From the moment we brought our little girl home (let’s not taint the moment with talk of monies paid), it was love.

Christened with a name which roughly translates as the Chinese word for little sister, Mei Mei was to be a new and much-loved addition to the household. Joining Jasmine, our golden-tressed dowager duchess (and primary Shih Tzu), Mei Mei would complete the family. We were now two gorgeous Shih Tzus and two scruffy dykes. We were family. And their love has kept us together.

Over two years down the track, we still giggle and gasp at our girls, but at the same time, it’s nice to know we’re not alone in our opinions. It would appear, with the release of A Girl’s Best Friend: The Meaning Of Dogs In Women’s Lives (Eds: Jan Fook & Renate Klein), that others feel the same way.

And if I lag more than 100m, she gallops back towards me with ears flopping, coat rippling, an expression of absolute, pure, unadulterated joy at the sight of me. I think she understands the tears in my eyes express the same love in return. -” Tara Middleton.
This is just one observation from the collection of poems, short stories and reminiscences which has captured the hearts of women since its release in late November, and which, I am sure, filled stockings in more than a few lesbian households over Christmas.

But what is it about dogs in women’s lives? Never let it be said that these precious creatures are child substitutes because they are more than that. Whether big or small, mongrel or purebred, each four-footed personality who graces us with its presence changes us in a way we never could have dreamed.

It’s probably the time of year when many are thinking of blessing their lives with a pet so the timing of this book couldn’t be more apt.

My local vet, whose clientele is largely women, knows from the size of the vet bills that these girls really love their pets. Seriously, it isn’t like they’re substitute kids or anything, but they really do spend anything they need to make their dogs well or happier or whatever, she said. That can range from top-of-the-line brushes to the best wormer treatments and shampoos and dog treats. Some people don’t even shop around for the best buy, they just get the best they can from the vet. Also, I have to say that in the past few years, lots of people have upped the attention -“ and money -“ they spend on their pets.

Women especially think nothing of paying through the nose if their dog has even the littlest problem -“ they just pay and pay and pay. They’re also more likely to pay for treatment to make their dog happier and more comfortable, where a man might be more likely to euthanase.

And it’s not just vets who reap the benefits of women who want their dogs to have it all. Dog groomers and pet salons are howling all the way to the bank. With the large numbers of women who are time-poor yet cash-rich, Pooch is more likely to take a weekly trip to a salon (unless the pet mobile visits chez vous) rather than tough it out in the shower or on the back lawn.

Melanie, a Stanmore-based dog groomer I spoke to, said that many of her clients are based locally in Newtown, and a lot think nothing of paying $40 a pop for their babies’ baths. Some of them are, like, kelpies or cattle dogs too, so it’s not like they are really difficult to wash or anything. I mean, they’re big, but there’s not a lot of brushing and grooming like you’d have with a Bichon Frise or Pomeranian, she said.

But I get all sorts of dogs. I get some of the top-notch ones but mostly your scruffy big types once a month or more. I also have a really big -˜regular’ clientele and a lot of them are women. They really love their dogs, and some even try to pay extra, even though I take care of all of them just as much as if they were my own -“ just so they’re really spoilt.

Melanie adds that dog groomers are a safety valve in the pet/owner relationship, since it’s often down to her when skin conditions crop up. Often I’ll spot something -“ like a touch of ear mites -“ and the owner wouldn’t have been any the wiser, she says. We’ll even put drops in the dog’s ears -“ it saves our clients money so they don’t need to go to the vet. Plus the dogs are getting really looked after.

And on top of this, for the really time-poor amongst us, are all those lovely extras. Dog-walkers and minders, for holidays and the like, are doing a roaring trade, and many are taking care of canines whose owners simply can’t bear them not to have the very best of care.

Shelley Roberts, a dog-walker who mostly caters around the eastern suburbs, said that most of her charges are from the business set in the area. But I have to say it’s the women who are the ones worrying about whether the dogs are happy and have had a good time and things, she told the Star. The blokes care too, but I have some lesbian couples who honestly -¦ it’s like these dogs are more important than themselves. Every time I collect them for a walk or do a feed or something, they [the owners] are practically crying with apologies because they are physically unable to do it [the walk] themselves. They really want to do it. They love their dogs so much, but they’d honestly like to do it themselves.

But for an insight into what really transpires between women and their dogs, look to your own backyards -“ or check out Girl’s Best Friend. As Jan Fook says, People are all very well in their own way, but they are not dogs.


A Girl’s Best Friend: The Meaning Of Dogs In Women’s Lives (RRP $32.95) is edited by Jan Fook and Renate Klein) and published by Spinifex Press.

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