Saturday, August 27, 2011
Growing Up With Dogs
I had a dog growing up. My husband did, too. So when our children started begging for a dog two years ago, we knew that eventually we would cave and get them one. After all, we’d had the chance to have a dog when we were little, why shouldn’t they?
In an effort to put off the inevitable, we told the kids that they would have to prove that they could be responsible dog owners before they could get one. They did that and more. Natalie started reading every puppy training book she could get her hands on. They started walking, feeding and bathing a neighbor’s dog on occasion, even picking up the large dog’s poop without complaining. They researched the cost of dogs online and started holding lemonade stands for their dog fund. They declared that if we wouldn’t get them a dog, they’d buy it themselves.
When I was young, we did not do any of those things. We got our dog Benny from a breeder. No one even thought about training him. He was a wild, crazy lab who bolted when the door was open, jumped up on visitors, sometimes peeing on them if he was too excited. My mom fed Benny, my brother and I walked him from time to time, but mostly we just opened the back door and let the dog out. We didn’t boter to pick up the poop for a long time because the lot was so large we could go for weeks without visiting the waste minefield in the backyard before finally having to grab a shovel and clean it up. When we did walk Benny, he would drag us down the street. He never heeled or sat on command. He would beg at the table and get anything he wanted. He was so pampered (mostly by my mother) and so convinced he was a human that he would protest if we went to McDonald’s and he didn’t get a burger and fries. That was my experience growing up with a dog. It was hardly a learning experience for either the kids or the dog.
I realize now that my children’s experience is already much different. My brother and I have fond memories of our dog, but we didn’t really learn or grow with him. As a family, we never did anything to raise Benny – training him, correcting bad behavior, incorporating him into the family – we changed our family completely to fit him.
With my kids and their dog – a loveable rescue puppy named Frannie – the learning started even before we found her. Initially, because I have so many, many allergies, we had to find a dog that I could live with without going into anaphylactic shock every time I petted it. That sent my children directly onto the internet, researching breeds that were hypoallergenic. I received many emails from them of pictures of cute dogs that wouldn’t make me sick. The girls, like hover parents, are overly prepared and responsible for their pet (although I am waiting to see how long this lasts). I see them being responsible and thoughtful in ways that I had not seen before, engaged and playful as they train and learn about their dog. They worry about the ground being too hot for the dog to walk on (we have had 100 plus days on several occasions this summer). They even wipe her face after she eats and her bottom after she does her business (I know that is silly and won’t last either but it is a hilarious sight and I will let it continue as long as it can. I need to get my laughs where I can). They fix Frannie’s food, bathe her and brush her with great care after her grooming. Natalie turned to me the other day and said, “Mom, I love having someone to care for.” I looked at her and thought, “So do I.”
Frannie has brought a new joy to our house, in some ways familiar to the happiness, newness and apprehension we felt bringing home a new baby for the first time. And as my dear friend Carol said to me when I told her about our new puppy, “It might be a little more work, but it’s cheaper than therapy.”