I'm the mother of two amazing baby girls. One is an adorable 7-month-old who loves hearing the sound of her own squeals and is rightfully obsessed with water faucets. The other is a 2-year-old spitfire who, when not running around in circles, is always up for a cuddle. One is a human baby, and the other is a "fur baby." There, I said it. One of my babies is a dog.
A very opinionated mom spoke out against people like me, parents who dare to call our dogs our babies. And she made some valid points.
No, I didn't give birth to my puppy. No, the fact that I adopted her at the local ASPCA does not count, and I better not ever make that comparison again. No, my dog can't say "I wuv you, Mommy" or take care of me when I'm old. No, last I checked, I can't drop humans off at doggie day care. And, no, my dog technically isn't a "person."
But, hell yes, my dog is my baby.*
In fact, it wasn't until the first week with my new puppy that I decided I wanted to be a mom at all. A mom to a human baby, that is. Before my dog Moose, I never felt that maternal love, that mothering sensibility that only came when my husband and I welcomed this tiny creature into our home. Our hearts opened up in a way we never thought possible, and like a drug, we were intoxicated and wanted more. So now Moose has a younger sister.
I've gotten my share of eye rolls for calling Moose my daughter's sibling or for telling my mother-in-law that she was actually already a grandmother by the time my human baby was born, and I can certainly appreciate the ridiculousness of that. (I'm reasonable, I swear.) But, I've gotten tired of hearing so many fellow moms grossly trivializing the relationship a parent can have with her pet.
Moose isn't just a domesticated animal we let live in our house. For my family, she serves a far greater purpose. My dog, often to her own detriment, has trained me to be a better mom. I've made more mistakes than I'd like to admit with Moose (the classic first-born child!), but I have her to thank for teaching me some of the greatest lessons I could ever learn as a parent, namely that . . .
1. You're able to make sacrifices more graciously.
Moose forced me to change, and I accepted the challenge, even if it put a damper on my social life — spontaneity was a thing of the past, date nights involved the help of an expensive dog walker, and conversations revolved around house-training and which neighborhood had the best obedience schools. The only difference with a human baby is those conversations take place on a playdate, not at the local dog park.
2. You won't always get it right the first time.
When we first brought Moose home, we had a cozy crate all set up for her. Too bad she hated it. She cried every night until finally, my husband and I broke down and let her sleep in bed with us. And she's never left. Because of Moose, we made sure to keep the human baby in her crib — as much as we understand the allure of cosleeping, our bed just wasn't big enough for one more.
3. You're more aware of your bad behavior.
I have a temper, and before my daughter was born, I'd yell. Loudly. I assumed it was only my husband who suffered my wrath until one evening, I saw Moose, quivering under our dining room table. Her big, sad eyes spoke volumes, and, now, every time I start to raise my voice, I think of her face. It's one I hope to never see on my daughter's.
4. You'll eventually chill out.
When you're type A, the adjustment to dog ownership is intense. You quickly learn you can't have nice things, or, if you insist on having nice things, they'll likely be peed on, chewed up, and covered in dog hair. This wasn't easy for me, but it primed me for my daughter, who now gets a mom who actually enjoys making a complete mess of carrot puree.
5. You can't take a time-out.
When I was pregnant, we just moved to a new city, and Moose was acting out. I felt that I had enough on my plate, so I let her bad behavior slide. I'm still paying for it.
6. You will never, ever stop caring.
Too many people warned me that I wouldn't care as much about Moose when my human baby was born. Instead, I love her more than I ever did and, dare I say, equally to my daughter. For all of Moose's issues (and she's got a few), I love her unconditionally, without caveat or constraint.
And as I type this, my two babies are playing on the floor. The human baby tugs on the fur baby's ear until the fur baby jerks her head away and gives me a knowing look. You're right: my dog will never be able to tell me what she's thinking. But the truth is, she doesn't have to.
*It doesn't hurt that the pup in question is a 13-pound Boston Terrier mix who loves to be kissed on the nose and carried in the cradle position.