Our family dog of nearly 12 years recently died.
Like many newly minted couples, my husband and I plowed into puppy-parenthood without much reflection. We knew we were temporarily replacing the permanency of caring for our own inevitable offspring with something more short-term, with fewer consequences. Or so we thought. We were trying parental responsibility on for size. Until we were ready a dog seemed a good placeholder.
The truth is many dogs live over 10 years, and chances are, if you’re planning to start a human family, the two responsibilities will coincide. Understanding that someone’s counting on you isn’t dissimilar to parenthood. The trouble is it’s a fraction of what’s needed by way of generosity, care-taking, time, energy, money, self-sacrifice, et cetera compared to having your own children.
So once I was elbow deep in raising three kids I was of the firm opinion that dog and child stewardship should not, in fact, go hand in hand. I loved my dog but I was overstretched and patience was wearing thin.
The dog, whom I used to clothe in protective overcoats before walks in inclement weather, was now spending a lot of time staring at me meaningfully. She was presumably wondering what happened to her runs at the beach, wondering why they were being replaced with abbreviated, meandering, toddler-centric strolls at best.
Amidst the flurry of snack preparation, crafting, playdates, recitals, homework, and diapers I sometimes felt barely able to get her out on the lawn for a pee, toss a scoop of kibble into her bowl, or give her a pat on her bony head. But I managed. Some days I was downright mad at her like when she’d take mud-soaked rubber boots into our white bed, steal the muffin out of the toddler’s hand, throw up on the rug rather than on the tile. Not to mention the barking — at everyone, everything, until some days I felt like I was suffering from PTSD.
But what strikes me now in retrospect is all that she gave us. She scared off threats of all sorts — passing cars, friendly neighbours, porcupines, shadows. She cleaned the floor of three children worth of scattered crumbs. She ran like the wind.
She also sat by our sides, warming us, protecting us, amusing us, loving us and being loved by us. For 12 years. Unwavering, unfaltering, despite our sometimes impatient or neglectful tendencies.
A few years back, in the throes of the kid-chaos, when a recently married friend asked me if she should get a dog before having kids to “practice” I responded quickly and confidently, “no.”
It was “no” not because caring for a dog is really nothing like caring for children (which is true) but rather because I felt it’s too much. It’s too many dependents, too much energy, multitasking, guilt. It’s unfair to the caretaker, but unfair mostly to the dog.
I’ve since rescinded this stance. It came slowly and I’m only really affirming it now. Getting a dog, if you plan on having children, isn’t to be avoided at all.
It’s hard work, but loving a dog is good work. And teaching your children how to love and nurture is the best work. It’s the work of parenting.
Now that she’s gone what I miss most is seeing our dog with our kids. Making them laugh, standing tall sniffing the air as threats approach, stealing their food, socks, stuffed animals. I miss watching them love her. Showing me that wherever I’ve gone astray as a parent they’ve got this lesson down. They can love and be loved.
That’s reason alone to throw a dog into the mix.