For most of our twenty-year marriage, my husband and I have been blissfully dog-free.
Over the years, we’ve been wholeheartedly unfazed by the dog craze that seems to have swept the nation, turning dogs into central members of people’s families. Dogs find their way into holiday card pictures. They’re sitting in the front seat of cars. They’re often referred to by their owners as their children.
I didn’t get any of it.
The smell and slobber of dogs, their incessant barking as I’d walk by their backyard or knocked on their owners’ doors—I found all of it annoying. My husband didn’t get it either. At least once a year, in the dead of winter, he’d comment about how ridiculous dog owners look as they stand patiently in the bitter cold while Fido takes his good old time doing his business. Then, of course, would come the final insult to man: picking up the hot squishy mess and carrying it home in a plastic bag. Needless to say, we had no plans to get a dog of our own.
Then, something weird happened.
It all started this summer, with a dog-sitting gig of my daughter’s. She was at the neighbor’s house between two and four times a day, and sometimes I or another member of our family would tag along. The two dogs were mutts: one was a young pup, the older on her last legs. But they shared a certain sweetness that I’d never encountered in four-legged species. They were always happy to see us, but they didn’t deafen us with their greeting. They looked at us knowingly after a while. They willingly took walks even in the height of the humid summertime. And they had a pretty neat effect on my adolescent daughter, too.
She’d been moping around for much of the summer, as pre-teens are prone to do. But she took her dog-sitting job seriously. It gave her day structure, meaning. I watched her adeptly maneuver two leashes simultaneously, even making it look simple. She was sweet to the dogs and, in turn, they took a real liking to her. Seeing the exchange planted a seed that I never thought would take root in my household.
You can probably tell where this is going.
Shortly after the pet-sitting gig, my kids and I developed a new pastime: we were glued to www.petfinder.com, poring over sweet puppies that needed good homes, oohing and aahing at the cute ones.
But adopting a puppy, I soon learned, was no simple task. So I assigned it to my daughter, figuring that if she was truly interested, she could do the leg work. To my surprise, she went at it full throttle. She filled out about a dozen puppy adoption application forms, emailed puppy rescue personnel, and waited for a response. It came sooner than I was prepared for.
The day before we were to pick up our new lab-mix mutt puppy named Sadie, an acquaintance said to me: “Get ready. It’s just like bringing home a newborn.”
“I will not be leaking breast milk all over the place or nursing a gaping incision in my abdomen. I hardly think it will be like having a newborn,” I quickly retorted. What an idiot, I thought. What does he know?
Turns out, he knows more about puppies than I do. But what I’ve found is that puppies aren’t exactly like newborns. I’d say they’re more like a combination newborn and toddler—phases of childhood I’d long ago put behind me. Or so I thought.
The similarities between pup and newborn are uncanny. A desperate wail from a crate-bound puppy in the middle of the night really isn’t much different than the cry that comes from a newborn’s nursery, I thought as I sat on my back porch the other night at 3am waiting for the dog to do her business in the backyard. Funny, that’s the same time that my kids liked to get up in the middle of the night.
The likenesses go on and on. There’s the fact that both babes and pups tend to have a lot of “accidents” in the house. Tired of wiping up after her, I considered putting a diaper on the dog but, as my daughter pointed out, then she’d never get the hang of potty training. The timing issue is also a biggie, and one I struggled with mightily when my kids were young—and now again, with the puppy. You know, things like figuring out when you should put them to bed so that they’ll sleep as long as possible, how long you should wait between feeding them and expecting them to go the bathroom, how long you can let them cry in their crib/crate without being considered a terrible parent—which brings up the issue of mommy guilt.
I can’t believe that waves of guilt are washing over me as I sneak in a workout at the gym while the baby, I mean puppy, is at home in her crate, probably lonely and sad. It’s the exact same feeling I used to get when I attempted to drop off my kids at the gym’s daycare for a little longer than it would take me to break a sweat on the elliptical machine.
But there’s more than guilt and frustrations. We’ve also been celebrating milestones, just as we did when our kids were babes. A dry crate in the morning? As big a deal as a dry diaper. The first night she slept through the night? Huge!
So I guess I get why so many people consider their dogs part of the family. Sure, there are times when I feel like kicking her to the curb—similarly to the way I felt dealing with a stubborn 2-year-old. But when little Miss Sadie cocks her head to the side and gives me ‘the look’ with her big dark eyes, it’s tough to stay mad at her for too long. After all, she’s just a baby…I mean puppy.