Baby & Dog: When Two Loves Don’t Mix
~By M. Deptula
I love my dog. Let me state this again so you get it; I really, really love my dog. I’m one of those obsessed, co-dependent, 700 pictures on my phone kind of dog owners. My pup is no Lassie, rescue dog, or snuggly little mutt. In fact, he’s as far as from these sweet loving creatures as you can imagine. Yet he remains my darling.
Weighing in at only 8 pounds, Alec may have more anger per ounce than any creature alive. He’s angry, he’s sly, he’s manipulative, he’s spoiled, and he’s all mine, since no other sane person would try to wrest ownership over this fabulously malicious creature. I am absolutely and most definitely stuck with this little guy for the rest of his days and am quite happy about it.
Alec wasn’t always quite so mean. For the first four months of his life, I’d describe his personality as grouchy, perhaps sullen. It wasn’t until his adult teeth came in that he really started to show his rough edges. At the ripe old age of 6 months, I was informed that Alec would not be officially graduating from puppy kindergarten and we’d need to find new classes for him. Like any young, self-righteous parent with a misbehaving student, I promptly and huffily withdrew him from school. That’s when ineffective homeschooling began.
Let me say this about my dog homeschooling experience: I was naïve and didn’t really understand the gravity of dog ownership. With my self-interest at the forefront, I may have made a few errors here and there, like when I paper potty trained him so I didn’t have to get up early to walk him in the brutal rain and snow. I may have overstuffed him with Alec treats, which were easier to dispense than real training. And, yes, I will admit that he became quite a bed hog because I was incapable of saying “no.” I know; I’m a dog enabler.
After nine years of Alec existing as the center of my and my husband’s universe, I got pregnant. That’s when dog-meets-baby preparation kicked in. It took a week of sleepless nights to get him out of our bed. I paid iTunes several dollars for the sounds of baby “music” and played it for him endlessly. I may have been naïve when I brought Alec home, but this time I knew we had to prepare for him to meet our daughter, a.k.a. his baby sister. And, more than I ever expected, it has been hell.
Even before the baby came, it would take almost nothing to set Alec off. We could not entertain a guest without confining him to his cage. He hates thunder, vacuums, balloons, water, hairdryers, and strangers. Yet none of this could have prepared us for how he’d feel about his little sister. He was determined to kill her. Even while she slept, we would find him curled up outside her room, showing his teeth and shaking. It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen. My dog was trying to kill my baby, and it was only his small size and lack of proximity that prevented him from accomplishing his goal.
Now I’m going to be really honest here. At this point, I loved the dog. And I loved my baby but a bit, dare I say it, less. (Insert “gasp, she’s a horrible mother” here.) The thing is that I knew the dog. He was my little man. We had history. He had made me laugh and cry. He’d cheered me up. In my eyes he was and is perfection on four paws. She was mine too, but aside from taking up residency in my midsection for several months she was a stranger and a very demanding one at that.
We needed help, but it seemed no matter where we turned the solution was to “give up the dog.” Did they not realize that an infant boarding school option would have been more logical? There simply was no giving up a member of our family. So we suffered. And do I mean suffered. The barking, the whining, the hours I spent confined with my daughter in her tiny bedroom. We had sleepless nights with me tending not to a tiny baby but to a needy pup. I reached to anyone who might be able to help. At a new mom’s support group I cried and cried. I had to find a solution; I could not get rid of Alec.
At long last, after an exhaustive search, we met a trainer who would work with us. She warned us, repeatedly, that our daughter would never, ever be safe with this Alec. But we could potentially keep him if we were vigilant. She trained him, and she trained us in better ways to care for him. At once point, she convinced our veterinarian to prescribe some psychiatric medication for Alec. We handed her a blank check and said yes. I won’t lie to you, it hasn’t been easy. The phrase “constant vigilance” is not an overstatement. Nothing bad can happen, period. It’s both my and my husband’s job to keep both our daughter and the dog safe. We have not peed alone in months. But it’s worth it.
Our home is now filled with love for our two babies, my daughter and Alec. And there is the love they have for one another. Alec’s adoration is best demonstrated as he waits at the foot of her highchair. She giggles and squeals as he plays fetch. Nothing gives her as pure a delight as her crazy “big brother.” We had no idea that the hell we traversed could bring us to such a wellspring of love. It’s a love for or our daughter that is nearly impossible to describe, and a feeling that has knocked me head over heals. For Alec, it’s an enduring love that has overcome obstacles and a bond that has withstood the test of time. And that, for me, is what family is all about.