For years, my family wanted a dog. My husband and my kids love dogs.
Prior to this, when my daughter was still very small, she was petrified of dogs after one lunged at her as she sat in a play structure at a friend's house. And I am not using the word 'petrified' lightly. My daughter had a phobia about dogs.
Then, we moved to North Carolina, and my horse trainer and friend had three dogs. She slowly and gently taught Maggie how to take her dog, Daisy, on a walk. She worked to show Maggie how to be confident with dogs and how to learn their language.
Boom. Maggie became a dog lover.
That is when the real talk of owning a dog began. Suddenly, I was surrounded by three people who desperately wanted a dog.
I held off until my son spent time with his grandparents, who have three dogs. One night, one of the dogs sat on my son's bed as he fell asleep. Back home, as he was falling asleep one night, we were talking about how lucky we are, what a lovely life we have, and my son said, "My life is perfect. I just need a dog at the end of my bed."
Readers: what was I supposed to do?
Of the four people in our home, three wanted a dog, and one did not.
Why didn't I want a dog?
I had three reasons for not wanting a pet:
1. I didn't want another living creature to care for. I already felt tapped out as a mother and military wife. We move often, so I didn't want to consider pets while looking for rental homes. And I was really concerned that taking care of another living thing would push me over my edge.
2. I didn't want to be resentful. That's right. I said it. I was afraid that if I had to take care of a pet I didn't want, I'd resent the animal and that resentment would be reflected in how I treated a pet. I had several mothers tell me not to get a dog. They said they ended up feeding and caring for the dog. I was afraid I'd resent all of this work, and I'd be a less-than-enthusiastic owner. I was afraid the dog would get the shaft and be left out in the yard while the kids were at activities and I was busy fuming inside.
3. I hate poop. This seems small but I really hate poop. I spent a lot of time with poop as a mother, and I felt like I'd full-filled my poop-duties. I didn't want to spend my afternoons cleaning up poop or yelling at my kids to clean up poop and reminding them of all the promises they made in order to get a dog, promises they'd conveniently forget once said-dog was acquired.
That pretty much sums up why I didn't want a dog.
Our history of pets wasn't a good one. We had two fish and a crab. The crab sat on a plastic kitchen spatula that stuck out of the fish tank, refusing to move, until he died.
The one fish died as well, and we had a tear-filled burial in the yard that was emotionally exhausting. The final fish was returned to PetSmart when we moved, and I'm not sure what we told our daughter about that. It wasn't our finest parenting moment.
So, given all of that, why did I relent and get a dog?
There are three reasons I chose to get a pet:
1. We have stopped moving, so I could no longer use the excuse that we'd have trouble finding rental homes or might be shipped off to Hawaii or Japan.
2. My sister adopted two senior labs, one of whom is blind, and I witnessed how different adopting senior dogs was compared with puppies, and I was given hope that I could manage that sort of responsibility.
3. I am reading a book (still) entitled The Body Keeps the Score. It's about the physical manifestations of trauma and is excellent. In one of the chapters, the author writes about animals and anxiety and how soothing animals are for anxiety. I experienced this when I rode horses, and since I had residual anxiety after three cross-country moves in as many years, I took this as a sign from the Universe. Maybe a dog would help soothe all of us after our many moves.
I told my husband I was open to the idea of a dog, if we took our time and found a good fit. I also advocated for an older dog, who might be calmer.
We began looking online. My horse trainer posts on Facebook via a local rescue, and we began keeping an eye out for dogs who seemed like a good fit. We inquired about a bulldog mix, but when we learned she had hip issues, we didn't think that was a good fit for a first-time dog.
We finally went one day to look at a 4-year-old golden lab. At the rescue, that dog was a bundle of energy, running up and down the outdoor enclosure, jumping all over us and showering us with kisses.
My son was smitten.
I was terrified.
This was not what I wanted, and I felt sudden anxiety that I would agree to adopt a dog I felt uncomfortable with.
Then, a volunteer walked in with an older dog, a dog who sat down quietly and looked at everyone with the dignity of an animal with unrecognized nobility.
I said, "Who is that?"
My husband actually saw Sandy before, online, but I was dismissive. In person, however, I was drawn to her. She came over and was introduced. No jumping or running. She was, if anything, a little discerning and suspect.
We learned she'd been left by her owner in a backyard when the owner moved. She'd been left with two other dogs, and the neighbor fed them. I think this went on for years. Finally, the rescue took her in when one of the dogs began jumping the fence, and there was the threat that animal control would pick them all up.
Thank God for dog rescues.
Sandy came home with us that night.
Readers, I can't explain what a blessing she has been. She is like a glue in our family, holding us all together when our kids are getting older and more independent.
Sandy is the one thing we can sometimes all agree on. :)
We adore her. We don't like leaving the house too long because we miss her. We fawn over this dog, and there has never been an argument about caring for her.
Well, the kids don't like spooning out her food (she is picky and eats wet food mostly).
Otherwise, she is taken on walks. She is petted and fed and given fresh water. She is soothed and spoken to with gentle voices. She is let outside and sat with and looked after. We all have dirty, old blankets spread out on our beds and chairs pushed up to the sides so Sandy can hop up anytime, dirty or wet, and flop on our beds.
I have loved every single moment of having this dog. When we adopted her, I thought her age was a plus. Sandy is 8 years old, so I did the math and figured that we'd have her long enough for the kids to finish up high school. Now, when I look at her, I say tiny prayers all the time that she lives much longer and somehow never dies.
I had no idea I'd feel this way about an animal.
I know many families in the same predicament I was in - kids wanting pets, parents not wanting another responsibility. I've talked with so many mothers who fear another chore or with fathers who travel and feel like a pet wouldn't be fair to anyone. Mostly, people just feel the way I did about adding one more thing to already busy, full lives.
For anyone on the fence about getting a pet, particularly if you're hesitating for the reasons I did, here are Five Things To Consider When Considering a Pet:
1. We were lucky to have a personal connection to a high-quality, professional rescue. This meant Sandy was already tested for and treated for heart-worm and had a clean bill of health. The rescue really does a top-notch job caring for the animals and finding excellent fits/homes so that everyone finds a good fit. I'd take the time to research rescues (if you're considering a rescue pet) and learn about the organization before beginning the adoption process. I've heard borderline horror stories from people who worked with less-than-ethical rescues in the past. From undisclosed medical issues to lack of follow-up when problems arise, I think it's smart to find a reputable rescue operation and to realize that all non-profits aren't necessarily equal.
2. Consider a rescue. I know you've all heard this before, but I'm incredibly glad we found Sandy through a rescue. I look at her every day and wonder what her life was like before we found her, and I'm grateful she's here with us now. I really worried about rescuing a dog because I didn't know if a dog's background (abuse, neglect, etc.) would be an issue. Because we found a great rescue organization, they are able to match owners and dogs who are a good fit. In the descriptions of the dogs, the rescue notes if a dog dislikes cats, for example, or isn't comfortable with children. For this reason, I felt much more comfortable working with a rescue.
3. Take your time. We looked at dogs online for six months before we adopted Sandy. I knew I would feel it when the time was right, and it ended up being true. I didn't want to rush into adopting an animal and ever feel that it wasn't truly my decision. I did feel some pressure, and my kids kept saying, "You'll never say yes. You're lying." But, I wasn't lying, and because I waited until the right time, I feel at peace with our decision.
4. Consider an older pet. I would have never considered this if I hadn't seen my sister adopt the older labs. Their owner died, and the labs needed a home together. Watching those dogs flop on my sister's kitchen floor really set the idea in my mind that older dogs need homes as much as playful puppies and have their own perks, like not chewing on furniture and often being a little calmer. I realize it's sad to think these dogs will die sooner or may have health issues as they age, but I think adopting an older dog has been the #1 reason we've been so happy with our situation.
5. Assess your lifestyle. I really thought hard about our lifestyle before I adopted a pet that would require constant care and attention. Dogs can't be left in the same way cats might be left for, say, an overnight trip. I thought about this for a long time. Did I want to spend the next six to seven years limited in travel and hanging out at home? Did I want to take a dog to soccer games or on walks each night? Would I be okay with the restrictions of owning a pet? After a lot of thinking, I decided that this is the time in our lives I want to give our kids roots. After all of our moves, my number one priority isn't travel or seeing the world; it's providing a stable base for my kids. I realized a pet fits into the priority, so the fact that we will travel less and be home more isn't an issue. But readers, I really did have to think about it, consider it and make peace with it. Had I not done this internal 'work,' I may have resented the restrictions of pet ownership more.
Now that I'm officially a pet owner, on the other side of fear, that old adage is ringing true: on the other side of fear is joy.
I know. I should be lighting candles, baking heart-shaped hand-pies and reading Brené Brown right now
Anyway, that is the story of how one woman didn't want a dog, resisted adopting a dog and then finally got on board with what turned out to be one of the best decisions of her life.
Do any of you own pets? Has it been a win-win or a struggle? Any tips for those of us who sat on the fence?
We've already had a trip to the orthodontist today, workmen at the house painting and a visit to the ice cream parlor....and it's only Day 1 of Week Whatever of Summer Break!