My pug Frankie had yet another near death experience this week. Frankie laughs in the face of cats with their meager nine lives. He’s enjoyed 18 and counting. This time Frankie ate a tube of intensive strength Desitin that someone had carelessly left within his reach in the presumably harmless 20 minute window reserved for taking her daughter to mother’s day out in the morning. When I walked in the back door after dropping off my daughter, the unmistakable aroma of Desitin smacked me in the face, and I knew instantly what had happened.
I called the vet to seek guidance, and they advised that I should bring him in immediately as he was projectile vomiting Desitin, and zinc is toxic for dogs. I, in my infinite wisdom, thought Frankie would probably just sleep it off throughout the course of the day. After all, he is a dog, one of nature’s heartiest creatures, and not only that, Frankie is a dog who ate 25 sizeable river rocks and lived to tell about it (sans surgery).
And so I went on about my day until it became very clear that Frankie was really in distress. He couldn’t keep water down for five minutes without throwing it back up. So we both walked into the vet with our tails tucked and were admonished that they had been expecting us all day. As we sat waiting to see the doctor, Frankie constantly pawed at my legs for reassurance. I was wearing shorts and his razor-sharp claws were scratching my legs pretty deeply. I kept batting him down and absent-mindedly petting him between screen refreshes of my Facebook news feed. About 45 minutes into this wait, I finally looked down at my dog who had probably not taken his eyes off me the whole time we were there. His muzzle is graying, his eyes are muddled. How long had it been since I really looked at him? Where was my little bright-eyed, unstoppable pogo stick of a puppy dog? When and how had this dog, who was once (along with his brother Rocco) the very center of my universe, become such a sideshow? Where did we go wrong?
The existence of this mysterious morphing of the pet/parent dynamic was something I was keenly attuned to prior to having children, and I think most of us remember watching the sad consequences unfold in the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp. Although I was aware that some new parents found themselves suddenly uninterested in their old, backyard-scented pets after their new, powder-scented baby crossed the threshold, I never had the slightest inclination that such an experience could happen to me. It was inconceivable – truly inconceivable – that I would ever fall victim to such an unconscionable act of emotional neglect.
I was, after all, the girl who worried during my pregnancy that I would never be able to love my baby as much as I loved my dogs. I actually lost sleep over what I feared would be my inability to lavish my new baby with adequate attention since so much of my heart already belonged to my beloved puggies. The boys, as we call them, were members of our family in a very real and tangible way. They regularly went to doggie daycare to frolic wildly with their best doggie friends which I know because I spent an inordinate amount of time watching them during my work day on the daycare webcam. My dogs have had more laser treatments than I have, and they have seen doggie ophthalmologists and a doggie neurologist. We took them camping with us in the Adirondacks, strolled together down the beautiful streets of Boston, and took them out to eat at the most chic and dog-friendly restaurants in town. I used to sing my dogs customized bedtime lullabies until they couldn’t hold their drowsy eyes open anymore. My dogs were spoiled dogs. Not a need or desire went unmet. Not a day went by that they weren’t lavished with attention.
Fast forward a few years to the day when we were preparing to bring our daughter home from the hospital. I was naturally very concerned about how the dogs would react to this new intruder on their territory and had thoroughly researched how to mitigate any distress on their end. I had my mom bring home a baby blanket from the hospital prior to our arrival so that the dogs could familiarize themselves with her scent before we came home. Once we arrived, I asked my husband stay in the car with our daughter so that I could enter the house by myself. I had read that coming in without the baby to greet the dogs enthusiastically would help set the right tone before the introduction of the baby.
The dogs adjusted splendidly to the new management in the house. They never once showed any sign of resentment towards the baby nor did they shy away from me. And I, in the beginning, very deliberately guarded my relationship with them. They were no longer the center of my universe, but they weren’t very far removed from it either. And when I look back, I’m not sure when or how that changed, but it did.
The sound of their nails clicking across the floor as they follow me (my little shadows, as my husband called them) is no longer melodious, it is grating on my already shot nerves – another reminder that I will probably never again in the history of the world not have someone wanting something from me. The foot licks that I used to love getting from Frankie are now major annoyances. I just want to be alone during what precious little “down time” I manage to score. Rocco and I gradually fell out of our routine of him putting his paws on my legs to stretch as soon as I opened the crate in the morning. My mornings are now too busy for little indulgences like that. Our walks grew fewer and fewer until they disappeared, and my evening lullaby sessions soon became reserved exclusively for my daughter.
My dogs did nothing to deserve this weaning of affection and care. If anything, they have earned more as they patiently tolerate my two children pulling on their tails or trying to ride them like ponies or shoving plastic hamburgers in their mouths for “lunch.” My dogs have never snapped at anyone. They have never wavered in their devotion to me and continue to win the affection of everyone they come into contact with. People cannot help themselves when they see my dogs. They gush over them, and my dogs love it. The caretakers at the vet remember them by name (probably because we’re among their best customers) and invariably gush about what sweet dogs they are. Everyone adores my dogs. Everyone except me.
I am not proud that my dogs have fallen to such a low place on my emotional priority list, but I also can’t say that I cannot fathom how it happened. Having a baby changes everything. It creates such a seismic shift in your life that believing that your relationship with your dogs will escape unscathed is probably naive at best. What I can say is that I am grateful to have had the protracted wait at the vet’s office so that I could see my dog as I used to: a sweet, loving little creature who is looking to me to be his protector, his provider, his primary source of love and affection. It was an awakening of sorts, and I don’t intend to take it for granted. If you have pets and small children and are just not feeling like you have the same passion and energy for your animals that you used to, don’t worry, I understand and am clearly in no position to impart judgment. But if my words resonate with you at all, I encourage you to come along on this journey with me. Love, like most things, can be a decision you make. At least for today, I am committed to loving my boys. I’m going to kneel down, look them in the eye and greet them by name. I will pet them intentionally and scratch their tickle spots. I may not be able to tote them around to the coolest spots in and out-of-town anymore, but I can do a better job showing them how much I love them. And today I will.