It has always seemed to me that there are four types of people: cat people - perhaps the most common, dog people - a close second, people who are both cat people and dog people, and people who are none of these. I don't claim to be a great cat person, but I am most definitely a dog person.
The Old Bat and I acquired our first dog when we had been married for just about a year. Sandy was a rescue dog, a collie cross aged about a year to 18 months when she decided that we were the people for her. She looked very proud and pleased with herself as she led us away from the RSPCA shelter. It was another five years before our first son was born and we were just a little apprehensive, wondering what Sandy's attitude to this interloper would be. We needn't have worried. She assumed it was her duty to protect the baby and, indeed, that was what she did. When the OB popped into a local shop, she would leave Sandy tied to the pram - and Sandy demonstrated her protective nature one day when, alerted by furious barking, the OB rushed out of the shop to find a woman trying to look at the baby.
After Sandy came Rags, a flat-coat retriever. Rags was a long-legged bundle of energy, seemingly impossible to tire out no matter how long the walks. He was the gentlest, most loving of dogs and children could do anything with him. My daughter learned to walk holding onto his tail, and she and her friends would treat him as a living doll, making him lie down to be covered with a blanket as if he was going to bed. Being taken to meet the children from school was pure heaven for Rags. One winter the whole family walked across the golf course with plastic bags to use as sledges. When we came across a slide down a steep bank, the children tagged onto the end of the queu waiting to slide down - and Rags went too. He rode with one of the boys and when he reached to bottom, he raced round to take his place in the queue for another slide.
Next came Bramble, a golden retriever. She, too, was very fond of children (although she couldn't eat a whole one in one sitting) but her preference was for teenagers. She also had a very strong maternal instinct. One year we were left on the farm for a day while my cousin and her husband went off to their son's passing out parade at Sandhurst. In the passage outside the kitchen was a pen with two cade lambs. Not surprisingly, they bleated from time to time - which got Bramble very agitated as she considered we humans should go to see to the babies. Despite having no milk herself, she was quite willing for the lambs to suckle her. At one time, we had a lamb in the back garden. I had made a pen of chicken wire, but Bramble learned how to open the pen and let the lamb out - while she went and sat inside the pen.
And now we have an English springer spaniel, Fern. As a puppy, she and our elder grandson would chase each other round the dining room table. When the toddler, as he was then, fell over, Fern, herself only six months or so old, would stop and wait for him to get up. She still adores young children and really young puppies.
There are benefits to keeping both cats and dogs, but to my mind the benefits of a dog versus a cat are greater. Both provide companionship, but a dog needs to be exercised, which gets me out walking twice a day.
But what beats all that hands down is that dogs can be trained to do so many things. To act as guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf; assistance dogs for the disabled or calming influences for some autistic children. But surely the greatest asset is that some dogs can detect cancer long before the symptoms show. That really is scarcely credible.