THREE women in a veterinary surgery are crouched over a dog, tickling her belly as she squirms on the floor with delight. Their yelps of joy (“Look at her gorgeous eyes, it’s like she’s wearing eyeliner for a night out!”) are pitched high enough to divert a pod of whales. The trio are like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, all of them good, for who could possibly wish this animal ill?

A few feet away from where the object of affection lies is a spot where I, too, once stretched out on the floor. I was cradling a dog’s head as she slipped into her final sleep, her eyes watching me, flickering open as she fought for one more look. Then, like a candle going out, the sputtering stopped.

I had been warned, as all dog owners have been down the ages, how this would end. In his poem, The Power of the Dog, Kipling wrote: “There is sorrow enough in the natural way, from men and women to fill our day; and when we are certain of sorrow in store, why do we always arrange for more? Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware, of giving your heart to a dog to tear.” My heart was shredded. I would never do this again.

As a walk in any park will confirm, many think the same only to relent. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association puts the number of dogs in the UK at nine million, up from 4.7 million in 1965. Some 26% of households have a dog (22% a decade ago). Spending on pets in general is rising, with Mintel estimating the market will be worth £2 billion by 2023, a 25% increase from today.

It is not only manufacturers of dog food and toys chasing the furry pound. You can buy clothes and shoes for your dog, have them pampered in a spa, tailor-make their own bed or sofa, even throw them a birthday party. Brewdog, which makes canine-friendly beer, hosts “dog pawties”. Bars and restaurants in general are increasingly opening their doors to dogs, ditto hotels, including luxury ones.

The UK has gone dog daft, and the trend is only going one way - up - with the Millennial generation keenest on spending on their dogs. A Mintel survey last year found more than half of the 19-38 age group would rather cut back on items for themselves than deprive their pets. Chana Baram, retail analyst at Mintel, says: “As the age of having children increases, we know some young people are opting to first get a pet and treat them as a family member.”

It is not all positive. Many hate the mess left behind by cretinous, irresponsible owners (none more so than the responsible dog walkers who end up scooping up after other people’s animals). The trend for infantilising dogs, including dressing them up, insults their dignity, and the greed of some owners to make money off the latest “trendy” breed, is seriously harmful to the animals’ health. Nor does everyone want to dine or drink with dogs nearby, or stay in hotels where the previous guests have had a bad case of moulting.

Newnight’s Emily Maitlis incurred the ire of some on Twitter this week for allowing her whippet, Moody, to sleep on the train seat beside her. “It’s not your private car,” growled a fellow traveller, “have some consideration for other passengers who don’t want dog hair all over their backsides”.

Then there is the welfare of dogs. For a country supposedly enamoured of canines, we don’t half, as a society, mistreat them. Last Christmas, after yet another campaign to built around the Dogs Trust motto - “A dog is for life, not just Christmas” - the charity took 4000 calls from people wanting to give up their pet. Their reasons included, “He was panting too much” and “She was too friendly and wanted to greet every dog and human we met on a walk”.

There are other reasons. The dog could be a much loved pet whose elderly owner is going into a care home that won’t take animals. Divorce, job loss, the arrival of a baby, or just not thinking through the decision to have a dog in the first place, all can result in a dog being put up for adoption.

The Dogs Trust, which will never put a healthy dog to sleep, has 21 rehoming centres, including ones in Glasgow and West Calder, caring for 15,000 dogs. Sometimes, a dog is fostered prior to rehoming. These dogs might be unsuitable for kennels because they are too young, old, or need high levels of medical care. A dog might also be fostered because the family is fleeing domestic abuse, or it could be that there is simply no space left at the centres and a dog has to be placed somewhere temporarily.

I became a foster carer for the Dogs Trust a year after saying goodbye to Chili on the vet surgery’s floor. Her sister, Midge, had died 14 months before, quietly and naturally, in her sleep. They both made it past their fifteenth birthdays. Dogs are generally living longer today due to advances in medical treatment and better diets. I like to think, too, that my two stuck around because they quite liked me.

Fostering seemed like the best of all options. It was giving something back, helping an animal in need, without the expense (a dog, on average, will cost £10,000 over its lifetime), or commitment. Without dogs to permanently consider, I could travel more, and go for days and evenings out without forever keeping one eye on the time.

After checks and a home visit I was approved as a fosterer. The Dogs Trust takes the utmost care when selecting homes, whether for foster care or adoption. The last thing a dog in care needs is more distress and upheaval if the adoption does not work out.

I fostered three dogs, every one of them a delight, who all went on to their “forever homes” with tails wagging. I only stopped because, just as everyone who knew me had warned, I got too attached, very quickly. Slowly, very slowly, an idea began to form. It had been two years since Chili died, or “went over the Rainbow Bridge” to use the euphemism. Legend has it that in dog heaven, located over said bridge, all dogs will one day be reunited with the humans who loved them. The day after Chili went the surgery sent me a card, with a drawing of a multi-coloured bridge, and a packet of Forget Me Not seeds to plant in her memory. I did. Nothing came up. Too much salt in the tears that watered them, probably. Was I ready to go through all that hurt again?

The evenings spent on rehoming websites suggested yes. I did not want to buy from a breeder with so many dogs already in need of good homes. But there were small people in the family now, and I had to be as sure as possible about the temperament of any dog that came through the door.

Finding a dog had never been this complicated before. When I was growing up, dogs seemed to just pop up out of nowhere. Our first dog came from a man in a pub and was aptly named Shandy. The next, Honey, was found abandoned in a bin bag with her tiny siblings. Gladstone was kicked out of a car. He had the least reason to trust any human again, but he was a wonderful dog and great with children.

Still, I could not, would not, take any chances. I knew from my experience with Midge and Chili that Labs made great family pets so I contacted Labrador Retriever Rescue Scotland. Another extensive vetting process later, I went on the waiting list.

It was while waiting that I heard via a friend of a friend about a three and a half year old, much loved yellow Lab that might be looking for a new home. Her owner liked to show dogs, but Hobo was not keen on the life. When the judges came round to inspect her she would flip on her back for her tummy to be rubbed.

Her owner did not want her to be left behind when she and the other dogs travelled to shows, so had reluctantly decided to rehome her. We spoke on the phone, I emailed details, and again checks were carried out. It was now time to meet Hobo. It was me under the spotlight, not her. If the dog did not take to me, or her owner had any doubts whatsoever, the rehome would not happen.

In the car we went, my friend Adrienne and I, to a little cottage in the woods. I heard Hobo before I saw her. We were in the sitting room. Somewhere down a hallway a door was opened and she was heading my way. It sounded like a small, hungry bear sprinting towards an all you can eat honey buffet. She burst through the door, it was love at first sight on my part, and within minutes we were on the floor together, a blur of paws and sloppy kisses.

I passed the test, thank the Lord, and a month later came to take Hobo home for good. I could not be more grateful to her previous human. She has given me a beautiful, exceptionally well trained dog who is adored by everyone, especially the little people. In return, all that was asked of me was that I loved and cared for her, and made a donation to Labrador Retriever Rescue Scotland.

It has been six months now since the arrival of Hobo (short for Hoboken, New Jersey, although the lady, like her new human, is a tramp in spirit). I find out new things about her all the time. She likes to chase birds, for instance (she was brought up with cats). She has better manners than me. And she really, really, really, loves to have her tummy tickled.

Back to where we began. We are at the vets for a routine check-up, and she has assumed the position so that tickles can be dispensed. I look over to the circle surrounding her. The adored one turns her head to glance at me. Isn’t life grand she seems to say? Aren’t I just the luckiest thing in the best of all possible worlds? No my love, I am. I have given you my heart to tear. The deal is on again.