Ecology and Life
The puppy room easing life's pain in a stroke
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  The puppy room easing life's pain in a stroke
Pack your bags, everyone, we're moving to Canada. From the country that brought us Anne of Green Gables, Alice Munro and Being Erica comes the news that Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia has installed a puppy room for stressed-out students. While I had to struggle through my finals with no more solace than terrible skin, paint-stripper vodka and recurring nightmares of taking exams on underground trains, Canada is providing its young people with a room full of puppies to pet to keep them calm and carrying on.

My wise daughter pointed out that a room full of puppies would in fact be quite stressful, what with the peeing, yapping and clambering, though if one is accustomed to being around undergraduates en masse this would not be an enormous stretch of experience. However, the joy of the puppy room would be its sheer temporariness in you go for your fix of fondling and tummy squishing, and then out again, calm and sharp as a brand new HB pencil.

The idea of a puppy room on hand for stressful situations sounds Willy Wonka-like in its impossible perfection. There should be one in every school, and in John Lewis at Christmas time. Imagine, you are standing, in your habitual frozen, Guardian reader pose, torn between Lego Friends and Ninjago, wondering how to reconcile your children's happiness with your dislike of rampant, violent consumerism.

A kind, nurse-like woman in a tabard directs you to the puppy room (it's up there next to the soft furnishings and the baby-changing). Puppies, whimpering and needy, totter over to you, as you sit, weeping, on a beanbag. You stroke their tiny velvet ears between your fingers, your shoulders drop, your jaw unclenches, the world comes into focus. Bingo and Rex have solved your dilemma with their neck folds, their unfocused eyes, the pink pads on their feet and their puppy smell. The unearned love that they bestow upon you makes you feel, briefly perhaps wrongly like a decent human being. Charity goats and slipper socks for all!

Of course, puppies are for life, not just for Christmas shopping. A well supervised puppy room would have none of the hazards of the spur of the moment dog purchase. Once the puppies entered their gangly, demanding adolescence they would graduate from their role of comforting the lonely and inadequate and start rescuing children from wells. Dogs don't grow into the bad habits of their human counterparts, there is none of the pesky speaking ("sausages" notwithstanding) or free will, but dogs are a lot of work and they do make your house smell (I didn't realise this until I began my dogless life when I left home). The temporary puppy room would have the same benefits as the afternoons I spend with my infant nieces: I get to enjoy all the cute, with none of the shit shovelling.

Actually owning a pet can be stressful, as anyone knows who has tried to reason with a cat. The snuggly moments are outnumbered by the mind games and battles of will. Mine has taken to staying out all night, and recently she came in with a black eye and a squint tail, smelling of cigarette smoke and perfume; there were no answers to be had from her, she just stared me down, meowing forcefully until I fed her. I spend half my nights worrying that she'll be eaten by foxes, and the others being woken up at 5am with her patting my face and breathing on me.

Stress happens when the life we want collides with the life we have, when the effort we make to convince ourselves that we can manage to balance, and juggle, and compromise, overwhelms our ability to do so.

A room full of puppies sounds like the punchline to a life-long joke. It's one of your three wishes (when you can't wish for three more wishes); it's imagining how you'd spend your lottery win when you never buy a ticket. It's a myth, made flesh in Halifax.

So, Canada, you had me at the puppy room. It's on. Book me in to Nova Scotia, and make mine a beagle.
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