[Sidebar: Last summer’s dog-blog got me in a bit of trouble with my sister. Up front I’m going to reassure her, if she’s reading, that this one is not about her nor inspired by her.] 🙂
In a blog entry last summer, I think I made a pretty good case why dogs, for those without children, hold the same special place in the hearts of their owners as human babies do for parents.
My dog-related beef this time around has more to do with how dogs tend to get treated after baby arrives. Nothing makes me more angry than when someone gets a Practice Baby (i.e., a Puppy), spoils it rotten for a year or two, and relegates it to second-class citizen the moment Human Baby arrives. Or worse yet, gets rid of it.
Now, hold on a minute, Moms. Don’t get all pissy with me. I completely understand that the amount of care required by Human Baby is exponentially more than a dog. I get that there’s a biological bond with Human Baby that will never exist for Puppy. But by inviting an animal into your home and your family, you are making a promise to shower them with love and affection until they take their final breath (and because dogs have a much shorter life span than humans, and an argument could be made that they deserve tons of love while they’re still here to make up for the few years we get to spend with them).
I’ll be blunt here — if you couldn’t handle a baby and a dog, you shouldn’t have invited a dog into your home. You knew you would have a baby someday in the near future, and if you weren’t prepared for the sacrifice, I say too damn bad. You don’t get to offload a baby when they get to be too much work. The same policy should stand for a pet, but the animal shelters overflowing with “pre-owned” pets reveal that too many of my fellow citizens give up when the going gets tough.
I was chatting with a close family member last week. She was explaining that after we had our baby, she’d love to have us for an overnight visit, especially Baby. But she made it clear that we wouldn’t be able to bring our dog — an adorable, albeit slightly barky, miniature schnauzer named Kitty — inside the house. She wasn’t rude about it. She just has a “thing” about dogs inside her home. And it’s her house, and her decision, one hundred percent. But let me be clear as well: you can’t have us without also welcoming our pup.
Today, that package consists of me (Mommy), my husband (Daddy), and Kitty. In a few more weeks, the package becomes Mommy, Daddy, Kitty, and Baby. Where we go, Kitty and Baby will likely go. And it’s not fair to invite our Baby (and us) into your home while excluding one member of our family. Because Kitty is most definitely a member of our family, and will remain so even after Human Baby makes his/her appearance next month.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Can’t you just kennel the dog?” or “Don’t you have a friend who can watch the dog?”
Yes on both accounts. But you’re asking the wrong questions. “Do you want to kennel the dog?” and “Do you have a friend who can watch the dog without being horribly inconvenienced?” are more appropriate.
By way of explanation: Our dog is a mini schnauzer, a breed well-known for bonding strongly to their owners. Kitty can barely stand to be in a different part of the house from us. If my husband and I step outside at the same time, leaving Kitty inside, those seventeen seconds of OMG WHERE ARE MOM AND DAD?! are the worst moments of his little puppy life. Puppy-crying ensues, along with a high-pitched yelping and clawing at the door or window. Knowing this about him, we could kennel Kitty, but the thought of him feeling abandoned and sleeping alone in a cold kennel is more than my husband and I can stand.
As far as a sitter goes, we have wonderful next-door neighbors who can watch Kitty for us. But the combination of their dog and Kitty, when placed in the same house for a sleepover, creates a small furry tornado. The two dogs spend the night terrorizing my neighbor’s two cats and showing off how little sleep they require. As a result, my neighbors get zero sleep. The compromise is bringing Kitty back to our house for sleeping, but again, he then spends the night in our king-size bed, wondering where Mom and Dad went and whether or not we’re ever coming back. Another couple has watched Kitty overnight for us before, but they recently added their own Human Baby to the harem, and we wouldn’t dream of asking them for such a favor right now.
When we go on extended vacations, we have family we can rely on — my mother and sister, and my husband’s mother and stepdad have all watched Kitty for us. But it’s a lot to ask of folks who don’t already have pets to suddenly adjust their schedule to accommodate a furry family member. So we try to keep these requests as infrequent as possible so as not to abuse their kindness. (Hilariously, when we pick him up from the sitter’s after a long vacation, Kitty’s typically bonded to them so much that he’s nearly indifferent to us. “Oh hey, it’s you guys again. I have a new Mom now, so you can go now, kthx.”)
My goal as a Mom is not to crowd out Kitty when Human Baby comes. Instead, I picture the space in my heart that’s reserved for love of small beings (both two- and four-legged) to grow and expand. Baby won’t reduce the love I have for Kitty. And we’re going to try very, very hard to keep Kitty feeling included and loved as best we can.
We fully intend to make good on the promise we made when we brought Kitty home three years ago. He taught both of us what it feels like to love something so much that it hurts, regardless of how much attention and time they demand. He’s been our Practice Baby for over 3 years, and gave us our first taste of parenting and parental love without a moment of protest. For no other reason than that, he deserves the same level of love and inclusion that we would give our own flesh and blood. We’re going to do our best to give it to him.
Because we’re a Package Deal.
I can wholeheartedly reassure you that your dog(s) do not automatically displaced after the arrival of baby. If you are anything like me, having a baby may actually enhance their lives.
I had been through YEARS of infertility treatments before having my daughter. By the time she was conceived, we had two dogs, aged 4 and 5. I loved my boys unconditionally, and would get irate when others suggested that my love for them would take a backseat to the baby. They were beyond wrong.
From the day we brought her home, my dogs were smitten. It took no effort whatsoever to include my boys in all of the overabundance of love and joy that filled my house. They were thrilled with all of the visitors coming to “their” house to meet the baby, as well as the fact that mommy & daddy were now home with them so much more. The loved nursing time, since it meant they could snuggle down on either side of me.
In the beginning, I did need to have one of my parents or spouse come and watch the baby while I continued our daily 3 mile walks. I guess some people would have given that up, but I needed that time and outlet just as much as they did. By the time she was about 8 weeks, I had mastered the art of baby wearing, and could walk my 2 big boys (a ridgeback and a pit bull mix) 3-4 miles with her strapped to my chest. It was the best part of the day for all of us, and my dogs got to the point where they got more excited seeing me pull out the ergo carrier than they did their leash.
The introduction of food was an even bigger joy for them – treats raining down from the heavens that is the highchair! Every milestone she achieved was done so with my boys right beside us – they loved tummy time on the floor, and they were always her destination of choice when she learned to both crawl and walk. My daughter’s first word was “puppy”, and her first sentence, at 13 months, was “Walk the puppies”.
If anything, having a baby has only made me love and cherish my dogs even more. If they could speak, they would tell you that my daughter has made their life even better than it was before.