I was one of those that scoffed at people who dressed their dogs in sweaters and coats, or called themselves ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ when referring to their dogs. “Dogs are animals and do not need clothes,” I rationalized. “My dog would be loved and cared for as a dog not as a child,” I vowed when I adopted my first dog, “I am it’s owner, not it’s Mom.” Oh, how naive I was.
Fast forward 14 years and five dogs. There are still no frivolous articles of clothing or Halloween costumes. There have been “boots” to protect our dogs’ paws from sidewalks that have been salted. This decision was made on a cold winter’s night when Paco, my first dog, started limping after stepping on some salt. We were blocks from home. The thought of carrying a 60 lb dog home flashed into my mind, and thankfully left just a quickly. Luckily Paco managed to dislodge the salt from his paws and I did not have to attempt the Herculean task of carrying him. There have been “coats” for Tasha. These aided in warding off “bedsores” created by her inactivity due to severe arthritis. They were not fashion statements, but boy did she look cute in them!
I no longer flinch when I call the vet’s and they ask which baby I am going to bring in for a visit; although I still cannot refer to my dogs as my fur babies. I have accepted my husband frequently referring to me as “Mom” when addressing the dogs. I will console our dogs with the wisdom that “Dad” will be returning shortly, when they are howling to bring their missing pack member home. Yes we talk to our dogs. Sometimes I even think they are listening.
Before adopting my first dog, I was given the sage advice that caring for a dog is like caring for a perpetual three year old. Oh, how true this is. Like a young child, a dog cannot verbalize their feelings. It is by their actions, like not eating, or retreating to a quiet place or acting lethargic, that I know they are sick. My heart lurches when I observe that one of my dogs will not eat or is limping in pain. It is my responsibility to ensure my dogs have the proper shots to keep them healthy and medical attention when the inevitable illnesses or injuries strike. It is a responsibility I take very seriously and I cannot help but feel I have I have let my dogs down when they get sick.
Like a young child, a dog relies on you to ensure they have proper food and water. Like a child, a dog depends on you to keep them safe. It is with this knowledge that I check and double check that the garden gate is securely closed before letting them out into the yard. Similar to having children in the house silence is a warning flag. Silence leads me to go in search of my dogs to ensure they are sleeping peacefully and have not wandered from the safety of their yard. I feel as if I have been struck by a blow more powerful than any physical blow when I see posters of lost dogs. Dogs condemned to wander alone and afraid when separated from their pack. I can only sleep peacefully when I know my dogs are safely in the house. I do a head count every night before I settle down to sleep. Seeing each dog in their separate sleeping spots, I relax. It is similar to the relief I felt as I heard the key in the lock when my teenage son returned after being out with friends. Everyone is safe, all is right with the world.
Dogs are as unprepared for our urban lifestyle as any child would be for a wildness setting. Just as it was my job to take my son’s hand and teach him to look both ways before crossing the street, it is my job to teach my dogs to stay away from cars, to walk proudly at my side on a leash. Dogs need to be socialized to learn how to deal with other dogs in socially accepted ways. One of the most horrifying things I have observed is a fight between two dominant dogs. The relentlessness and viciousness of their attacks was a stark contrast to the gentle loving dogs that we accept as part of our families. It is something I hope to never see again.
Like young children, my dogs seek comfort and reassurance when thunder storms rage through the area. I cannot explain to them that the noise and flashing lights are not a real threat; I can only stroke them and hope that my calmness will spread to them. Like any parent I am distressed when I see fear in my dogs eyes at the loud noises they simply do not understand. Comfort is also needed when a pack member leaves for an extended time. My words and any explanation of the absence are meaningless, however, the tone of my voice and my actions can bring them some peace. Like any parent I would do anything to dispel their fear and to bring them comfort.
There are times when one on one play is required to burn off excess energy and to fortify the bond that already exists. My dogs love to show off their toys to me. Prancing by with a favored toy in their mouth, and sometimes even offering it to me like a prized possession they want to share. If I could, I would mount the shared toy on the fridge in a place of honor next to the drawings given to me by my son.
I do all this and more for my dogs.
I am their guardian and I am their protector.
I am their Mom.