Dogs Are Not Babies
Dogs don't make your nipples bleed or call you for bail money.
Conventional wisdom holds that pets are practice for children and that they can bring a couple together through the shared challenge of trying to teach something that stands on all fours not to pee on the rug. With that wisdom in mind, after two years of marriage my husband and I got a dog. In hindsight, we should have just done some trust falls.
That Thanksgiving when Dave and I flew to my parent’s house to pick up the dog, a a miniature dachshund named Harriet. She greeted us by peeing on my parents’ floor five times. My younger sister Ruthie assured me this behavior was rare. “Oh she’s just a little anxious,” Ruthie said as she grabbed the cleaner and a rag. If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that the cleaning solution was running low. But I was besotted with the little 12-pound dog who willingly curled into my lap and nuzzled my elbow.
But the first time Dave, my husband, tried to pet Harriet she bit him.
“Oh, it’s not like she broke skin or anything,” my mom said quickly coming to Dave’s aid. If I had been blind to the warning signs over Thanksgiving, the trip home plunged me in to full-blown denial. Going through airport security, Harriet shook so hard her pink polka dot carrier vibrated, wiggling in my hands like a bag of live snakes.
When we finally boarded, I sat down and placed Harriet in my lap. Dave was sitting across the aisle from me. I offered to try and change seats with whoever was next to me, but he declined. “She’ll bite me.”
Just then, a polite priest excused himself and walked past me to his seat.
“Is that your dog?” He said peering through the heart-shaped flaps.
“Yes, a miniature dachshund.”
He smiled and touched his fingers gently to where Harriet’s nose pressed against the mesh. “May I pet her?”
I unzipped the top of the bag and he reached in. Harriet growled and snapped. But the priest was too quick. He pulled his hand out faster than a thief in an offering box.
“She’s never flown before,” I said to the man of God now inspecting his fingertips. “It’s not like she’s possessed or anything!” I then laughed the laugh of a crazy person.
The priest flagged down the stewardess and asked to change his seat.
It took us a year to realized that Harriet wasn’t the dog for us. Or rather, it took me a year. It took Dave one month. By the time, we’d packed her up to return to my parents, she’d bitten Dave five times, ruined two chairs, five rugs, tried to bite my neighbor, gotten screamed at by another neighbor, attacked two neighborhood dogs, racked up a vet bill of over $1,000 and almost ruined my marriage. I still didn’t want to let her go. The night before she left us, my husband found me in the basement bathroom sobbing. “If we give up on this dog, will we give up on our kids?” He patted my shoulders and stayed wisely silent.
It’s been six years since we had Harriet. We now have two kids, a two-year-old and a newborn. They’ve both puked and pooped all over the house. My two-year-old has ruined two window shades and a rug. The newborn so far hasn’t accumulated much in damage, but I fear that mischievous look in his eye. Individually their medical expenses are more than triple what Harriet cost us. Thanks to my daughter’s charm and love of princess dresses, the neighbors love us again; however, our children are more of a burden than that dog ever was. And they will probably continue to be. We’re saving for college, which is costing us a pretty penny, and I’m sure there will be more destroyed property, thousands worth in hospital bills, school, activities and then all the various and sundry items that we can’t plan for–wrecked cars, shouting matches, sneaking out of the house, yesterday the two-year-old asked to pee on the baby, so there is that too. Let’s put it this way: Dogs don’t ever call asking for bail money.
When I hear friends call their pets their children, I roll my eyes in that condescending I-am-a-mother way. I can’t help it. I don’t begrudge anyone the love of a pet, but I can say this for sure: dogs are not babies. Dogs can be sweet companions and they can inspire enormous amounts of love. But there is nothing about a dog that prepares you for a child. Nothing that prepares you for the long nights, the worry, the inevitable crazy moments when you are sobbing because you are pretty sure your six-month-old ate something with peanut butter and that’s not recommended by the American Society of Pediatrics! My dog never made my nipples bleed or made me gain 60+ pounds. Dogs are nicer than children.
Despite that, you can never love a dog the same way you love a child. I’ve only had my kids one year longer than I had a dog and already my kids have ruined my lady bits, depleted my brain power, my earning power, my bank account, my ability to form coherent sentences, wear a bikini (although that doesn’t stop me) and do my hair. But I love them for it. I love every mark, every lost penny, every destroyed window shade. I love it because it’s part of the process of creating a human, something that absolutely nothing can prepare you for. Not a dog, not a cat, not even some trust falls.
In sum, if you’re thinking about having kids: gain 50 pounds, flush about $10,000 down the toilet, and do your best not to sleep for two months and then be really happy about it. But don’t get a dog.
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