Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dog Days

On a muggy morning in May before we started using our air conditioning I smelled reminders of Jasmine, our 6 year old pug. And it reminds me that she needs a bath, and I need to clean the house AGAIN. Just what a mother needs; more work. This article is being written for any mothers who can commiserate about being a dog owner while raising young children or for anyone who is debating bringing a dog into their young family.

A brief memoir, if you will, of our life with a dog. Although it is honest and I will tell you all the horrors, you will be able to see the joys that our dog has brought us. But although there were so many reasons I swore I was donating her over the last two years, I am so glad we didn’t.

I am always surprised about the number of young families that have a dog. I know it isn’t a rarity, like owning a chimpanzee, but having a dog is a lot. Having company over or the random knock on the door ends up being acts of strategy to get the dog put away before someone gets jumped on, or your child’s play date gets knocked down. If anyone has ever had to look for their runaway dog with an infant or toddler in tow, you know the thoughts that run through your head!

And the added expense of being a dog owner is a lot. Since becoming parents, my husband and I tend to be ostriches, putting our heads in the sand when we notice our pug scratching her ear, limping, or goo coming out of her eye, because we know the vet bill will add up fast. And the last time we paid someone to watch out dog while we vacationed, we realized we could have sent her to Hawaii to learn to surf.

Anyone that owns a dog, knows the sheer rage that comes over you, when their barking threatens to wake your child. A squirrel or bird outside, the neighbors unpacking groceries across the street, or a jogger passing by can end a coveted nap and ruin your life, or at least your afternoon.

There is a slight jealousy I have for families without a dog. I think how much less they have to clean, less money spent, less stress with company, less money they have to spend, and how overall easier their life is while raising kids. But like many dog owners, I loved our dog long before I was a mom.

But it wasn’t too long ago, six years to exact that we brought home this precious little puppy, and started our family. I had grown up with a pug and knew I wanted to get one. We stopped by and looked at pug puppies at a breeders house on the way home from our honeymoon. The litter was 8 weeks old, and we would be able to take our baby home in less than a month. We bought the equipment that we would need for a puppy, and discussed names for our darling little girl.

Having just come back from Disney world, we decided to give her the name of Disney character. We chose Jasmine because of the catchy little nickname we could create; “Jazzy.” My husband picked her up while I was at work, and when I walked in the house, I couldn’t believe how little she was. She was not even six pounds, and the toys we bought for her were the same size or bigger.

My husband did a lot of the training, and took to the dog so much better than I had thought because it was me who wanted to get the dog. It made me happy to see how good he was with her, and that maybe these qualities would be present in fatherhood one day. She slept in bed with us, which was not my idea, but became normal after a while. One night I woke up to my husband jumping over me, because he didn’t want to disturb our sleeping beauty pushing up against his back for warmth and snoring.

I met a few people in my town that had pugs and started having play dates. I could tell how eager I was for motherhood by the way I carried myself as a dog owner. I even entered her in a dog costume contest, and she won, getting her picture in the Southampton Press. She had a great few years of time attention. I wouldn’t call her life bad or say that she was neglected by any means, but it is impossible to do the things we did with her.

The hardest years for us and jasmine were my daughter’s first eighteen months. I had visions of walking our daughter in the stroller and taking Jasmine along, only to find out that it was dangerous because she twisted around my legs so many times, I almost fell down. And as our daughter was learning to walk, she would get knocked down repeatedly by the dog who wanted lick her face because there was food on it. One time I saw my daughter chewing on what I thought was a teething ring, until I looked closer and noticed it was a doggy chew toy. And most of our daughter’s toys had dog slobber on them, and I stopped even differentiating between baby toys versus dog toys because they became interchangeable.

I can’t say it was good times. My husband never seemed to have the same frustration with the dog as me, maybe because he wasn’t seeing the dilemmas she would cause. He thought I was overreacting, and was just being mean.

I lost my patience with our dog. I would tell people she was going on Craigslist to anyone that wanted her, and was only half kidding. I even asked my parents and sister if they wanted to adopt her, thinking that she would at least stay in the family. I was truly overwhelmed with the responsibilities of new motherhood with a dog. I had concerns about our dog possibly hurting our daughter, but luckily that never happened.

As our daughter got older, things got easier. I saw the joy that our dog brought to our little girl. I also was able to realize just how good of a dog we had, as she never once nipped at our daughter, despite being provoked. Our dog loved our baby, and wanted to love her and protect her the same way that we did.

One incident in particular, opened my eyes to the fact that we should change our dog’s name to Saint Jasmine. One day we noticed that there was something wrong with her. She wasn’t eating, and she was walking sideways, and her body seemed overall stiff. I thought it could be something neurological. Upon bringing her to the vet, my husband found out that she had a sprained neck from our two year old hanging on her and hugging her so tight. She came home with a neck brace and an assortment of pain meds and muscle relaxers for dogs.

We couldn’t believe that despite needing pain management after being significantly injured by our daughter, our dog never snapped. We realized that it wasn’t that we needed to protect our daughter from the dog, but the other way around. We started disciplining our daughter when she would grab the dog. We taught her about being gentle and making nice.

We made sure to give her plenty of belly scratches and ear rubs that night after our daughter went to bed. My husband, our dog and I snuggled on the couch. We remembered when it was just the three of us. We thought about how much time had passed since we became a family, the day we picked her up on the way back from our honeymoon, and how tiny she was.

I cannot say I am sure I would introduce a dog into my family, had I already had kids to take care of. The years that it was just our dog and us, were precious, and she was able to get the attention she needed to be trained and have her needs met. The responsibilities are great in dog ownership, make no mistake about that. But since she was our original baby, she will always have a place in our hearts and our home.

At almost six years old, our dog’s life is about half over. I am so glad that we worked through the rough patch as I became a mom. I will make sure that her second half is as good, if not better than the first, as she has proven to deserve the best.

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