Talk about puppy love.
With Valentine's Day nipping at our heels, local experts say pet ownership is often the key to getting a new leash on love -- or just being dumped in the doghouse.
Winnipeg matchmaker Lianne Tregobov, owner of Camelot Introductions, said pets "absolutely, positively" can make or break a budding relationship.
"Pets are like your children; they just don't last as long," says Tregobov, who has been helping Winnipeggers find true love for the last 19 years. "The love you have for them is very deep and very intense.
"If someone wants to join your life, they have to accept the whole package. If you have pets, they are not disposable. If you don't like pets, it's not the right relationship for you.
"If you don't like someone's children, you won't carry on a relationship with them. It's the same with pets."
The matchmaker, who gushes over her beloved Yorkie named Harley, says one of the first things she does with potential clients is ask about their views on pet ownership.
Do they have pets of their own? What kind of pets? What are their names? Their ages? And is the person looking for love willing to accept a new partner with pets?
"As a matchmaker, you're not just matchmaking the heart; you have to matchmake everything around them, including their pets," says Tregobov, who also works with Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert, a volunteer group that reunites lost pooches with their people.
The dating guru confirms a large number of her clients are pet owners seeking human companionship.
"I'd say a large percentage, because people who are alone often have pets for company," she said. "For some folks, if you don't like the pet, it's not going to work. They feel, 'If you want to love me, you've got to love my pet. Plain and simple.'"
So are pets the ticket to a love connection or a speed bump on the road to romance? It depends on the would-be lovers' views on owning animals.
Tregobov points to a recent case when she matched a dog lover with a man who didn't exactly share her passion for pups.
"She knew he wasn't thrilled with her dog, but she saw him kick it when he thought she wasn't looking, so she kicked him to the curb," she says.
"He justified it by saying, 'I don't like dogs.'
"I said to him: 'Well, I don't like you now, so is it OK to kick you?'"
Sometimes it's simple biology: If you have an allergy to cats, you shouldn't hook up with someone who owns cats.
"People who have shedding pets need to pay special attention," Tregobov points out. "No one wants to meet people who are furry if they're not an animal lover... I can't stress it enough: If your pet sheds, get a lint roller!"
It's also possible to have too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to animals.
"If you have an abundance of pets, there will be a smaller number of people interested. I had a woman not wanting me to tell people she has six cats. I'm like, 'Yeah, we have to tell people you have six cats.'"
The truth is, the way people act around pets reveals a lot about their potential for a love match.
"It allows you to show your true colours," she says. "You're dealing with something that's innocent and vulnerable. Stand back and watch somebody interact with a pet and it'll tell you a whole lot about them."
The matchmaker's advice was echoed by Val Poulton, manager of intake and behaviour with the Winnipeg Humane Society. "It (owning a pet) tells you they can commit to a relationship," Poulton, the owner of two dogs, says. "Seeing how somebody treats a pet is a clue to how they would treat their partner."
Poulton, who came to Winnipeg in August after eight years with the Nebraska Humane Society, said furry friends can be the beating heart of a fiery fling.
"I have several friends who are married who met through dog sports -- agility and obedience competitions," she says, laughing. "Some dumped their old spouse to hook up with new love interests they met through their pets. I'm glad this (story) won't make it to Nebraska, because I'm telling on all my friends."
In matters of the heart, it's not enough for people to get along; their pets need to be compatible as well.
"I have encountered some situations where people have had pets, but the dogs weren't happy about living with each other, so we had to do some proper introductions and counter-conditioning to help them feel better about living together," the longtime dog trainer says.
Aileen White, the society's director of communications, says with a chuckle: "It sounds like some marriages."
Poulton also stresses that a desire to hook up is not a good reason to get a pet. "If that's your motivation, you might want to just borrow a friend's pet," she says..
Which is when White suddenly recalls that her husband, during the courting phase of their relationship, borrowed a chocolate Labrador pup in a bold bid to win her love.
Says Poulton: "That's really romantic! He's a keeper."
White agrees. "How do you not just gush with affection?"
And that's precisely the point, because on the road to romance, you have to put your best paw forward.