The first few months that I had my dog Lucca were rough. I adored her, make no mistake, but training a two-month-old puppy is no joke. I would set my alarm for the middle of the night so I could walk her, as her tiny bladder wasn’t yet prepared to hold it all night. And while I was crate-training her (a fantastic method, by the way), she had more than a few bathroom accidents indoors. One time she peed on my bed three times in one day, always after I had washed the sheets from the previous accident. The impact on my social life took some getting used to as well; she needed to be walked right after work, which meant I had to skip happy hour regularly, and I couldn’t stay out late much those first few months either. But you know what? She grew up and became better trained and, most of all, I adapted. It really wasn’t a big deal. Very quickly I realized I couldn’t imagine my life before her or without her. She’s my baby.
Of course, she’s not a real baby. I want one of those very, very badly and am hoping to have a child of my own in the next few years, either with a partner or “Murphy Brown”-style. Regardless of how it happens, the child I have will be joining a family unit that includes Lucca. I’ve written about how it’s hard to imagine loving any creature as much as I love Lucca, but I also inherently understand the love for my child will be “bigger” or at the very least different. But I do not expect my love for Lucca to lessen. And I know I won’t ever reach the point of not loving her, despite what Allison Benedikt, a dog owner and mom of three, writes in her Slate essay advising future parents to never get a dog.
It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. And I am not alone. A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog. This is a near universal truth, even for parents with just one child, though I have more.
I probably should have stopped reading after the whole “very nonscientific survey” part, but I couldn’t help myself. So what’s so bad about being a pet owner when you have a kid? According to Benedikt, all of the usual dog owner duties — walking them, dealing with their shedding fur — become seemingly really, really impossible to manage when you have children. The barking is more irritating, cleaning off his dingleberries becomes less, uh, pleasurable (?), and I don’t know what else, because Benedikt actually spends more time in her essay describing the things her kids do that drive her batshit. (Though her essay doesn’t describe any particularly difficult or unusual behavior from her dog or her kids.)
I cannot in good conscience tell you every thing I think on the subject of my dog Velvel. Yes, there’s more. I can only say this: To all you young couples, thinking, “We should get a dog!” “I love you, let’s get a dog!” “We’re not ready for kids, but what about a dog?!” — don’t get a dog. Or, if you do get a dog, don’t have kids.
I don’t doubt that having kids and a dog makes for an even more complex period of adjustment, but Benedikt makes it sound insurmountable. And the ease with which she has seemingly discarded her affection for her dog — to the point where she expresses little care or concern when a vet says the dog has liver issues — on top of the dramatic whining she does about parenting, seriously makes me question whether the love she has for her kids is tenuous as well.
A friend of mine who has both a dog (George) and a two-year-old daughter had this to say when I sent her the link to Benedikt’s piece:
I feel like George made me a better mom. We had to set so many boundaries — as the dog trainer put it, set him up for success — that I think it prepared us for the harsh reality that having a kid means spending lots of nights at home or forking over the dough to pay for a sitter, being used to sharing the responsibility, etcetera.
I don’t yet have the experience of being a mom, but I do know that the last seven years with Lucca have taught me selflessness and patience. She has filled my life with love, comforted me when I’ve been sad and sick, made me laugh like nothing else, and shown unwavering loyalty. And that goes both ways, no matter what.