Three years ago, my boyfriend and I decided we were ready for the next stage in our relationship, the in-between living together and baby phase that many people go through before they’re ready to become "real" parents: getting a dog.
We both loved bulldogs -- the way they looked, their personalities, the fact they were more likely to want to hang in front of the television (one of our favourite bonding pastimes) than go on a four-hour hike (although their laziness is vastly over-exaggerated, I’ve since learned).
We liked that they were great family dogs, something that we hoped might happen for us in a few years. Instead, I found out I was pregnant the week after our eight-week-old bulldog moved in.
While the baby thing was kind of unexpected, we thought the dog would be the easy part, especially when compared with the great unknown of pregnancy and child-rearing.
We’d done our research, so we knew there would be a lot of work (bulldogs are notorious for their health issues, ranging from cherry eye to breathing problems to disastrous skin) and expense involved, but we had monthly pet insurance and time on our hands (or so we thought).
Since my boyfriend’s brother is a vet, we also had a qualified professional on our doorstep (who was hopefully not going to charge us for every visit?).
It didn’t bode well that within a few weeks of us getting Bolshy (yep, we jinxed ourselves with the name, too), vet brother moved to Nottingham. Now that he sees what cash cows we’ve become for our local vet, he is vocal about how much he regrets losing his would-be biggest client.
All of my fears (who am I kidding? I was young and naive and thought it would be a piece of cake) about taking care of Bolshy disappeared when I laid eyes on him: he was the cutest dog I’d ever seen: the snuggliest, most lovable puppy you could ever meet.
I lavished him with soft toys (until I realised his tiny teeth could already chew them to bits), and spent most days taking photo after photo of him and rubbing his tummy for hours on the couch.
As he got older, he was still just as charming and loving, but his naughty streak turned into full-blown stubbornness when he realised that the girl who lived on the couch obsessively Googling pregnancy contraindications in between sobbing and vomiting fits was probably not going to be the stern pack master he needed to teach him discipline.
Somehow I got him toilet trained, somehow I managed to teach him how to sit and lie down, and he more or less responded to all commands except the really important one where you call your dog and he comes back to you, so I could only let him off the lead in dog enclosures.
And even though I used to have to chase him around the house to get his harness and lead on (erm, don’t most dogs want to go for walks?), I tried to mollify any behavioural issues with positives, like how I was constantly getting praise from the vet about how healthy his teeth looked and what good shape he was in for a bulldog. ("He’d be the cover star of the bulldog version of Men’s Health magazine," I’d exclaim to my fiancé, who was probably deeply regretting proposing to me two months before Bolshy’s arrival).
He’d jump up to greet people when they came through the door, was always so friendly and loving, and whenever I was having a hormonal-related pregnancy breakdown, Bolsh would be there licking up my tears. Flaws and all, how could I not love this guy?
Three weeks after my baby was born, Bolshy was hospitalised for a week after a severe bout of kennel cough that led to him aspirating his own vomit (particularly disastrous for a bulldog due to their screwed-up respiratory systems).
Thankfully, Bolsh made a full recovery, but from that point on, looking after him became even more demanding. For the next two weeks, he was popping about 10 different tablets, from anti-nausea pills to antibiotics to a "good" bacteria paste for his tummy with every meal.
I was already scrubbing his wrinkles twice a day (yep, that includes cleaning butt wrinkles too) with water, an antibacterial solution called Hibi Scrub and a damp cloth; now, because we were so worried about him vomiting, we put him on a special overpriced diet (think the equivalent of Whole Foods spelt, only available at vets and speciality shops).
Instead of feeding him a couple of times a day like a normal dog, he had to have four to six small meals a day to reduce the risk of him getting sick.
It gets more ridiculous. Bolshy had a droopy eyelid (not cherry eye, but we needed to be referred to a specialist vet ophthalmologist) and he developed a skin dermatitis that looks like acne and bleeds (all over our furniture) if left untreated. He’s more or less permanently on antibiotics for that.
After getting thrush in his wrinkles (despite my devoted cleaning ritual), the vet recommended I get him aloe vera gel and try Omega-3 fish oil capsules to improve his skin. And in case that point hasn’t come across so far, I am willing to do all sorts of ridiculous things for this kid, so I did it all. For the record, my own skin regime involves splashing water on my face twice a day.
Meanwhile, my baby did all the usual baby stuff -- drink milk, learn to crawl, bawl her eyes out at 3 am most mornings and generally wow me on a minute-by-minute basis. And since she spent her earliest days seeing me slaving over her canine older brother -- wiping Bolshy’s vomit or blood stains up, wrestling him to put eye drops in -- I guess she decided she’d rather not be another problem child.
The two have become partners in crime: Every toy we used to give Diana, Bolshy would mistake for his (when our toddler thinks his chew toys are hers I can only hope it’s massively boosting her immune system).
Diana loves him like a brother; she cuddles him, she talks to him, she bullies him and he, happily, lets her do whatever she wants. My heart swelled with pride when "Bolshy" entered her vocabulary swiftly after "Mama" and "Daddy."
Walking my bulldog and baby in her buggy twice a day is a humbling exercise -- he wraps the lead around me, he runs after female dogs, he trips me up so he can pee in the same spot 12 times, and any time people come over and I put Bolshy in a room with the door closed, he sobs so loudly and paws at the door so aggressively that it sounds like a wild beast is waiting to be unleashed.
He also has a humping problem, which unfortunately occasionally manifests itself in the presence of male house guests.
Bolshy also got a little too involved in my baby’s weaning process and decided to spend the last year-and-a-half hoovering up every bit of food she dropped to the floor during meals, so the paragon of bulldog health recently became morbidly obese.
Other than his (now infrequent) bouts of gastroenteritis or skin flare-ups, Bolshy basically lives the life I would want for myself. He spends his days sunning himself in the garden or snoozing in my bed (not on the blanket I put up for him, but snuggled amongst my pillows).
My now-husband refers to him as the Lodger -- but one who won’t pay rent, won’t get out of your house and gives you a death stare if you dare ask him to make room for you on the couch. Yes, I know I’m the crazy dog lady.
I embarrass Bolsh in public because I can’t stop cuddling him and kissing him. I buy him dog bowls that say "STUD" for his birthday and I Google the Harrods pet spa and fantasise about taking him in for a blueberry facial (it could help his skin?).
I not only came back from a trip to NY laden down with Pina-Colada and Coconut-scented shampoo and an adorable skull print, Alexander McQueen-esque jumper, I even transported rainbow-coloured poo bags for Bolshy across the Atlantic.
The Bolshy obsession affects other family members, too: Diana’s wardrobe was mainly bulldog print thanks to a Gap Baby Boy’s collection coinciding with her being the right age, my husband’s birthday presents have included bulldog-shaped cufflinks and a bulldog-emblazoned jumper and I even creepily put bulldog cushions on our wedding list. Lunatic much?
What can I say? I love my bulldog. Easy, he is not. But I wouldn’t trade anything about him. He’s not just a dog; he’s family.