My Dogs Are Not My Children But…

My dogs are not my children. Let me count the ways:

  1. I do not refer to or think of myself as my dogs’ mommy.
  2. In the same vein, they are not my babies, fur or otherwise. Pups yes, no matter their age, but not babies.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. We aren’t a package deal. I don’t assume that my dogs are welcome wherever I go.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

black and brown mexi-mutt dog

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.

Sproodle dog on grass background

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?








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  1. Your dogs are beautiful! I very much appreciate your view on this. I am not a dog owner because 2 of my daughters are severely allergic to both dogs and cats. We have gerbils. I’m quite surprised at how attached I’ve grown to those little rodents, but they are not my children either. Perhaps its because I grew up on a farm where animals were animals, valued, cared for, but not family members.

    When my kids were young, I used to watch a couple of shows on the animal channel about folks who would deal with “problem” dogs. The #1 problem wasn’t the dogs. It was the owners who treated the dogs like children. They coddled them rather than led the pack. So, the dog thought they were the head of the household.

    I always thought this was interesting in that it applies to real children, as well. They ought not to be too coddled, or they get mixed up in who is in charge. They no longer understand boundaries. Sometimes boundaries are the most loving thing a person can give to a dog or a child.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful dogs with us, and your thoughts on dogs vs. children. I applaud both!

    1. I used to have dozens of gerbils when I was young. The ‘dozens’ wasn’t a deliberate decision. I didn’t know how to tell the difference between male and female gerbils. It sounds as if you’re a much more responsible gerbil owner than I ever was!

      I agree with you about the problem of coddled pets. It was interesting that when I took Toffee to obedience classes, the instructor wanted us to teach ‘down’ by placing our dogs in a sit position then putting one hand on their back and one under their front paws to move them into position. Since Toffee already knew ‘down’ by me just pointing at the floor, I couldn’t understand why we were being asked to be so hands-on. The instructor explained that her method was a gentle way of teaching the dogs that we are the leaders. It made sense.

      It’s wise of you to say that boundaries are loving, Heather. Since I don’t have children of my own, I’m a bit late in learning that but, as I work with my dogs, I see what a difference boundaries make. Both dogs seem to feel safer, more secure and happier knowing the limits.

  2. I don’t think I’d be me if I didn’t have pets. Our schnoodle (the breed carefully chosen around allergies), Biggles, is about to celebrate his 12th birthday. He’s losing his hearing (it seems more and more everyday), his eyesight isn’t what it was and he has some arthritis. We got him when the Barbarians were very young and I was a stay-at-home Mum. As I went from that to working part time out of the house to working full-time in the house, he’s been my companion his whole life. He’s the pet I have most bonded with (which is saying something). I don’t talk to him in baby voice but I do talk to him all the time. He’s incredibly well behaved with his only “peculiarity” being his high level of separation anxiety (possibly because he’s had my company forever).

    We used to have a cat but after her passing we haven’t had another as my cat allergy reached a point where it wasn’t possible to have another.

    1. You’ve clearly got an incredibly strong bond with Biggles, AJ. That’s what is developing for me with Shylah, although right now our bond is based on her needing me and trusting me to keep her safe in this scary world. I look forward to when it turns into the kind of loving companionship that you enjoy with Biggles.

  3. The funny thing is that out of the seven “dogs aren’t kids” reasons, six fit my parenting of my human kids as much as my pets (my human kids get to call me Mum!) No cutesy names and no bad behaviour and certainly no mother/daughter matching outfits (when my daughter was a teenager, she would change her top if we happened to choose the same colour).
    I think your dogs are very blessed to have you – and I hope our cats feel the same way about us – they are living a pretty cruisy life if I do say so myself 🙂

    1. I couldn’t agree more,Leanne. When my dogs are tearing through the woods on my property or chasing each other through the stream, I remind them that they’ve got a really wonderful life here. On days when they are frustrating me, I hope that my reminder will make them appropriately docile and grateful. Nope, not so much 🙂

        1. Shylah takes so much time and patience that I can’t even imagine the need for all of that x 1000 when it comes to children. You’re a better woman than I, Leanne!

  4. Karen, I love this! I agree completely with your “seven ways.” I love my dogs, but they are dogs, not human. Also, though I think of myself as a “dog person,” I don’t need my dogs to complete my personality or help me with social interaction. There are times when they are better off not being included. One thing that is very much like it was with my children: the guilt I feel when my work hours run long, or when – for a trip – I have to leave them at the kennel. Great post (and great looking dogs!)!

    1. I should have definitely included guilt as my fourth point of comparison, Cindy. Doesn’t it just drive you crazy to be feeling guilty all of the time? It does me. I’m home most of the time, but still feel guilty if I go out for a few hours. And I feel guilty lots of the time that I’m not walking enough with them – as if an hour plus a day is some form of animal abuse. Geesh.

      1. And the sheer pleasure I get from their unique dispositions and “cuteness.”. That is very parent-like, as I doubt any other observer would find their antics so remarkable. Guilt and joy…in those ways, loving dogs is like loving children.

  5. I grew up with pets (dogs, cats, birds, etc.). They’re a lot of fun and love to have around. I agree with you dogs are individuals and love is love. From your pictures of beautiful Shylah and Toffee, to me their body language and facial expressions reflect their unique personalities.

  6. I cringe at the term fur baby and feel that dog is being treated like a baby not a dog. We do not do our dogs any favours coddling them.
    You are a wonderful person opening your heart to two rescues and teaching them to be dogs again.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Candice. I hope that your dog rescuing and fostering efforts are continuing to go well. As I’m sure you can tell, I absolutely adore Shylah. She is such a loving, gentle and sensitive pup. And having Toffee here is really helping her to grow into her ‘dogness’.

      1. Still fostering and crying when they find their new homes. I think I’m at 28 dogs since I started in fall 2016 .

  7. I have had cats over the years; the first one being Frodo, she was a black Siamese/Tabby cross and my shadow. I had her for thirteen years and her loss from natural causes devastated me and it was three years before I could even consider opening my heart up to another cat.

    I got my next cat Munchkin (a Tabby/Calico mix) from a woman who overheard me talking about getting a kitten while grocery shopping. Her cat had just given birth and the kittens were just reaching the stage where they could leave their mother. Munchkin was with us from then until nine years later when she developed breast cancer and I had to put her down just before moving out here to the country. Again I was devastated but I was with her through the whole thing as the vet gave her both shots. I can safely say I will never have another pet now…I can’t go through that again.

    About five years after I got Munchkin I had a cat Tiger (a Tabby/Persian mix) who I rescued from a house with three little girls who tortured that poor cat with dressing it up in outfits. It took two years of love and care to get Tiger over that trauma. Tiger passed away from natural causes and it was hard but I hadn’t spent more than four years with her at that point.

    I talked to all my cats like they were people (not children). Munchkin and Tiger shared our house together and much like you find with Shylah and Toffee they had different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. They were my friends or companions but not my children. I guess you could say I am more of a cat person although I like dogs too but give me a big dog; labs, german shepherds, saint bernards – no Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians or the like for me.

    Another great post, Karen, and thanks for the update on both of your dogs. It sounds like you have made great strides with both of them. Kudos to you for giving them both a wonderful life and one for yourself into the bargain.

    1. It’s super tough to lose a beloved pet, and wise to know when you’re ready to be done. I always worry when people get replacement dogs or cats immediately after one dies. It’s not fair to the animal or the human. The animal comes into an environment of sadness, and the human doesn’t fully grieve.

  8. When anyone refers to me as Tiearne’s “Mum” I always respond that she has a perfectly good mother, a lovely tricolour collie called Patsy. I am instead Tiearne’s person.

    I agree with all your rules, although I have been known to use a few silly names for Tiearne now and then when she is being a clown. The one I would add is respect. I am a firm believer that the world would be a better place if we gave animals the respect they deserve. Yes, we have to be in charge, for their own safety if nothing else, but there are a myriad small ways in which I can acknowledge that my dog is another being with a brain and a heart and a will of her own. She is capable of love and trust, which I must not betray. And when our wishes clash I have to find a balance that is fair to her. If she has to miss a walk in the morning because my day is crazy then she needs a double walk in the evening. If she has to behave impeccably at “dog school” then she gets a mad romp with her tug toy when we get home. I have taught her reassurance words so she knows when we are going to the vet or into a new situation that I will make sure she is safe. Her extensive training has been by demonstration and explanation and tons and tons of praise. I frequently let her choose what trails to take on our walks. Little things that bind us together in part because I acknowledge our separateness as two individual beings with rights to some control over our lives, some security, and some respect.


    1. I’ve added respect to the last paragraph of the first section and “see Dinah’s comment below.” Well said, Dinah, with great examples for each point. Tiearne has won the dog lottery. She has found a wonderful person.

  9. Hi, Karen – I wholeheartedly agree with Leanne — Shylah and Toffee are very lucky to have you. I am not surprised that you feel the same about them. As a volunteer at our local animal shelter, I am always very appreciative of people who adopt a rescue animal and give them a consistent, caring home. Great photos of both dogs!

    1. Hi Donna. I admire you and Richard for your volunteer efforts at the animal shelter. It’s something I’d like to do, but only after Shylah and Toffee are gone and I decide for sure that there will be no more dogs living in my home. I know I’ve asked you this before and I know you travel a lot, but aren’t you ever really, really tempted?

      1. Hi, Karen – Great question. I’m tempted every single day! Then I look at Richard and remember the travel that we both want to do. We do get frequent opportunities to dog-sit for one of our sons, so that helps to fill some of the gaps!

  10. I guess it’s all in the definition of the word ‘child’. Everything you’ve experienced with your dogs could easily describe raising a child. Experts, loving attention, tolerance, patience. Yeah, you know it! It didn’t take my daughter long before she refused to let me dress her in the adorable outfits I loved. And most of the people who didn’t really like children, catch me on certain days and I might agree!

    But, having said all that, I definitely get your point. And your dogs are darling.

    1. Thanks, Jacqui. I definitely agree that experts, loving attention, and the need for tolerance and patience are all similarities between dogs and children. I never felt the desire to dress a dog in an adorable outfit, but when I was a child, I really wanted a chimpanzee that I could raise as a human and you’d better believe I had adorable outfits all picked out!

  11. I love this, Karen! As you know, I don’t have animals now, but when I did they were not my “babies.” (I do admit, though, to having a cat that I originally named Chloe who I quickly began to call Goober, which was a much more appropriate name for her 🙂.) I especially liked your point about not expecting to take your dogs everywhere you go. I have seen far too many dog fights (or other inappropriate behaviors) in stores and in restaurants to believe it’s ok to include them in your daily outings. Shylah and Toffee are lucky to have you (and, I’m sure, you feel the same about them).

    1. I do indeed feel very lucky to have Shylah and Toffee.
      Dogs aren’t allowed in our restaurants unless they are guide dogs. They’re also not allowed in most stores with the notable exception of our local hardware store which has a sign on the door saying “no hot dogs” – to bring them into the store out of the heat of the car. Lots of store owners leave bowls of water on the sidewalk for dogs, which I think is great.
      I know, though, that the rules are quite different in California. On my retirement trip I stayed in Carmel for five days. Dogs weren’t just accepted, they had priority everywhere. I cynically saw it as a play for tourism dollars. Fortunately I didn’t see any problems while there, but I did learn that the Tiffany store used to have a Tiffany dog dish filled with water outside their door. They had to replace it with your standard stainless steel variety after it was stolen. That problem, of course, rests with a human!

      1. Funny… it really is usually the humans that cause most of the problems. Maybe instead of people treating their dogs as furry children, we humans should start acting more like furless dogs… we’d certainly get along better. 🙂

  12. I forgot to say how much I admire the photo at the top. The light and the unposed but perfect position of the dogs are brilliant. I suppose especially because I know Shylah and Toffee it is easy for me to see their characters in their stances. Shylah’s stillness shows her deep content with freedom but she is watchful, too. Toffee is so obviously saying, “Okay, I’ll stand still for this moment, but then I’m off like a rocket!”. I wish I could take photos like this!

    1. Thanks, Dinah, but I freely confess to the photo being a happy accident. As I’m sure you know, it’s incredibly difficult to get good photos of dogs outside of a portrait studio. It was early morning when I took that one and half the time I was snapping into the sun so I didn’t have a clue what was going to appear when I downloaded the photos later. I tossed half or better – shots of fuzzy bits of fur (Toffee running) and heads abruptly turned away from the camera (and that would be Shylah). Their characters expressed through their bodies, just as you said.

  13. I was just wondering about your two dogs the other day and about how you are making out with them. Glad they are doing well and I love the fact that Toffee could be called tough. I like those kinds of pets even though I am normally not a dog person. Come to think of it, I like kids to be that way too!

  14. Hi Karen,

    I’ve never thought of a dog as my baby either. However my son and I joke about his dog being my grandpuppy because it is unlikely I will become a grandmother if I have to depend on him and his girlfriend. And that’s cool with me. No one should have kids for any other reason than they want to be parents. Kids are a lot of work!!!! And no matter how old they get, you never stop worrying about them. So I am happy to have a grandpuppy in my life. Even though I worry about Pirate, now that he is getting older…sigh.

    I have never bought my dog a Christmas or birthday present, nor have I signed her name to a card (that I can recollect, anyways). Dogs don’t know it’s Christmas or when their birthdays are.

    When I get another dog, I may set up a social media account for her/him as I think it could be amusing to see what the dog has to say. I follow a few people who do this and it can be hilarious and heartwarming and just a lot of light-hearted fun, which there is a dearth of these days. And it’s another creative outlet. My future dog could be inspired to write the occasional blog post, even – who knows? We’ll see. 😉

    I – ahem – borrowed a great idea from a friend whose dog has be known to “steal” her credit card to buy her owner something extravagant for her birthday. So when my dog was still alive, I allowed her to “steal” my credit card for the same purpose…or so I told people who asked me who got me the new thing, whatever it was. “It’s a gift from the dog – wasn’t she thoughtful?”

    Overall, I’m with you. Dogs are great. I don’t shove my dog down other peoples’ throats, I don’t take my dog everywhere, and I expect my dog to be well-behaved. I don’t expect everyone to love or even like my dog. However, if my dog doesn’t like a person I will have cause for concern. They are pretty good at sizing people up.


    1. Hi Deb,
      I wrote one post about Shylah where both of us told her story. It worked okay, but I could never pull off a social media account for a dog or a blog post wholly written by a dog. You on the other hand, you could pull it off because you have a great sense of humour and you’d be relaxed about it. Me, I’d just keep thinking that I was trying to be funny and that I was sounding ridiculous. sigh…

      I’m all in favour of treating ourselves well with little extravagances. Until you get your dog, you are most welcome to buy them in my dogs’ names. 🙂

  15. We used to have cats, and they certainly enriched our lives. However, they were definitely not babies and they definitely had boundaries. Cats tend to go their own way, but they can be trained up to a point! I was intrigued by the idea that having pets instead of kids could be considered a psychiatric disorder, but decided not to dignify the idea by clicking on the link …

    1. Good plan, Anabel. The psychiatric disorder guy was over the top. Although to be fair, he was mostly talking about millennials using dogs as replacement babies. It’s apparently a thing, started by Paris Hilton carting her rat-sized dog around in a jewelled purse.

  16. I would say Karen that you are a diligent and proper dog guardian. Over the years it has been dogs cats guinea pigs sheep and pigs , one daughter made a pet out of a hen for a while. all round it was beneficial for the children to feel the bonds , to care for something other and try out being in control and less selfish at the same time – how they love to be bossy- although I may have been driven around the bend at times…..
    My daughter has a guide dog and insists I am chloes grandmother so when out, it is follow grandma – I used to argue the point, now I am bending gracefully.( mostly) She does think of chloe as her child and that she is mum – thankfully the training the dog has already undergone does provide boundaries for both of them. I understand her feelings as she lives alone and probably wont have children of her own and has a deep need for her love to be given a place.
    what I have noticed is that – this pets are my children thing -has changed the face of our towns where nowadays people bring their dogs with them into shops the cafes markets , etc -they allow them to sniff or lunge when you walk past and expect me to enjoy the attention and ‘oh arent they cute.’ I don’t like that people assume their little darling is loved by the rest of us and can do what they like , so Karen thank you for your properness in this regard and they sure look and sound like dogs I would love to have a walk with. like cats who are a very different energy dogs are terrific companions and we can learn so much from them .

    1. Hi Sandra.
      The pets are my children movement hasn’t hit Canada’s public places yet, but I fear it is coming. Currently we only allow guide dogs in restaurants, even fast food restaurants or coffee shops. My local hardware store welcomes dogs so they aren’t left in hot cars during the summer, but 98% of our shops are dog-free zones, except for guide dogs of course.
      I too would detest any expectation that I am going to be thrilled with or want to interact with someone’s pet, especially since my limited experience is that people who think their pets are their children put up with the most atrocious behaviours.
      I don’t mean to sound or be crotchety but sometimes I shake my head and wonder what’s happening to common sense in our world.

  17. Karen I really enjoyed what you wrote about your dogs. I’m happy these lovely dogs had you to rescue them. It’s a beautiful story. Growing up we had dogs and cats in our home. I always gravitated to the cats more than the poodles my mom had in the house. Fast forward to my move to Winnipeg where my love of cats allowed me to join the Manitoba Cat Club where I began showing my Himalayans.

    Years go by and 3 Himmies were retired and rehomed to lovely homes and families. I kept my first orginal Himmie named Precious. I rescued Precious from a horrible lady who had a kitten mill of Himalayans. We enjoyed many years of ups and downs of life and we became best buds. I moved back to Ontario and back to my roots. I loaded up my car with Precious in tow stretching out in the sunlight in the passenger seat of my car. She loved the journey as did I. I took my time driving from Winnipeg back to Toronto and it was extremely liberating as I began another chapter in my life and with my bud Precious. She was extremely well behaved I have never had a more loving pet to keep me company. She passed at the age of 13 and my heart broke. I hurt for a very long time. She is always in my heart. When I think of her I smile. She was that kind of cat.

    1. That’s a really beautiful story, Glennis. Precious was clearly the perfect name and descriptor for your rescued kitten as she was so precious to you. As I am sure you were to her. I do believe that when we rescue animals from challenging situations and give them wonderful homes, the bond felt between us is even stronger than if we just purchase a kitten or pup from a litter.

  18. Karen, your pictures of the two dogs are terrific! I have two human children AND I have a non-human child named Maggie. Maggie is spoiled, opinionated, fiercely loyal, does not like anyone but me, is demanding and a finicky eater no matter what I do or say, she does not judge. Maggie is a cat. She is the other heartbeat in my home, she greets me in the morning and when I come home. She follows me around all day – wherever I am, there she is. I don’t know who is going to die first, but I truly hope it is me because while Maggie and I don’t communicate in the way humans do, we do communicate and I don’t know what I would do without her. Yes Karen, your dogs are not your children – but/

    1. I love your phrase, “the other heartbeat in my home” Anna. It so clearly tells us the deep love you have for Maggie. I hope you both have many more years to keep on fiercely loving each other.

  19. Your love for Shylah and Toffee is evident in your words. They may not be your ‘children’ but the care, affection, and bonding that has occurred is consistent with a mother/child relationship. Whether the creature has 2 legs or 4, furry or hairless, they rely on you for their wellbeing and return your affection. I’d say it doesn’t get much better than that 💕

    1. Agreed Joanne, with the added positive or negative (depending on how you see it) of pets never developing the independence that is the natural result of childhood. I like the constancy of my animals and, perhaps selfishly, I also like knowing that I will not still be worrying about them or feeling responsible for them twenty years from now.

  20. Karen,
    I’m totally not an animal person since I saw two friends (separately) get attacked by dogs in my tween years. But I’ve managed to reduce my fear of dogs because of my daughter’s absolute love of them. I did not want to pass my fear to her. I’m now much more comfortable with dogs and I imagine dogs will be in my future as when my daughter gets old enough to take care of and afford a dog of her own, she’ll have one.

    1. I’d be afraid of dogs too if I’d ever seen a dog attack even once, Janet. Even without that, I’ve always been cautious around dogs. I don’t understand people who assume that every dog is friendly and dying to meet them. Just the other day, I was taking Toffee for a walk in a nearby town. Toffee is choosy – she likes her family and she likes older women, but she doesn’t want to bother with the majority of people she sees on the street. Anyway, this middle-aged guy saw us coming, got down on his knees and threw his arms open expecting that Toffee was going to run into them and joyfully lick his face. Not smart. If she hadn’t been on leash and well trained, Toffee would have bitten him. Instead she just backed up a few steps and growled until I took her around the guy, still on his knees on the sidewalk, explaining “she’s not friendly.”

  21. Karen, Oh dear. I think I’m doing a few of your items. Not the bad behavior…cause our current (rescue) dog has been the best behaved, smartest dog we have ever had. I think she has spoiled us by being so good. And no cute outfits or baby talk. I do talk with her though… as if she understands full sentences. And I do view her as an integral part of our family and have been known to sign cards from all of us. And I’ve ordered magazines in her name… just to see how long it takes for her to get credit card applications in the mail. LOL.

    Your love for your pets comes across so clearly. They are lucky to have you!

    1. Hi Pat. Remember – my list is just my list. Your dog sounds wonderful. What’s her name? How long have you had her? What was her background? Maybe there’s a blog post here Pat about how your pup is enriching your retirement transition. 🙂

      1. Hi there… first off, the system is working in recognizing me and letting me know you’ve responded to my comment. Anyway, I realized today I do talk to my dog in a bit of baby voice…. OK toddler voice. Maybe because I don’t think she’ll understand multi-syllable words and deep concepts?

        Taylor was a rescue with Cincinnati Lab Rescue. They saw the lab in her and pulled her out of a kill shelter in Taylor Kentucky. (Hence her name). I’ve done the doggy DNA and she is actually more boxer and border collie than lab! She is a “blue” – the exact color of a blue Weimaraner (we had a pure bred so we know) – and just gorgeous. Seriously, we’ve had people stop their cars to tell us when we walk.

        When we were deciding on dogs, it was between her and another, slightly older lab who had more training. I said “beauty before brains” and the rescue lady laughed. But Taylor has proven she has brains as well. She is very gentle and calm, which is a surprise when you have to wonder about her start in life and her DNA ((border collie!)

        She was less than a year old when we got her, probably 8-10 months, and is about 5.5 years old now. She travels great and loves being in Florida. She also loves our new house in Ohio where she has more lawn to “own”. She loves to sit outside and “survey her domain” as Tim calls it.

        I’ll have to think on a post about her and retirement. I do know she gets me moving here in Florida… we started a habit early-on of evening walks and she lets me know it everyday! Never in Ohio, but always in FL!

        1. I love the name Taylor and the reason behind it. How absolutely awful to imagine that such a sweet pup was in a kill shelter.
          I’ve been thinking about doing the doggy DNA for Shylah. It would probably be better than referring to her as a Mexi-mutt, especially since, like Taylor, she is a really gorgeous dog.
          Good for Taylor for getting you out on those early-evening walks. I find the same thing with my dogs. Two occurrences makes something a routine so I need to be awfully sure that I want a particular routine before I let it get set in concrete!

  22. Wow, Karen. What a beautifully written, thoughtful and wonderful account. I’m so happy that you wrote about and devoted an entire post to your pups and that we get to know them a little bit better. They sure found a welcoming and loving home. Like you, I have my thoughts about dog owners calling their pets their kids,and all the other points you make.. But, I’m sure we’d come up with some snider comments. 🙂

    That being said, our dogs were like our children as well, in the way we cared about them, prioritized around them and saw them as our family. I think, when not having your own children, that the bond you create with you dogs might be stronger, and the time you have for them and with them might be more unique. I can’t wait to meet Shylah and Toffee one day! And, kudos to you for rescuing them and improving their lives.

    Whenever we have dogs (again), they more than enrich our lives. 🙂

    1. Hi Liesbet,
      With all of your pet-sitting experience, I imagine you have a book’s worth of tales to tell! I also know that you and Mark are special people because the reviews of your house- and pet-sitting experiences talk about how well you take care of their pets and how much those pets miss you when you are gone 🙂

      I suspect that you are right that there’s an added depth to the bond we feel for our pets when we are free to devote our time and energy exclusively to them. Certainly I’ve never felt anything like this bond with any of the dogs my family has had over the years.

  23. Hi Karen, My daughters have dogs and they call them my grand pups. I’m not sure I embrace that. I draw the line at being called “Grandma” when we face time with them and the pups make an appearance. That said, I am very bonded with my two cats, especially Gatsby, who follows me around and comes when I call him just like a dog. All of my cats have been rescues and after getting my first cat in my fifties I realize I am something of a cat whisperer. Even the most timid and standoffish has become loving. My last rescue, Sassenach, was a fighter and wouldn’t let me come near her for months, but now sits on my lap and begs to be petted. Animals do add a lot of love and affection to our days!

    1. Hi Michele. Your comment reminds me of a story I read while researching for this post. A young couple are in an airport waiting for their flight and face timing with the girl’s parents. The person who wrote the article is sitting with her back to this couple but can hear them excitedly cooing throughout the conversation – “Ooh, you’re such a big boy! I think you’ve grown already. Mommy and Daddy can’t wait to see you soon. Very soon. Be good for Grandma and Grandpa.” etc etc.
      The author of the article finally turned around, curious to see this adorable baby on the screen. It was a yellow Lab.
      So good for you to draw the line at being ‘Grandma’. We each need to do our part to stop the insanity 🙂
      And how amazing that you discovered a new skill set and passion for challenging cats after age 50. That’s terrific.

  24. Hi Karen, I’m sorry I missed your post! We don’t have pets although I know my husband would love a dog and I do believe it would help him with his PTSD. However, we like to travel and go away for weekends so from a practical perspective we have decided not to have a dog of our own. My husband actually sponsors a couple of dogs and receives a letter and photo of their progress which is lovely. I think dogs have so many human traits. My daughter has a miniature schnauzer and I swear she is a human in a dog’s body. Wallis is her name and she is so knowing and caring of her two little ‘human brothers’. You can feel her emotion and I know she adores her family especially her ‘Mum’, Rachel. We don’t ‘coo’ over her but we all actually speak to her as if she was another person in the conversation. I love your two dogs and also that you have chosen to take ‘rescue’ dogs rather than from a breeder. I enjoyed reading about your beautiful Shylah and Toffee and I do believe we can love them as much as children because of what they give you in return xx

    1. Thanks, Sue. How terrific that your husband sponsors a couple of dogs. And of course that you both have Wallis to enjoy whenever you see your daughter – and more often now that she is on parental leave with Elliott.
      I have had dogs from breeders but never again. These two rescues have definitely stolen my heart.

  25. Hi Karen! I love hearing about your dogs and what they mean to you. As a childfree woman I freely embrace the idea that dogs or cats can be our “fur-babies” and use terms of endearment with our Kloe all the time. My excuse is that when I’ve gotten really close to them and learn their quirks and personality it is easy to recognize the uniqueness of them–very much like children and other adults. Plus, you can’t beat the unconditional love that they bring to a family. At the same time, I also believe that dogs (like children) need guidance and discipline so I agree with many of your “dog rules.” I usually avoid unruly dogs (or children) and do my best to keep Kloe from being annoying to anyone if possible. When she was a puppy I did buy her some clothes because she was so darn cute…but she didn’t like them so except for a couple of photos that was the end of that. I also never assume that she is welcome in someone else’s home. However, I am never happy when people assume they can walk up to my dog and/or feed my dog without asking first. That is inappropriate for pets AND children. Those of us who’ve gotten really close to our pets know the anguish of losing them too. I don’t think it much matters to me whether we think of them as our kids or not. What matters is that unconditional love that they bring to our lives. Priceless! ~Kathy

    1. Priceless for sure, Kathy. And I am completely with you in being annoyed with people who assume that all dogs are just waiting to be touched and/or fed. Shylah’s default is to tremble with anxiety and Toffee’s, when someone approaches her, is to let them know that she needs her space. These aren’t problems in my dogs. They’re problems in the people who don’t know how to be around dogs.
      The other one that gets to me, and that happened just the other day, is when walking in town where there’s a leash bylaw and having some yahoo letting his dog race around leash-free. Then when his dog races up to Toffee and jumps on her while I’m trying to train and I tell the guy to leash his dog, he says, “Oh, they’ll be fine” as if he knows the temperament of not only his dog but mine, and as if his wishes or his dog’s wishes take precedence over the rest of the world. My blood boils just recounting the episode!

      1. That drives me crazy too Karen…when a person with a dog who is off leash says, “Oh, they’ll be fine…” Only for their dog to do something aggressive or whatever, and then they say, “Oh, they’ve NEVER done that before.” Any dog owner knows that you can NEVER be sure what your dog will do because they don’t think like us!” I am actually a fan of Ceaser Millan who always said, “I rehabilitate dogs, and TRAIN people” because as you say, it is the pet owner that is usually most of the problem. Am I perfect with Kloe? Not by any means, but I do try to take responsibility for (most of) the problem when something goes off kilter. But I still tend to believe that the way many people live with and train their pets is a LOT like how they either train (or not train) their children! ~Kathy

        1. I think I’m in a time warp, Kathy. I could have sworn you wrote this follow-up message weeks ago (which would have been a real time warp since I just put up the post last Thursday). Anyway, I was all prepared to do this big mea culpa about not getting back to you in a timely way and here it turns out that you just wrote yesterday. Geesh! I hope you are having the kinds of days where time stands still or meanders along at a slow and leisurely pace. It would be really good if one of us is having those days 🙂

          Anyway, not a lot to say in response to your comment except that I too am a fan of Caesar Millan. Also that I should have made training a fourth way that dogs are like children. Essentially, train or live with the obnoxious, bratty results of not training! – Karen

  26. Karen, this post just brought tears to my eyes, mainly because I am very sentimental about my two nutballs (Aero and Brodie). You bring up realistic and excellent points…they are dogs, animals who enjoy being outside. Oh they love hanging with me indoors lounging on the bed or floor, but when I leave to go somewhere, they can be outdoors. I refuse to fly my dogs anywhere. If we travel, they can ride in the car. If we fly, we hire a housesitter. My 18-month old Brodie, had a run-in today(!) with the mail carrier. As she walked up to drop off the mail, Brodie shouldered his 50-pound self out our unlatched screen door and barked is BIG bark at her. She was obviously frightened, as I tried to grab his collar, but she kept screaming at me to control him while she shook her mail bag at him. I apologized profusely (hubby is at Home Depot now to fix the latch). It all happened so fast…I know I am a responsible dog-owner, but this scared me too a little. She threatened to stop bringing our mail and chastised me angrily the whole time. She needs more dog training…everyone has dogs around here. He wouldn’t bite, but she doesn’t know that. In 30 years of living here, something like this has never happened. I had just come home from the grocery store and had just let the dogs inside. Of course that’s when she comes (and there is a new carrier every day and come different days/times. We all have to be careful because dogs are, well…animals! Read this post on #MLSTL!

    1. Hi Terri. I think it’s really wise of you to not fly your dogs anywhere. Shylah came from Mexico and I think the plane ride has permanently traumatized her. I didn’t meet her until after she got here, but looking at how sensitive she is now, I imagine the flight was way too much for her.

      I’m really sorry to hear about your experience today with Brodie (great name by the way). It sounds as if adrenalin was pumping hard for everyone – Brodie, the mail carrier, and you. Completely understandable, but that does make it tough to resolve a situation like this. Screaming and yelling, to a dog, is just another version of barking and it increases the dog’s level of excitement.

      The first step is to figure out what’s going on. Is Brodie reactive at the door – does he bark whenever someone approaches the door? Was it this mail carrier in particular he was responding to? And what was his body language saying? The position of his tail, whether there was a growl with the bark, whether his hackles were up, whether he was moving forward, the intensity of his gaze – all of these things tell us whether Brodie was prepared to bite. The mail carrier, of course, and as you said, has to assume that being bitten is a possibility.

      Whatever’s going on, of course you were a bit frightened. I really encourage you, Terri, to get some professional help in resolving this so that you don’t ever have to worry about the possibility again (and so that you can keep getting mail delivered!) You will have to do a bit of online searching but I’m sure there will be someone in your area who is a dog behaviorist or dog trainer (really read the reviews on the latter because they’re all over the map in skills and approach.) They’ll come to the house and help you practice with Brodie at the door. Best wishes. You’ll work this out and all will be well.

  27. I love my animals. They are not my children, but they are just as special in different ways. Our new dog, Jack is a 10 month old Husky. My first experience as a husky owner…..wish me luck and lots of patience.

    1. Oh you’ll definitely need patience, Cherie. And a very high tolerance for going and retrieving your Husky from wherever he decides to run to. But it sounds like you are more than up for the task!

  28. Sometimes I wish I had dogs first – before I had children. I think I would have been a better parent. My dogs taught me patience and how to set realistic expectations. My dogs taught me how to discipline with compassion. My dogs have taught me how to love unconditionally.

    Perhaps I would have learned these life lessons with age… but I do think having devoted pets helped. And I know they enriched our entire family beyond measure.

    Lovely post!

    1. Thank you for answering my unasked question, Molly. As someone who doesn’t have kids, I’ve often wondered if having dogs first would make a difference to parenting skills, but I was afraid to ask for fear that I’d be seen as comparing dogs and children. I can certainly attest to the fact that Shylah has taught me patience and both dogs have given me an incredible experience of unconditional love.

  29. I am not an animal person. I have had dogs and cats in the past and gotten attached to them and took it hard when they passed. I would never harm an animal but neither would I ever treat it like a person. The city where I live is a dog-friendly community. I understand support animals and am perfectly fine when they are around. But am not happy when shopping at local malls, eating at a restaurant or flying to have someone’s pet sitting beside them or howling under their seat. Also, my husband is on chemo and is not suppose to be around animals because of dirt and dander plus he is allergic to cats. I know I sound harsh and don’t mean to. Your dogs have found a good home and good for you for providing it.

    1. Your position is totally understandable, Victoria. In Ontario, Canada where I live, dogs are now allowed in our malls, and definitely not in restaurants. I would hate to share those kinds of public spaces with dogs.

      I remember being on a flight once and complaining to the flight attendant because someone’s small dog was in a carrier in a person’s lap and the dog was barking incessantly. The flight attendant said she could do nothing about it and I should consider it the same as if a baby were crying. My response, “But it’s not a baby. It’s a dog and it has no business inconveniencing or annoying humans!” I was furious and I don’t have a husband going through chemo. Wishing you peaceful and animal-free days.

      1. Karen that happened to me on a flight one time with a cat. It was a three-hour flight and the cat started howling while we were loading. The owner kept getting the cat out of its carrier and holding it but it still howled. The flight attendant kept telling her to put it back in its carrier but it was a rough flight.

  30. I love animals including cats even though I’m allergic to them. If given the chance, my husband would be overrun with animals. When I met him he had 1 dog and 4 cats, all rescues. Even though I was allergic, one cat became my special cat who curled herself around my neck each night as I slept. And although my skin has cleared up and I’m not longer sneezing all day, I sure do miss her since she died. (And on a side note, I’m not a fan of the term fur baby. Isn’t that what a puppy is?)

    1. Now that’s dedication, Jennifer. I don’t think I’d have animals if I were allergic to them. I especially can’t imagine having one sleeping up close and personal with me and just living with the skin problems from the allergy. Wow.

  31. I have had cats all my life and dogs as well for the last 15 years. I love my pets and take good care of them. Our dog Kate is very smart and has a large receptive vocabulary — so much so that we have to spell certain words in front of her.

    But as a mother of 3 children, step-mother of 2, and grandmother of 4, I can definitively say that pets are NOT children. In fact, I find it annoying when people overly pamper their pets and seem to prioritize them over the well-being of other human beings. Hmm, I sound like a grouch, but this is one of my pet peeves. Animals are animals, not people.


  32. Yes, I have had many (and blogged about a few.) I miss my dogs deeply, but have recently rescued a couple of cats. They are definitely individuals. Thank you adopting and for sharing your experience of love and patience with your dogs.

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