It’s been just over a year since we welcomed Piper, our Brittany spaniel puppy, into our home. That pup has grown into a dog and become part of the family. I have become a “dog person,” that breed of human I used to look at with non-comprehension, who happily scoops fresh turds into a little baggie and who lives vicariously through her dog’s athletic accomplishments (e.g. when Piper outruns other dogs at the park I feel proud).
And yet. Owning a sweet, smart, beautiful family companion isn’t all rainbows and puppy kisses.
Blake and I were commiserating recently with another couple about life with a dog. They, too, have two children and a spaniel. We talked about how we love our dogs, but also about all the other baggage that comes with dog ownership: the walking, dislocating of shoulders during walks (Piper’s a “puller”), never-ending training, policing of autistic son interacting inappropriately with dog (me), incessant grooming (them), veterinary visits, and the ongoing problem of finding care for the dog when we leave town.
At this point I was feeling rather beaten down by Piper. We’d been treating her for an ear infection (translation: pinning her down daily in a death vice to squirt medicine into her ear canal) and the previous month she’d contracted kennel cough from the… wait for it… kennel. It’s an infection that irritates a dog’s lungs and throat and causes her to spontaneously vomit on the floor or carpet or wherever she happens to be standing. Naturally, the kennel cough followed on the heels of Piper’s lice infestation. Yes, lice. Dogs can get a slow-moving dog lice that makes them itch uncontrollably (but which fortunately cannot be passed along to humans — that was the first thing I Googled).
On top of these health problems there was the going concern of Piper and Bennett. We have been trying to teach him how to pet Piper gently and how to play with her, but I think our son delights in bugging her. He is forever grabbing her, hauling off with her by the collar to put her in her kennel, taking her lovey and running away with it, and otherwise tormenting her. It’s kind of how a big brother would treat his little sister, in fact. But I am weary of constantly refereeing them. I also worry Piper will go snake on him one day and we’ll be that family on the news whose kid’s face got torn off by the dog.
So, when our friends asked us, “Knowing what you know now, if you could do it over, would you still get a dog?” I didn’t even hesitate.
“No,” I said. “Absolutely not.” And a month later, with a healthy dog, I stand by the no.
Some people might think this is hard-hearted — how can I say this about a creature so adored by our children, one that has become part of the family? Yes, she’s sweet. Yes, I like all the exercise I get by walking her. Yes, I enjoy cuddling with her at day’s end when she finally collapses on her dog bed. And yes, we’re keeping her. But she’s not my child. She’s a dog, and life would be just as full — and a whole lot easier and way more stress-free — if she had never arrived on an airplane from Saskatoon one snowy day last April.