My Dogs Are Not My Children But…
My dogs are not my children. Let me count the ways:
- I do not refer to or think of myself as my dogs’ mommy.
- In the same vein, they are not my babies, fur or otherwise. Pups yes, no matter their age, but not babies.
- Other than the occasional Toffee Toff or Shylah La, there are no cute nicknames or cooed baby talk. They aren’t Sweetums, Snookum, Babycakes, Precious, or Darling.
- I don’t dress my dogs in adorable outfits. Toffee does have a coat and pants, but that’s only because she rolls in everything and spending more than $80 a month on grooming would be nuts.
- We aren’t a package deal. I don’t assume that my dogs are welcome wherever I go.
- If you don’t love dogs, I won’t be spending our time together trying to convert you with cute stories of my pets’ exploits.
- I don’t tolerate annoying dog behaviours. A child throwing a tantrum in a public place is embarrassing and frustrating, but it’s also developmentally appropriate. Dogs barking for any length of time when they aren’t alerting me that someone’s in my driveway? That’s not okay with me or, I imagine, with my neighbours.
This is just my list, and I’m not rabid about it. I don’t get worked up about the term ‘parent’ being unreasonably co-opted. I don’t agree with the blogger who proclaimed that “having pets instead of kids should be considered a psychiatric disorder.”
You may do everything on my list, and drive around with a bumper sticker proudly proclaiming, “My child has four paws.” Great. I’m all for individual choice as long as a dog is exercised daily, given good quality food, and treated kindly and with respect (see Dinah’s comment below).
My Dogs are Not My Children But…
I didn’t used to be this tolerant. When I was younger, strongly held opinions were my stock-in-trade.
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.Mary Oliver
The maturity that hopefully comes with age may be partly responsible for my recent mellowing. Mostly though it has to do with my two dogs. Because while it is absolutely true that my dogs are not my children, there are three things I’ve learned about them that do parallel what my friends tell me they’ve discovered about their children.
Dogs are Individuals
Both dogs are rescues, but from quite different circumstances. Shylah was born and spent her first two months on the streets of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Her next eight months were in a Mexican shelter with dozens of other dogs. She has been with me for sixteen months and is just over two years of age.
Toffee’s early history is unknown, but probably positive. More recently, a couple in a nearby town adopted her from a rescue organization, but didn’t have a yard where she could be off leash. Toffee took over the house, barking at the many people and dogs that walked by, lunging and nipping at anyone who dared to come in. Toffee has been with me for just under a year. We think she is turning four in August.
As a result of both their natures and their early experiences, my dogs have different strengths and issues.
Shylah is sweet, gentle, and very sensitive. That sensitivity caused no end of grief in the early days. Shylah spent months quaking and cowering at everything–wind, pine cones, the way the water moved in her bowl when she drank. She still has dozens of little quirks that appear, disappear, then reappear for no apparent reason. But now Shylah and I have a very strong dog-human bond, she plays with toys, loves to explore outdoors, and not only drinks water (under certain conditions, at certain times) but will splash through a running stream.
Toffee could just as appropriately have been named Toughie. She is 25 pounds of enthusiastic determination. In her early days here, she tried to be in charge – of us, the house, her routines, and Shylah. Now she just wants to chase chipmunks, play with Shylah, and please us. She still levitates when excited, which is fun to watch, but she is obedient, loving, and whip smart.
Experts are Helpful to a Point
In the early days with both dogs, I would have been lost without the experts. I learned to take Shylah into challenging situations rather than allowing her to avoid them. I learned to set boundaries with Toffee and recognize the signs that she was in danger of breaching those boundaries. Recently, Toffee and I have also been involved in a seven week ‘Well Behaved Dog’ obedience course which has significantly furthered our bond.
Although my dogs are not my children, I have devoted hundreds of hours to Toffee and thousands to Shylah. And similar to new parents who are into research, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on. I’ve sought out suggestions from other dog owners and followed every instruction given by the experts, all in an effort to ‘get it right.’
Fortunately, again like most new parents, I finally got to the point of realizing that when it comes to my dogs, I’m the expert. My dogs are individuals and, like the title of my first professional book, I need to Start Where They Are. When I play close attention to the signals my dogs are sending, I know what I need to do to move them forward.
Love is Love, Human or Dog
When my first St. Bernard, Charley, went into convulsions on Christmas Eve many years ago, we rushed him to the vet on call for emergencies. He stabilized Charley before referring his care to our regular veterinarian. The emergency vet promised to follow up with our regular vet, and sure enough he did. Three days later, we had Charley put down after it was confirmed that he had a large and growing tumour in his belly. That night a florist came to the door with a single red rose – from the emergency vet.
While I was distraught over losing Charley, it was the unexpected kindness of the emergency vet that touched me most deeply.
It’s different now with Shylah and Toffee. When they die, hopefully many years hence, I know that I will be much more affected than I have been with any other dog.
I have the time to devote to my dogs now that I am retired. I think about them, make plans around their needs, and want what’s best for them. Shylah’s trust in me and Toffee’s unbridled enthusiasm for life make my heart swell. While my dogs are not my children, I understand the giving and receiving of unconditional love because of them.
How about you? Do you have, or have you had, an animal that enriches your life?