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I never expected to love my quiet moments of solitude at the dog park quite so much.
I never knew that dogs are kind of particular about which other dogs they befriend and run with or wrestle. Sure they’ll sniff any dog’s rear ends, shamelessly, but they tend to wait until a dog who’s at least a little bit special comes along until they put their whole hearts into the chasing or the grappling or whatever interaction they deem appropriate.
I never understood how the varieties of dogs are endless, like humans, and how dogs come in so many shapes and sizes and colors. At least at our dog park, perhaps because it’s in South Arlington, the dogs are quite diverse.
I never realized how many tiny feathers were inside a pillow that a dog could chew to shreds. (I will be finding little feathers in my office for years to come.)
I never anticipated how much like a sibling a dog could be to my children, and exactly how they would each respond to her.
I never knew how pleased I would be when my dog pooped or peed. I had no idea how similar the urine-soaked laundry would be between potty-training children and a house-breaking dog.
I never thought about how much pet ownership is like parenthood in terms of admission to this completely new world where you look around and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and you’re just making it up as you go along. It’s a club I never especially cared that I didn’t belong to, but now I do. It’s like stepping into the wardrobe and through to Narnia–it’s been here all along but I didn’t quite see it.
I never imagined we would find a dog as sweet and gentle and affectionate as Daisy, who is so perfect for our family. She doesn’t jump on us, but she always wants to be pet or to snuggle. She sometimes thinks she’s a cat. She’s a little anxious, but then so are we. She’s a lot of work (but so are we sometimes) and definitely worth it.
Perhaps naively, I did not anticipate how much like having a new baby adopting a dog would be. Having had two babies myself, I can say with assurance that there are many differences between new humans and new animals entering one’s life, but a surprising number of common themes.
- Your standards (or at least my standards) for cleanliness, hygiene, and what I’m willing to look like in public may shift. Or plunge into embarrassing depths. I remember when Zoe was born she would spit up a lot and at some point I would say to myself, “well, there’s not a LOT of spit-up on my shirt…I can go out like this.” Eventually you have the presence of mind to clean yourself up a little more, but some permanent damage is done in terms of what you will tolerate.
Suddenly I have become a person with dog hair on her clothing. I imagine people might look at me and think, “Did you not realize you have dog hair all over your shirt?” The answer would be yes, but I had several more pressing things to do than locate the lint roller and remove it. And if you see someone out walking in the early morning who looks like a thinner Michael Moore, that would be me, with a baseball cap and a hoodie, and possibly pajama pants, taking Daisy out for a constitutional.
- Your eyes are opened to the extraordinarily enormous and somewhat unnecessary variety of products you can buy. A few days after we brought Zoe home from the hospital, Randy and I went to Babies ‘R’ Us to pick up a few supplies we realized we needed. When we walked in I’m sure our bloodshot and sleepless eyes widened in shock at the absurd number of choices of every baby product you could ever need, and many that you really don’t need at all but you might just buy anyway in a moment of confusion.
I found PetSmart to be the same experience. There are so many brands of food and within each brand so many flavors and then different kinds for different ages of dogs, and different breeds of dogs, and dogs with different kinds of medical conditions. There are dry foods and wet foods and organic foods, and single serve pouches in case you’re packing a lunch or snack for your dog when she goes off to school. There are so many treats and snacks and chew toys. Some of the chew toys say “for light to moderate chewing” or “for heaving chewing.” How do you anticipate precisely how much your dog will want to chew on a given toy? A main difference between baby products and pet products is that many of the products designed for dogs seem to be bacon flavored. I’ve rarely seen a bacon-flavored pacifier.
- You have entirely different feelings about your dog than about anyone else’s dog, no matter how much you like another dog. Your baby and your dog are instantly special and important in a way you never understood before they were part of your family. I am not saying I am at the point now that I love Daisy like I love my children, but a strong connection forms quickly. One moment this dog is one of dozens of dogs in a sea of rescue animals, and a week later you’re looking soulfully into the dog’s eyes trying to understand what she’s thinking.
- You’re somewhat confused at first. Just like a baby’s behavior changes from day to day and week to week, so does that of a rescue dog, we have learned. According to the vet and our trainer, Daisy may not reveal her true personality for a few weeks or longer. She hasn’t barked once. Will she ever bark or remain the strong, silent type? Who knows? At both my kids’ early pediatrician visits and Daisy’s first visit to the vet, I arrived with a notebook in which I had written a long list of questions about Daisy and what to expect and how to best take care of her. It’s good that our pediatrician and our vet are patient people.
For the first five or six days Daisy was here, she didn’t really touch anything that didn’t belong to her, except for unexpectedly eating the head off a sunflower (I was in the midst of texting my cousin about Daisy and thankfully she assured me with a quick ASPCA web search that sunflowers are not toxic to dogs. Then one night she quickly and enthusiastically tackled the chew toy she had previously ignored, completely shredding the tennis balls that were threaded onto the braided rope. She started gnawing on the rope too. And then she looked around and realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of chewable things. We had to move fast. This morning when we were trying to get out the door to go to church we could only locate one of Zeke’s sneakers. It turned out that Daisy had the other one and had been nibbling on it. Zeke was exonerated and we realized we would have to have a new plan for shoe containment.
So far she hasn’t jumped on anyone at all. The first couple nights she was here she tried to jump up onto the table during dinner to see what she could eat, but we dissuaded her and she hasn’t done it since. She still certainly lurks around the table and pokes her head into our laps, but no jumping.
Until tonight, when she was lying on the couch and she noticed that Zeke had left his seat, leaving his plate of chicken pot pie unguarded. Swiftly and boldly, she leaped over the back of the couch. Luckily Randy’s lightning quick reflexes kept Daisy from completing her mission and Zeke’s plate remained safe. But we were surprised to see just what Daisy was willing and able to do.
- You experience these small moments of bliss. Any parent or pet owner would be lying if she said all of this wasn’t a whole lot of work. And expensive. And messy. But every once in a while you have a moment. With your baby it’s that feeling of contentment after they finish nursing and fall asleep on your breast, or when they’re nestled under your chin, or when they smile or laugh for the first time and then you can’t get enough of that joy.
With your dog it’s on a walk in the woods, watching your dog just stand absolutely still, listening to the bluejays and sniffing the air, thoughtfully observing her new world. Or when she snuggles up to you on the couch, resting her head and one paw on your thigh, laying claim. Or when you see that elusive tail wag that says she’s having her own little rush of happiness that hopefully means she’s starting to feel at home.