Monday, July 29, 2013

What Pets Add

Please, if you're juxtaposing this post with the one I wrote yesterday, remember that this is a "web log" and what I'm thinking about today just happens to be less important than what I was thinking about yesterday. It happens.

But this article pissed me off. In it, Allison Benedikt says that people shouldn't have kids and dogs at the same time.


My favorite comment so far comes from "Fundog:"

Don't blame the smart, loyal, loving family dog for your inability to manage your damn life.  

I know that Allison Benedikt just had a baby--her third--and she's probably feeling overwhelmed, as almost all mothers of young babies do. She's not sleeping properly, and she's having to deal with the reconfiguration of her family, as well as the honest to goodness demands of three children under the age of five. 

But her experience is not universal. We had Darwin before Boo came home, and we spent months getting him ready. Where before he had spent dinner time sitting on the couch with me, smelling my breath to see what I was eating, and then the rest of the evening sprawled out next to me on the couch, we taught him--before the baby arrived--that he was no longer allowed on the couch. We brought him to family events so that he was exposed to toddlers. We let him see and smell all the new baby stuff we acquired, and he spent a long time investigating our luggage when we returned from our first trip to Russia. 

We did our best to prepare Boo, too. After all, there were no dogs (or cats, for that matter) in her Baby Home. We included pictures of Darwin and Henrietta in the family album we left behind after our first trip. 

When Boo came home, we introduced them carefully to each other. We made rules for each (Boo, once she became mobile, was not allowed on the dog bed. Darwin could not come on the blanket we put on the floor for Boo to have tummy time.) and we plunked Boo into her stroller every afternoon so that we could take Darwin on his walk.

Henrietta passed when Boo was two years old, and we didn't get another cat right away. There were many reasons for this, but certainly the fact that we had a young child and hadn't yet decided whether there would be additional children was a factor. That's a decision you can make when you don't have a cat. We did end up getting Cat about a year later. When Darwin died, we didn't delay. Wonderdog joined our family almost immediately. 

It is true that Darwin didn't get the same kind of attention after Boo arrived that he did before. Nobody in my life enjoys the kind of attention from me that Henrietta got when the two of us lived alone together. But I think he lived out his days happily, and I know that Boo is better off because she lives with pets. In addition to the well-documented health benefits of living with pets, Boo has learned a lot about sharing our attention, paying attention to the needs of others, and responsibility. At 9 years old, Boo is now able to clean the gerbil cage, walk the dog, and will soon be able to change the litter box. She helps to train Wonderdog and comes with me to dog shows. And in losing two pets (so far) at two different developmental stages, she is learning how to cope with loss, too.

Having a pet isn't for everyone. Dogs, especially, require a great deal of time, attention and training. The adoption of a pet is something that should be thought through carefully, especially if one has or is planning to have small children. But there are many benefits--to children and adults--to having a pet, and those benefits should be considered as well.

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