Animal magic

453035943Katy and I spent a very entertaining day at the London Pet Show this weekend, where, among other things, we watched rabbits showjump and learnt the best way to recover a lost hamster. (The trick is to put their favourite snack and some bedding at the bottom of a bucket, build a set of steps out of books leading up to it, then go to bed and wait for them to sniff the snack, climb the steps and fall, gently, on to the soft bedding below where they can snack and snooze until you discover them the next morning.)

It would be easy to rail against the show for its over-indulgence and extravagant pampering of pets – you couldn’t move five feet without stumbling across a stall selling pearl-encrusted leads or tartan pyjamas for your pooches – but we both came away feeling that the world is a better place for having pets in it, and for having people who care about them. Although we had a great time admiring some of the superstars of the show, like the haughty sphinx cats who lolled on satin cushions behind swagged velvet curtains like the supermodels they are, it was the charity and rescue stalls that caught our eye. We met guide dogs, therapy dogs who visit people in hospital, and learnt all about adoption schemes like the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs’ Home, pausing to visit our favourite, The Retired Greyhound Trust, to let them know how Doughnut was doing. But among the usual rescue and adopting services there is a new group on the block, which although a commercial venture not a charity, deserves a thumbs up.

It’s called and is based on the simple but effective assumption that however dedicated a dog lover you are there are not always enough hours in the day or space in your house to do a dog justice. Which means that there are always people who wish they could have a dog but don’t have the time or space to commit to one full time, and there are always people who have a dog but sometimes need a helping hand to look after them. brings the two together. For a minimal fee of £7.99 a year for borrowers and a still manageable £34.99 a year for lenders, vets and matches people who want to walk a dog or dogsit it over a weekend or holiday, with people who can’t walk their dog as much as they wish or need the occasional dogsitter.

The website was the brainchild of Rikke Rosenlund, a dog lover without a dog who fell for her neighbour’s chocolate Labrador, Aston, and when her neighbour apologetically asked her if she could look after him one day was as delighted to be asked as her neighbour was to have found someone to help out. Before she knew it Rikke had teamed up with web designer Les Cochrane and was up and running, linking overstretched dog owners with deprived dog lovers for mutually beneficial dog walking.

Eighteen months on and it has its own offices in trendy Shoreditch and both Les and Rikki have given up their day jobs to run the company full time.

And I can see why it would work. Walking Doughnut is always quite sociable because so many people want to stop to stroke him or ask me why he’s so skinny or otherwise quiz me about his racing career. Two friends, one of whom has recently lost her dog and another who hasn’t the space or time to have one of her own, always offer to take Doughnut with them whenever they venture out for a stroll round the park – for them a walk is not really a walk without a dog beside you. And now the sun’s out so is everybody else and taking Doughnut round the block last thing at night has turned what was a ten-minute sprint in February into a half-hour affair. Everyone is either pottering in their front gardens, sneaking a crafty fag on their back steps or enjoying last orders in the pub across the road. Last night we ended up being volunteered on to our neighbours’ team for the final questions of the pub quiz, but it wasn’t me they wanted to talk to, it was my four-legged friend.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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