By Heather Cabot, The Well Mom
It was a purely emotional decision. I couldn’t resist their big brown eyes, scrunched up faces and wagging tails. Puppies! My ticking biological clock chimed in, too. If I wasn’t having a baby any time soon, I could take care of these two little fur balls. How hard could it be after nursing and potty training my twins not too long ago? And of course, there were the eager little faces of my two kindergarteners begging us to bring two new friends to our new suburban home. Those city kids had been bugging me for a dog since the day we landed in our new life outside Manhattan. On a fateful day in December, we brought home two 11 week old pups and our house turned upside down.
Alvin and Cookie, two designer dogs who really were just fancy mutts, found a loving home with us. But this home was not prepared for the responsibility of raising them. The first night was bliss. We crated them together with soft blankets and toys. But when I woke up at 4:30am the next morning to rush them outside to the yard only to discover I was ten minutes too late, it was apparent that this would not be an easy ride.
Alvin quickly became the favorite. He was the first one to respond to his name. Cookie seemed reserved. She didn’t want to play a lot and seemed to tire easily. When the kids and I took the puppies for their first vet appointment, we found out why. Poor Cookie was suffering from two parasites. This we discovered after I received the ultimate initiation into the pet club — gathering a fecal sample for the doc. And I didn’t even get it right the first time. Yuck! I didn’t realize I had to drop it off within four hours. So I stuck the plastic cup in my purse in the morning, planning to drop it off later that afternoon. I walked around all day with it in my bag, praying it wouldn’t accidentally open or fall out somewhere. And when I finally raced back to the vet to drop it off, the receptionist told me it was way too late. She smiled and handed me another cup. Ew. The biggest problem was how to time the drop off of the poop between walking the dogs at 5am, getting everyone up in my house at 6:30, giving my kids breakfast, giving the dogs breakfast, walking them, walking the kids to school and hightailing it home to my car to get the sample to the vet within the four hour window. This should have been my first clue that pet parenthood was not as easy as I thought.
The pups seemed to be okay when we crated them. They liked being together. But when we discovered Cookie was sick, I had to separate them. My son discovered that the dogs liked the radio on. So while we ran around in and out of the house, I kept the music going. One day, I found them hanging out listening to of all things – a classic rock station. Who ever thought puppies would like Foreigner or Journey? Random. Then one day, I played the Goldberg Variations on my iPhone speaker and we found they would fall asleep easily to the bright notes of Bach. So that became the routine. Classical piano all day for the dogs. They were happy. But I was suffering from severe sleep deprivation and stress.
I put the dogs on a two hour schedule. Every two hours I took them outside to eliminate and get some exercise. I felt like I could never get anything else done. It was like a trip to the grocery store was the most I could accomplish. We hired a dog walker so I could take the kids to a birthday party one Sunday afternoon and a Channukah party another night. Suddenly, our lives revolved around whether we could arrange pet care.
Then, one day, when I went to work in the city for just a few hours, I came home to find Cookie extremely lethargic. Our housekeeper had taken her out earlier and said she didn’t seem right. Cookie did not want to do anything but sit on my lap and be held. She wouldn’t eat or drink. I was really scared. I called the vet and brought her over immediately. In a few moments, the doc diagnosed her with dehydration and called for an I.V. I cringed as I watched my sweet puppy cry while the vet and her assistant pumped fluids into her tiny four pound body. The next thing I knew, I was racing to the pharmacy to pick up yet another prescription. Only when I got to the neighborhood CVS, they told me that I needed a compounding pharmacy. What? I sped over to the only one I knew in town – all this before I had to meet my other kids at the end of the school day. I had never heard of ordering animal prescriptions at people pharmacies. But apparently, this is normal. Of course, the other pharmacist told me they could mix up the drug BUT it wouldn’t even be ready for 24 hours! I was getting a stomach ache. I had a sick dog. I had just watched her get pumped up with fluids and I was scared I was doing everything wrong.
And it turns out that even as I nursed my little black and tan Peagle (Pekinese Beagle) back to health, I was doing everything wrong when it came to socializing the dogs. Because Cookie was sick and Alvin could have contracted her parasites and possible Kennel cough, they weren’t allowed to get their shots. So they were home bound. We thought it was cute when the dogs rolled around together and played. I was treating them like twins — walking and feeding them together. I even got them a play yard for the basement just like the one we had in our kitchen for the twins. But when a very knowledgeable dog trainer came on the scene, I was told that I was doing a major disservice to the pups and our family. Gary, a K-9 expert, explained that when the dogs only interacted with each other, they weren’t learning the hierarchy of our family and that could set the stage for big behavioral problems later on. He advised me to separate them and put the puppies on individual schedules. Now I wasn’t just walking them together every two hours. I was actually caring for one dog every hour and alternating. This was not what I signed up for. And then, with the crazy new schedule, I was cancelling activities and play dates for the kids because we had to constantly rush home to care for the dogs. All this as my husband worked late and I ended up doing the last walk in the dead of night and the first walk in the pitch black of morning.
I wish I could tell you that I powered through. That’s typically been my motto of motherhood. Grit my teeth and dig in. But this time, I felt that as much as I loved the dogs, they were taking over our lives. I was snapping at the kids and my husband. I was constantly rushing everyone to finish eating or get out the door or back to the house. Meantime, Alvin and Cookie really needed attention and time to walk around our home and go through the process of house training without being rushed in and out of the crate. So with a heavy heart, I succumbed to my husband’s advice that we find a new home for my new babies. I cannot recall a decision in recent memory that made me feel so much like I had failed. We did find them new homes. But I broke down when we packed up the crates, toys, pet shampoo, soft and hard food, brushes, clippers, leashes, collars, treats and every other accessory we bought to make them comfortable. I cried coming home to a quiet empty kitchen this week. It was so hard to let go. I felt like I was giving up on the dogs and myself. Every time I look at bare corner where the crate used to sit, I get a little choked up. I told my mom I think I’m getting a taste of what my empty nest will feel like in a decade or so. On the other hand. I’m sleeping now. I’m back to exercising. I’ve checked homework, read to the kids uninterrupted, made dinner, watched TV with my husband with full attention instead of watching the clock for the next walk.
I share this story for two reasons. First, the motto of The Well Mom is to take care of oneself. The addition of two new living breathing beings into our home made it impossible for me to do this. I once went for two days without showering because I just couldn’t get a minute to myself to do what I needed for me. That’s bad. The experience made me grateful for the little bit of time I had to squeeze in a workout or time for me before we added two more to our household. Second, I wanted to share this as a cautionary tale. It was a selfish thing to do – to bring home those puppies without full consideration of what their presence would mean to our family. It was a tough learning experience for all of us. I hope that looking back my twins will remember that we cared for two sweet sick dogs for a short time and nursed them back to health so they could go on and have a full life with an owner who had the time to devote to them. I hope they will respect just how much responsibility it is to care for a living thing and know that they themselves deserve my undivided energy and time.
I don’t think we’ll get another dog or furry pet for a while. But we’ll be shopping for some fish come the weekend.
Do you have pets? How do you balance your family and your animals?