A few weeks ago, my husband and I were relaxing on the sofa watching TV, his arm around me, when suddenly our Border terrier, Buddy, leapt in between us and snuggled up to me. I moved away so I could cuddle Buddy properly. ‘You love those dogs more than me,’ my husband said. I was startled. ‘I don’t. I love them differently,’ I said, but he was insistent: ‘Sure, we all know that means more.’
Deep down, I knew he had a point. I’ve always felt dogs give lots of love and ask for little back, compared to people, so it’s probably true that I lavish time and attention on Buddy and our other Border terrier, Billy.
I grew up in East Africa, where dogs are everywhere, then we moved to Glasgow and, again, dogs were part of family life. When I went to Edinburgh University, saying goodbye to my little terrier Cassie was a huge wrench. I used to visit home just to see her and I’d speak to her on the telephone. It was around that time I met my husband. Back then, we did talk about dogs; I remember him telling me about his mother’s Westie and I told him all about Cassie, but we never discussed having our own dogs in future. I just assumed we would. So it was a shock, years later, when it became clear he wasn’t keen.
By this time, we’d moved to Glasgow and had two children (they’re now teenagers) and a house with a big garden. When I broached the subject, my husband would make excuses, like, ‘It’s not a good time,’ which frustrated me. Like children, there’s never a perfect time. You just do it.
In 2014, I took matters into my own hands. We were having dinner with friends and, when one told us she was emigrating and needed someone to look after her rescue dog, Buddy, I blurted, ‘I’ll have him.’ My husband kicked me under the table. ‘We’ll talk about this later,’ he hissed, but I said, ‘There’s nothing to talk about.’ He was furious. His rage lasted until Buddy’s first visit a couple of weeks later – he was utterly charmed by him and forgave me.
When Buddy arrived, however, my husband set some rules: Buddy couldn’t sit on the bed (or any furniture), go under the bed covers or go into the sitting room. At first I agreed, to keep the peace, but within two days, almost every rule was broken. My husband wasn’t pleased and would tell Buddy – and me – off, but in the end he gave up.
Luckily, we agreed on most big decisions, like money and parenting – it’s just the dog that divided us. And years later, those issues are still unresolved. Buddy still barges in between us whenever we hug and I know it irritates my husband that I feed the dog leftover steak – and whole steaks on his birthday.
Two years ago, I was desperate for a second dog. I’m a novelist and had just published my first book, so my husband jokingly said, ‘If you sell 10,000 books you can get another dog’, assuming I never would. So when my sales surpassed that figure, he was horrified. But true to his word, we adopted Billy from a rescue charity. I adored him instantly.
Lockdown proved challenging with both dogs and my husband at home. Usually, he spends half the week working away, but now he’s around constantly, the dogs can no longer hop into bed with me. I can see them looking at him, thinking, ‘That’s our side of the bed!’
But spending more time with my husband has meant I can see his point of view. I’ve recently made some concessions and agreed the dogs won’t join us on holidays in future. The tipping point came on a trip to Argyll when Buddy urinated in the holiday home and pooed on my husband’s rucksack – I was the only one who saw the funny side. (Sometimes I’m sure they deliberately wind him up.)
But for all their quirks – and even though my husband hasn’t taken to family life with dogs as smoothly as I’d hoped – I’d never be without Buddy and Billy. Working from home can be lonely and I spend hours talking to them, which can make my husband jealous now he’s home too. I’ll be nattering away to the dogs when he’ll say grumpily, ‘Hello, I’m here? Talk to me!’ But the dogs don’t interrupt and they always laugh at my jokes.
These days, my husband never openly complains when he’s unhappy about how much I indulge the dogs. He just glares quietly. But I know he has come to love them, even if it’s not quite as much as I do.
Gill’s new novel ‘Why Mummy’s Sloshed’ (HarperCollins, £12.99) is out now