Dogs and Kids
First comes dog, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.
That’s what my husband and I were singing the day after we got engaged, on our way to a breeder to get a Labrador Retriever puppy.
My husband, Norm, always wanted a dog. I never really liked dogs. But when Norm proposed, he said, “Will you marry me and let me get a dog?”
Of course, I said yes. To both. He was the man of my dreams. I just had to make a little room in my dreams for a dog.
While we drove home with our new puppy, Chance, I talked about long walks into the sunset with Chance on a leash and a baby in the stroller. Two years later, Chance was dragging my husband into the sunset, and I was behind them pushing our 1-year-old daughter and our newborn son in a double stroller. Neither having a dog nor starting a family was turning out as I’d expected.
Maybe, I thought, it had something to do with why Chance was the only puppy left in the litter. She wasn’t a bad dog, but she was a little goofy. She had a lot of energy, even for a puppy. She pulled on her leash. She barked at anything that moved. Still, she was playful and loving and always happy to be with us. And I was surprisingly happy to have her.
But when I found out I was pregnant, I started to look at Chance’s less-than-perfect behavior differently. The barking, the pulling, her excitable energy all made me nervous about how she would react to a new baby. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to care for the baby or get anything done if I had to constantly watch Chance’s every move.
I decided to make her an outside dog. My husband didn’t think it was the right decision. But he wasn’t the one who’d be staying home with a 6-pound newborn and 60-pound dog.
He finally agreed. He wanted to do what was best for me and what was best for the baby. We weren’t even parents yet, and we had already forgotten about what was best for Chance.
Ten months after we got married, my husband and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Josie. Just like we’d planned.
And then I found out I was pregnant again. Surprise. Twelve months after Josie’s birth, we welcomed our son, Owen. Not quite as planned, but just as beautiful.
I had always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. But I had no idea how hard it would be to stay at home with a disobedient 1-year old, a colicky newborn and a goofy dog. I was overwhelmed in every possible way.
I assumed that as long as I fed Chance every day and walked her occasionally, her needs would be met. I didn’t know that dogs have social and behavioral needs, too; needs that are just as important as food and exercise.
A Message from Chance
My husband and I will never forget the day we finally realized how much Chance was suffering. It was Josie’s second birthday, and we were all walking to a pond near our house. Chance was anxious, waiting for my husband to throw a ball into the water.
What happened next was such a heightened moment. Norm threw the ball and Josie wandered toward it. I guess she got in the way, because all of a sudden Chance bolted towards Josie and very deliberately knocked her down the embankment. We were all yelling, screaming, and I remember crying as Norm jumped down and grabbed Josie right before she fell into the water.
From that day on, Chance wouldn’t come near us. For days afterward, I didn’t talk to her. Whenever Norm or I went outside, Chance would move to the other side of the yard to avoid us.
We didn’t know what to do or how to handle her change in behavior. But we knew one thing for sure. Chance was tired of waiting.
Finding another home for Chance seemed like the best option. It was something we had talked about before, but hadn’t been prepared to do. Neither Norm nor I was ready to lose the dog we had grown to love.
Up until the day at the pond, we had no idea how miserable Chance had become.
Two days later, Norm contacted Golden Gate Labrador Retreiver Rescue (GGLRR). A representative, Holly Still, reassured him that families often become overwhelmed and unable to care for their dog. Some have to move, some can’t afford the dog, and some, like us, just didn’t anticipate how much work a dog can be.
Holly posted a picture and a description of Chance on the group’s Web site. A few weeks later, Norm got a call from an older couple experienced with rescuing dogs like Chance. They picked her up the next day. Fast and painless. At least that’s what we thought.
Nothing could have prepared us for the pain we felt after Chance left. Our lives felt empty without her. Yes, our backyard was cleaner. There was less stress and less to do. But Chance was a part of our family, and we all missed her terribly. We started to wonder if giving Chance away was a mistake.
Accepting Our Mistakes
We made many mistakes as dog owners. Common mistakes that many families make:
We got a dog without knowing anything about dogs. Knowing what you are getting into is one of the most important parts of dog ownership.
We picked the wrong dog. A hyper, impulsive dog like Chance deserved a home with experienced owners who could give her the attention and training she needed.
We picked the wrong time. The Humane Society recommends waiting until the youngest child in the family is at least 5.
The mistake we regret the most is not recognizing how Chance was suffering when the babies came and how we pushed her aside. We now understand that isolating a dog like Chance can damage a family’s relationship with a pet beyond repair. Realizing that Chance needed a different home in order to get the care she needed and the life she deserved was actually the best thing we’d done for Chance in a long time.
I don’t know if we will ever get another dog. If we do, I know we won’t make the same mistakes. We will be ready to make a heartfelt commitment to care for the dog even when life, or the dog, doesn’t turn out exactly like we expected.
Jennifer Dunne is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Morgan Hill.
The Great Dog Debate
Daphne Robert-Hamilton, a certified personal dog trainer in Morgan Hill, offers pre-ownership counseling for families to prepare for dog ownership and to select the best dog for their lifestyle. Her first piece of advice: don’t buy on impulse. Preparation is one of the first steps towards a successful dog-human relationship, and to that end she recommends that families volunteer at a shelter or even get a foster dog to test the waters first.
Here is a list of questions Daphne asks families to consider before getting a dog:
•What type of dog do you want?
•What breed, age and temperament will best fit your lifestyle?
•Can you afford a dog?
•Does everyone in the family want a dog?
•Who will take care of the dog’s daily needs?
•What will you do with the dog during vacations?
•Are you familiar with the different types of dog training?
•How will you handle a dog that needs special training or medical care?
•Are you aware of a dog’s physical needs? Behavioral needs? Social needs? Are you ready to meet all of these needs?
Books and DVDs:
•Raising Puppies & Kids Together: A Guide for Parents, by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt (TFH Publication, 2005)
•Living With Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind, by Colleen Pelar (C&R Publishing, 2005)
•The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Dog Care, by Marion S. Lane and the Staff of The Humane Society of the United States (Little, Brown and Company, 2001)
•Helping Fido Welcome Your Baby, by Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Daniel Estep, PhD (2007 DVD)
Books For Kids:
•Meeting Milo, by Yvette Van Veen and David Perks (Van Veeks/Perks, 2004)
•Dog Training for Children, by Dr. Ian Dunbar (2007 DVD)