Tag Archives: getting a family dog

Year of the Dog

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).

Piper at Tom Campbell Hill dog park.

Piper in her element at Tom Campbell Hill dog park.

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.

Piper as a puppy at 8 weeks old.

Piper as a puppy at 8 weeks old.

 

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We put down a deposit on a dog (gulp!)

Our neighbours brought home a black lab puppy last winter and Avery fell in love. Whenever she saw Mack out with his owners she would run outside to pet him, play with him and, as he got bigger, walk him and throw balls for him. Thus began the never-ending plea: “When can we get a dog?”

We’ve put down a deposit on a Brittany puppy. ETA: April or May.

Life is already complicated with two little kids, so surely I must be crazy to even consider adding a puppy to the mix? This is what friends-with-dogs tell me, anyway. “Are you sure you’re ready for that? It’s like having another child,” I was warned just last week. A puppy chews on shoes, pees in the house, cries in the night like a baby and needs to be taught obedience. It’s a lot of work, so why would I want to go there when my youngest pup (Bennett) is — almost — finally trained up?

Taking care of a fish, on the other hand, is so simple. We purchased our betta, Blue-blue, on Jan. 25, 2010 as a reward to Avery for giving up her soother. Blue-blue just floats there all day and doesn’t complain about going hungry or his filthy bowl. Against all odds he is still alive. Yes, Blue-blue is boring, and I think Avery realized what a lame pet a fish makes after a couple months when she started asking questions like, “When Blue-blue dies can I get a hamster?”

Our fish is sure lame but he’s so easy to care for.

If there’s one thing I learned from my childhood: don’t let kids have rodents as pets. Or birds. Cleaning out those cages is disgusting. Before Blue-blue we had a cat named Moggy. Moggy was an okay pet until I developed an allergy to her, at which point we kicked her out of the bedroom and she began the annoying habit of standing outside our door meowing mournfully in the night. By the time we moved into our current house and Avery was born, we were locking Moggy down in the storage room when we went to bed. When I was pregnant with Bennett we shipped Moggy to Arkansas to live with my mom.

Aloof and with an insanely loud meow, Moggy went from cuddly cat to pet pariah in the span of three years.

That, dear readers, is our track record with pets. We exiled a cat and neglect our fish.

I should confess up front that I am not a dog person. I grew up with cats and so developed somewhat of an aversion to slobber and stinky dog fur. Any yet. I see the amazing bond that families develop with a dog. I marvel at the lengths (and expense!) my friends will go to to keep their dogs healthy (knee surgeries, etc.). I get excited thinking about our future dog curled up at my feet while I write, I fantasize about hiking with her in Fernie (she won’t complain about the distance like our children do), and I get weepy imagining what a good friend she’ll be to Avery, and especially Bennett. Our family doctor says dogs make great companions to children with autism.

So (gulp!), we’re getting a dog. Am I crazy? Or will this be the best thing ever?