Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Getting a Dog for Your Child

In November 2003, a friend offered to buy my 10-year-old daughter a real, live dog for Christmas, versus the stuffed variety or a cat that only requires an occasional hot fluff cycle in the dryer. I’m certain the idea was mine, because I’m female, emotional, and, therefore, don’t thoroughly think through things.

Owning that, I believe children need to be raised with pets, particularly a dog, through whom they learn responsibility, a precursor to parenting, and reciprocal, unconditional love and companionship. Inevitably, a parent will disappoint a child, and in a dog, a child has someone he or she can rely who offers a wagging tail and a warm, furry body and belly to rub. Dogs smile and groan with satisfaction. Their ears go back and head goes down when they’re apprehensive about a situation. Essentially, they are like children, so kids can relate.

It had been three and a half years since my son, the sweetest yellow Lab in the world, had passed. I honestly believed I would never have another dog, because Alex was amazingly humanlike and I knew no other would be like him. His passing was a devastating tragedy. To this day, I can’t talk about his final months without feeling deep despair and a heavy heart.

After Alex’s passing, my daughter’s dad bought our little muffin a kitten from the Humane Society. Autumn was a gray, striped shorthair, the type I always called a tiger cat. Autumn had a feral nature and would slip outside and chase foxes, a strange and courageous act first reported by my neighbor across the street. Though hard to believe, the day after she told me, we looked outside to see Autumn chasing a fox that was carrying a wriggling squirrel in its mouth.

Autumn the cat even baited a fawn, enticing it to come closer to her by pretending she wasn’t at all interested, turning her backside toward the little ungulate, flicking her skyward-directed tail back and forth, encouraging the fawn to investigate. When the fawn was close enough, Autumn pounced and chased the fawn out of our yard. I have the photos to prove it.

Eventually, Autumn started urinating on my waterbed, my double papasan, and my daughter’s bed. We tossed the mattress and papasan, and I continued to wash and rewash all my bedding several times until one day I made the decision. Sobbing as I approached the Humane Society’s intake receptionist to relinquish Miss Autumn the Micturator, I was flabbergasted when the gal asked me for a $60 disposal fee. I looked up from my soggy tissue in astonished disgust. “We paid the Humane Society for this thing, and she ruined a quarter of our furniture. No! I will not pay you any more.” I garnered some attention from onlookers, setting precedence for the next patrons.

A young pup with its infant needs seemed minimal compared to paying trash services to crush our ruined furnishings and having a home smell like urine. What I’d forgotten was that some dogs and men are like children that never grow up.

For weeks I made calls to Labrador breeders in Colorado Springs, attempting to divine a trustworthy one, whose canines had admirable AKC lineage, lineage I would quickly nip in the testicles with a timely visit to the vet. Once I finally felt firm in a decision, Ivy, the gifting friend, and I drove a diagonally long distance from our home to the breeder’s. After a half-hour visit inside their house, then some chilly puppy play in the early December snow, Ivy chose her new companion—a romping, fuzzy, gold, kumquat-on-steroids-shaped puppy with six appendages.

Because he was too young to be separated from his mother, we agreed to return the week before Christmas when he’d be eight weeks old. My friend and I split the $400 cost since he suddenly and surprisingly couldn’t afford a whole dog, and we excitedly and expectantly drove toward home to prepare for the fuzzball’s arrival. Ivy and I purchased books on natural nutrition and training, leashes, food and water bowls, alfalfa, kelp, salmon oil, vitamins, food, and a bright red collar to complement his beautiful gold fur.

Anyone who has chosen a child for adoption knows how difficult it is to wait all those weeks anticipating the new life in their home, so four days early, I called the people many miles diagonally from me and made my way to retrieve this newly named retriever. On the crazy return drive southwest, Shiloh wailed and leaped around in the back of my Trooper like a cat in the dryer.

At the elementary school, I parked in my usual place, carefully opened the back of the Trooper to leash the Euphorbic* jumping bean, then bounced him on the sidewalk to go and greet his fifth-grade sister.

Children and puppies. They aren’t much different from each other. Both get really excited to see the other and wet their pants like my new boyfriend does when he sees me. Ivy took one look at Shiloh donning his Christmassy collar and let out a little yelp. Shiloh, not really recognizing Ivy, felt he needed to emit an obligatory “hey!” then all the other kids heaped over him like a scrum of soccer players.

Children and puppies are also different. Children eventually go to the bathroom on their own and not on the floor, feed themselves, walk without a leash (except one guy I know), and essentially, grow up.

Canines don’t. They become adults in their own right, but good, caring humans still need to assist them with potty breaks, twice daily feedings, fresh water refills, lots of exercise, almost constant attention. Unlike a cat, you can’t leave a dog or teenager for the weekend and hope to find the house in the same condition you left it in. Essentially, dogs don’t grow up. They grow older and, eventually, even more dependent on their caregivers to determine the locations of their aches and pains and other ailments, for which the caregiver has to pay, or pretend not to notice till death do you two part.

It takes a lot of work, time, and money, more for some dogs than others. Shiloh is the former.

Not that admonishments steer the emotionally blinded in a different direction, but I am here to advise anyone who is thinking about adopting a dog to seriously consider and write down all the possible consequences.

The excitement of having a puppy can certainly replace sanity, sleep, and ever having a clean, puke- and excrement-free home. And if you truly believe you are getting a pet for your child, you’re wrong. Don’t ever, that means never, believe your child will rise to parenting until he or she is married and becomes a parent.

I honestly didn’t think I’d have to handle most of the dog-ownership responsibilities. Ivy was healthy and capable of handling any chores associated with Shiloh. When I was 10, our family had a dog, 40 head of cattle, multiple cats, ducks, and horses, and all needed our entire family and hired hands for care, and believe me, I worked all the time, in the home and on the ranch. But just because I’m industrious and a hard worker does not mean anyone close to me is, which is quite an unfortunate thing.

And although I was good at addition, I hadn’t mastered subtraction until 2011 when Ivy was about to dash off to college and Shiloh was almost eight. Labs live to be about 12, so, right, I will care for him all by myself for another four years, a total of 12 years of my life. Trapped. Can’t leave home. And I can’t bring people here, because Shiloh’s a puker.

Alex was more human than canine and was little to no work. Shiloh’s another animal. He pukes all the time, for years, anywhere and everywhere. I sometimes spend weeks sucking up vomit with one of my two shampooers, then redoing each spot the next day and often the next, which can number seven huge spots each day. All upheavals coming from a 100-pound dog and the expensive food such an animal can consume. An ultrasound revealed no cancer, no blockages. Blood tests showed nothing too unusual for a Lab his age. He eats too fast, and sometimes puts stuff in his mouth that doesn’t belong there, then swallows, which is one of the reasons I cannot leave him outside.

Once he had a major mishap, causing me to go into shock. Fortunately Ivy’s dad came to the rescue, physically, emotionally, and financially, or I’d have had to put Shiloh down. And there are days I wonder what would be easier.

And since Labs are socialites, he’s alerted us to two kittens in the backyard who needed a home, asking if we could keep them. Yep, more testicles to nip.

So if you still want a dog, remember this long story and send me a note. And if someone offers to buy you a dog, or even half of one, go with neither. It’s just my opinion.

* Originally I’d used “Mexican jumping bean,” whose definition is (usually) a Euphorbiaceae seed containing a moth larva that grows and moves inside the seed. Therefore, meshing this seed with Shiloh’s anthropomorphic characteristic of euphoria led me to coin a potentially new word.