Car keys? Check. Diaper bag, check. My gloves, check. Bumpy link teething thingy, check. Baby is strapped in, good. Dog leash, check. Wait, where’s her collar? Ok, set the alarm and get out the front door in 30 seconds. Set the carrier down for a free hand to lock up. Done. Time to load the car.
I throw my returnable items into the back of the car, along with the stroller. I put my diaper bag into the back, next to the baby seat. I let Olive sit shotgun, since doggy daycare is only a 10-minute drive and the stroller takes up most of the back of the car. I close the driver-side door and start to buckle up. “Here we go…” As I start to pull away from the house, Olive, our 2-year-old rescue dog (retriever, lab, pit-bull, ridge-back, something brown, mix) started barking. Barking her alarm system bark that she only uses for moments that scare the hell out of her, sees strangers at the front door or hears some noise that makes you think a home invasion is underway. Truly, it’s a sound that hits a pitch that almost hurts and your whole body involuntarily flinches when it comes barreling out of her.
I stopped the car. Her hackles up, she kept manically barking since I clearly didn’t understand what she was trying to say. I pulled back in front of our house and then I got it. On the front porch sat the baby carrier… our baby girl inside. With my heart pounding out of my chest, two thoughts simultaneously ran through my mind. First, I’m the worst mother in the world. Second, my dog is awesome.
Like many couples, we considered our dog to be our “first baby.” Olive has a good life. She was extremely well-trained, has a super sweet disposition, and makes the best facial expressions. She is a family member in our household. She’s traveled everywhere with us from Oregon to New Hampshire and even saw the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, she’s well loved.
We had a beautiful little girl last June. Outside of all the baby/pregnancy advice I was given, I was amazed how many opinions people had regarding our dog. Countless times I heard that the family pet will fall to the wayside once a baby is born. “It’s what happens. You’re pet just isn’t a priority. You’ll see…” Some animals act out, some pee on furniture for attention, others gain weight from lack of exercise. I’m sure there are those on puppy Prozac with abandonment issues.
Ok, I get it. I’m not a complete animal freak who can’t distinguish between an infant and a dog. At the end of the day, my child will always be my first priority to love and protect; however, I do not think that having a child means you should just drop the proverbial ball on your pet. When my husband and I adopted Olive, we did so with the intent to give this bundle of fur a happy life. Pets nourish the soul and care for people as much as we do for them (if not more so). So I take the responsibility as a pet parent seriously.
The reality? Well, there is some truth that things have changed when it comes to quality time. Olive does get less attention now that she isn’t an “only child,” but we do our best to let her know she’s always loved, even if it’s just petting her for 10 minutes while the baby is napping. (With 3 naps a day, that’s 30 minutes of undivided dog attention. That’s like hours in doggy time, right?) We’ve also added doggy daycare into the budget, so our pup gets some true playtime each week. And she LOVES going. In return, I’d say Olive has been a great big sister. She is the first to let us know when the baby is awake, is unbelievably gentle with her, sits with me in the nursery at any hour of the night during feedings, always walks right next to the stroller watching for unforeseen dangers, keeps the baby’s hands very clean of anything sticky and seems to really enjoy any bit of food thrown on the floor.
Not every dog is going to remind you that your child failed to make it into the car. (Seriously, my dog is AWESOME.) As parents, we’re tired, exhausted, looking for more hours in the day, forgetful, and are ultimately just trying to keep it all together. Ten minutes of a belly rub and a wag of a tail can be recharging for both you and your fur baby- even for just a moment.