Mischief and Grumble.

The itching we felt when she first arrived wasn’t an allergic reaction, it was just because she was getting under our skin.

She has this habit of placing a paw on top of your hand or foot, as if to say: ‘mine’.

But what she is really doing, with that subtle sleight, is stealing your heart as deftly as a pickpocket.

We have emerged from this summer’s lockdown as a changed family. I do not mean we have had some grand epiphany that has caused us to reassess all our priorities, or made us thankful in our hearts, or any of that bollocks. It’s just that we went into lockdown as an absolutely pet-free household and have emerged from it with three fancy rats and a pug.

Somehow this influx of animals into the house has made me feel more ‘human’ — more open to, and more connected to, other people; more like them. Human beings are an interdependent species, both on each other and on other creatures.

It is quite absorbing to sit and watch the antics of the rats inside their cage, which resembles a Wacky Warehouse. They are very mischievous, and you can almost see the cogs turning in their little heads as they work out their next move.

The collective noun for rats is a ‘mischief’. With a group of three young males we definitely have a mischief of rats. The collective noun for pugs is, of course, a ‘grumble’. One pug doesn’t qualify as a grumble, but it is, potentially, the start of one.

Potentially.

And I would like it to become actually a grumble. Because I am smitten, and so is Freddie. Dizzee has her own ‘chore’ — to ‘snoopervise’ Freddie in the bath to make sure that he remembers to have a wash (while we discreetly supervise them both). We are all smitten, in truth. We’ve seen far more of the Son-and-Heir (and owner of the rat boys) as he had taken to emerging from his room several times a day just to see how she is and give her a fuss.

Strictly speaking, Dizzee the pug belongs to my daughter and her partner (who live with us). When darling Daughter took her to the vet for her new pet check up, a locum fixed her with a beady eye and said, sternly: ‘We do NOT encourage people to buy pugs’.

So I resolved to be sensible, and responsible, and not buy a pug.

Instead, I am going to adopt one.

I have applied to a pug adoption charity, passed the home check and been placed on their waiting list, so all I have to do now is … wait.

Someday my pug will come.

In many ways I agree with the sentiments behind what the locum vet said. We should discourage the indiscriminate breeding of pug puppies, due to the increased likelihood of serious health problems that comes as a genetic side-effect of the endearing attributes that man has bred into them. But the fact is that pugs exist, and, as the third most popular breed of dog in the UK, they will continue to exist; and since they are so popular people will continue to buy puppies without realising what they are taking on: so, sadly, there will always be pugs in need of re-homing. So I reserve my right to responsibly own a responsibly sourced pug.

It concerns me when I hear or see people say they have chosen a pug because they don’t need much walking. Have they done no research? Do they think pugs are low-maintenance? They are decidedly not low-maintenance. They are emotionally needy, high-maintenance dogs. And surprisingly high-energy when young and trim.

Pugs are extremely affectionate, loyal, protective and clever little canines; they are comical, clownish, sometimes melodramatic, but always seriously adorable. They are also a perfect example of what can happen when we selectively breed animals to produce certain characteristics that we consider desirable. They are the ultimate designer babies of the dog world.

When we tinker with an animal’s genetic inheritance in order to produce the effects that we DO want, we also unwittingly make many other subtle genetic changes that may act together to produce effects we definitely do NOT want — genes are seldom, if ever, responsible for just one thing.

There are, of course, many ethical and responsible breeders who are trying to breed their puppies in such a way as to mitigate the worst effects of the health problems that can occur, by, for instance, selecting for a slightly longer muzzle. But reversing centuries of genetic meddling is no simple or straightforward matter.

So, if you say to me that the genetic selection of human babies for certain characteristics such as ‘intelligence’ (meaning, presumably, the likelihood of a high IQ score) should be allowed, as it would lead to the improvement of the human race, you’ll pardon me if I exchange a knowing look with the dog, roll my eyes, and tell you that you’re talking out of your arse.

Because genetics doesn’t work like that.

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