January is Walk Your Dog Month. So get up off that sofa, get moving, and don’t let winter – or symptoms – drag you down
Ziggy is my five-year-old Hungarian wire-haired vizsla and he’s an integral part of MegsMenopause. He’s been my salvation – and he came about in a very odd way.
I’d gone on holiday to Venice Beach, in the US, with my daughter when she was 16, but I was having the worst time. My menopause symptoms were appalling. I couldn’t face anything. I felt constantly nauseous and I couldn’t go out in the sun. We had everything planned. But the thought of going on a road trip? Ugh. I didn’t go to Joshua Tree, I didn’t ride my bike on the beach – I didn’t do any of it. My family just proceeded without me. All I could do was stay in my air-conditioned bedroom – even though I wasn’t sleeping. It was horrible: the most rubbish menopause holiday of a lifetime. Yet I felt like I was letting everybody down.
Every morning, my daughter would come into my room and ask what we were doing today. I had to say no to everything she suggested. I felt so guilty. And then she started showing me pictures of this dog that she’d found: he was a wire-haired Hungarian viszla puppy with a purple ribbon. It was constant: all the time, there she was, with the pictures, saying: “Look, I love this dog, I really want this dog.”
In the end, she wore me down. I gave in and said: “OK, if you save up and do the research, I’ll think about letting you have this dog.” And within two days of getting home, we’d looked into his background and a friend had driven her up to Cambridge to see this pup in his home.
Our policy up until then had always been “Adopt, don’t shop”. I’d urge you all to think very hard before buying a dog. I helped to get Lucy’s Law passed: it took nine years, but it means that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder, or adopt from a rescue centre. I hope it will be the beginning of the end for puppy farming.
Looking back on it, Ziggy was always going to end up being mine – sleeping on my bed, me taking him for walks. I mean, who lets a 16-year-old have a dog? But I don’t know where I would have been without him throughout those awful menopause years.
I believe the whole thing was meant to be. I had had no intention of getting another dog, because we already had our amazing Oscar, a Boston terrier, who died about a year ago. But Ziggy came because of the menopause, which makes him extra-special.
In the beginning, even though Oscar was just a tiny terrier, he ruled the roost, constantly telling off this huge, bounding puppy, Ziggy. They totally loved one another, but Oscar was the boss. And throughout all those years when I was going through such a horrendous time, they brought me love, they brought me peace, and they got me out of the house.
I found it very hard to be sociable back then – even having a conversation with someone was difficult. I just wasn’t myself. I’d loved to dress up, go out. And then, all of a sudden, everything changed. I was having to pretend. I went from the person who went out five nights a week to the opening of an envelope, to someone who never wants to see another envelope, ever. And at that point, the dogs brought me everything that humans really couldn’t.
I’d wake up in the morning, open my eyes, and they’d be there. I’d get up and walk because I had to, even if it was raining and cold. That walk made me happy. I cheered up just being with my dogs. Then I found that my dogs brought people to me: I’d chat to strangers in the parks most days. I’ve met the most phenomenal people because of them. Of course, I don’t know their names, I only know their dogs’ names – isn’t that always the way? – but it’s an amazing community.
Having a dog isn’t just about you, it’s about connecting with them, feeling what they’re feeling. I see how excited Ziggy is stalking the pigeons in the park. He has such personality and he brings me so much joy. Just seeing how happy he is makes me happy. It’s great for my mental health.
It’s not just about mood, though. Walking your dog improves your cardiovascular health, gives you stronger bones and joints, and helps increase your muscle tone. And dogs are great judges of character: my dog knows who’s nice and who isn’t. When I’m going away, and I’m packing my case, Ziggy gets so desperately unhappy – even though most of the time he’s coming with me!
I used to be a cat person. When I was a child, my mother read The Cat That Walked By Himself from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories to me over and over again, and I did the same with my daughter. I got my cat, Mary, when I was three, and she lived to the age of 18. So for me this dog thing has been a learning curve, from nurturing a pup that fitted in the palm of my hand, to seeing him grow into this huge hound. But he’s saved my life so many times. I couldn’t be without him.