We had our wonderful dog, Charley, for six years before Abbie and Sam showed up, and like many families headed by infertile couples, he became like a child to us. A lot of "fertiles" shook their heads at me when I would say things like that, telling me it's not the same and I would understand if I ever got to be a mother to a human child. While I acknowledge that it's not the EXACT same, as a now mother of two human children, I can attest that there most certainly ARE a lot of similarities. In fact, being Charley's momma prepared me in a lot of ways to be a good momma to Abbie and Sam. :-)
- He taught us how to protect a vulnerable little one from unnecessary stressors... and to occasionally say NO.
I can't begin to tell you how many times we made the call to leave Charley at home instead of taking him to a family gathering where there would be too many people for his comfort, or decided not to do something fun we wanted to do because he would be spending too much time alone. At Christmas time this year, Abbie and Sam got stressed by all of the visiting we did, and toward the end of the season, we had tuned into their thresholds and signs and were able to turn down invitations or modify commitments to spare them the stress.
- He taught us about responsibility - especially considering his needs when planning outings or vacations.
We left Charley in a kennel once, when he was about a year and a half old. It didn't go well for him (poor baby)... Now, when we travel, we arrange for him to stay with family or we arrange for a pet-friendly hotel so we can take him with us. If we can't find a hotel, or we can't find a willing babysitter, we don't go. Sometimes that means we stay in a less convenient, less "cushy" place, and sometimes that means we don't get to spend as much time exploring the area as we would like. With the babies, we have learned where we can and can't take them on local outings. (The Cheesecake Factory is fine, but they hate Red Robin?) We know we can only be out of the house for as long as we have enough bottles and formula. And the one time we took them out of state, we factored in frequent stops and those hard-to-explain and impossible to avoid baby delays. A usually three hour and forty-five minute drive turned into a solid seven hours... thankfully, we had planned to arrive a day early, just in case. So we showed up at the hotel super-late at night with twice as much stuff as we used to bring, and proceeded to have a terrible night of sleep with babies who were upset in an unfamiliar crib. And we haven't tried to take a trip since! Like with Charley, we learned that they weren't ready and are giving it some time and learning some strategy lessons from last time so that the next trip will be more fun for everybody. :-)
- He taught us what it's like to sacrifice sleep and to nurse, pray, and love a sick "baby" back to health.
When Charley was about three, we almost lost him to a severe form of gastroenteritis. We know he gets separation anxiety, so when he'd already spent the whole day at the vet hospital on fluids, when the vet told us to consider taking him to an overnight vet or to expect to be up all night with him, monitoring and pushing fluids, we said without hesitation that we'd bring him home. And we sat up with him until after midnight, holding him and loving on him Then we slept in shifts, so that one of us was always awake and watching him. We dripped water into his dry little mouth and coaxed him to eat a teaspoon of wet food every couple of hours. It was a long, long night. But in the morning, we took him back to the day time vet, who said that he was looking and sounding much better, and took out the IV catheters she'd left in in case he needed readmitted. It's no secret that new parents don't sleep much, and that sounds really scary to someone who hasn't done it before. I know before Sam and Abbie were born, that was one of the parts that made us most nervous! But like with Charley, it was the most natural thing in the world to sacrifice our sleep and our comfort to take care of these tiny babies who couldn't take care of themselves.
- He taught us how to handle somebody else's bodily fluids without batting an eye.
Once you've housebroken a stubborn puppy and let him throw up in your hands on many, many occasions... dirty diapers - even explosive ones - really aren't that bad. Baby spit up on me? Nowhere near as gross as half-digested dog food!
- He taught us what it's like to take pride in our little ones' accomplishments.
We used to crate Charley in a cage with one of those slide-out plastic trays. Every morning, after cleaning out the crate from the night before, we would put down a clean pad and a milkbone (to tempt him into the cage that night), all ready for the next night and close the door to it so he couldn't get the treat early. I will never forget watching him pull on the tray until it slid out and he could get the bone. I was SO proud and am still completely convinced he's a genius! :-) It's actually very similar to how I felt watching Sam roll over for the first time... and the time Abbie figured out she could pull on my thumb and pinkie and get the bottle back into her mouth. :-)
- He taught us how to love unconditionally (even when it's really, really hard), and how that love compels you to find solutions to potential problems.
Okay. So, I don't think I've told this story in public yet, but here goes. When he was a pup, for a couple months in a row, one week out of the month (*ahem*)... Charley would get very interested in garbage I generated, and very aggressive toward me. He didn't snap or bite me, but he was hostile and "play fought" much too roughly. Ethan and I were worried that he'd keep escalating, and we tried everything we could think of to correct him. We were starting to research dog trainers, even though we weren't sure they could train THIS behavior out of him. (Neutering when he was 6 months old is what made the difference, by the way.) At no point was getting rid of him and option. At no point did we consider giving up on the little guy we had committed to. And now, as he learns to be a big brother to the twins, he is doing a great job interacting with them. He's a little sad sometimes, but we make sure he gets lots of snuggles and treats, and talk to him all day as we're talking to Sam and Abbie. We also got him some calming collars (infused with mother dog pheromones). Even though it can be tough to help a dog learn how to cope when his family changes this much, at no point was not trying an option. :-)
I also have to give a shout-out here to some of our parent friends who so sweetly understood our attachment to Charley while we were otherwise childless. We have a great group of friends that Ethan went to college with, who have... like... 20 kids among them. When we get together, conversation always, understandably, turned to the kids. It was rough on us to hear all the baby talk while we were aching for babies of our own, but these wonderful people always asked about Charley and encouraged us to pitch in dog anecdotes to these parenting conversations. I will always be so grateful to them for that <3 (Melanie, Mark, Missy, Ed, Amber, Ryan, Kristi, Chris, Kim, Steve... we love you!)
Did you have fur babies before human babies? How did you help them handle the transition? What other things have your fur kids taught you about raising the less hairy ones? :-)