I’m Sorry, Your Dog Is Not Your Baby


I was meeting a friend for coffee whom I had not seen in some time.  He was in town for a short visit, and we took advantage of a free afternoon to catch up.  After the preliminary hello’s and how are you’s, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend had suffered the loss of their baby.  I was devastated.  How had I not known that he had had a child, let alone had lost that child?  And then he clarified; the baby in question was their dog.

Ugh. Not this comment again. I hate it when people say that. Of course I was polite and asked about his dog, but I was not happy. I mean, there are so many things wrong with the statement “My dog is my baby.

The first, and most obvious one, is this. Your dog has parents. His parents are other dogs. If your dog could talk, he might mention that his mom and dad are other dogs, not you. He could also say that he is an adult dog, not a baby. He is housebroken, weaned, and capable of basic self-care. For all I know, he might point out that he doesn’t like dressing up in adorable clothes and going by Fluffles Scruffles. You never know.

The second is that your dog is a dog. He is not a human. He doesn’t want what humans want or think what humans think. He flourishes best on dog food and not on people food. He would probably rather play than snuggle a lot of the time. From what I’ve heard from people who have trained dogs, they generally see their owners as pack leaders rather than parents. After all, dogs do not usually keep up close relationships with their parents once they’re grown up.

Third, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, it’s no wonder you have no respect for parents. Think of all those people who disdain babies, who react to a baby’s cry with “Why don’t they keep him quiet?” Do they think it’s as easy to keep a baby happy as to keep a dog happy? When I introduce my son and people say, “Oh, I know just what it’s like. I have a dog baby,” I feel insulted. You just said my son is the equivalent of a pet. Thanks so much.

Fourth, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, you’re not going to be prepared if you ever do have children. Dogs need to be fed a couple of times a day, let out to go to the bathroom (and sometimes trained to go at the right time and place), walked, brushed from time to time, and played with. Babies need to be fed at least every couple of hours. They need to be changed very frequently. They don’t sleep through the night for a long time. They sometimes cry inconsolably and need to be rocked, even for hours. Their needs are constantly changing and all-encompassing. I keep hearing from parents who are shocked at how hard it is. Sure, it’s demanding, but I wasn’t surprised by that. If I’d thought it was like having a dog? Yeah, I’d definitely have been unprepared.

Fifth, call me an animal hater, but I think our responsibility is first to our own species. I do love animals very much. I believe that it is wrong to cause suffering to an animal, and that you should never kill an animal — or even cut down a tree — without reason. I believe that we were given the earth to be stewards, not owners. We should care for it like a trusted property manager would, not like a bunch of college students trashing a rented beach house. If you’re going to take on the responsibility of a pet, you should give that pet what it needs to live a happy, fulfilled life.

However, if you aren’t able to do this for your pet, it doesn’t make you a horrible person if you have to find a new home for him. It’s called being responsible. I read on one on-line forum some time ago the complaint of a pregnant cat owner. She said she wasn’t able to give the cat the attention she used to, and the cat was getting very anxious and licking all the fur off her paws. She was considering finding the cat a new home. People commented on her post angrily, “When your baby is born, if he’s too much trouble, will you just give him away to a stranger?” I’m sorry, that’s different. Your child is your own flesh and blood. Your cat is not.

If you believe in evolution, you understand that, for the survival of our species, we are hardwired to produce offspring and to protect them. Taking care of a dog or other pet and saying it’s like having a baby is “faking out” your instincts, convincing them that you are reproducing when you’re not.

For what it’s worth, I have two dogs. They are  members of our family and I am very fond of them. I make sure to spend some time with them every day, walk them, play with them, and keep their sleeping area, food bowls and yard clean. They gets their snuggles, and they have a warm spot to nap in. But they are NOT  on the same level as my kids.

It’s just a pet peeve of mine; I know many people who call their dogs their babies don’t really mean it’s the same. It’s just an expression of affection and a tease about how needy their dogs are. But some people really do think it’s the same, and that bugs me.



A Veterinarian’s Story

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane
might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said , ”People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”
The Six-year-old continued,”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”


A Golden Retriever Saved My Life

Seven years ago my father passed away.  He was my best friend, my confidant, and my co-conspirator when it came to getting dogs.  When I was very young, we could not have a dog as my older brother was quite allergic.  When we would go to our cottage for the christmas holidays, and my brother was old enough to stay home alone, my dad would go to the nearest SPCA, adopting a dog for the two weeks we were there.  When it was time to come home, we would find a friend who could adopt the dog permanently, and give it to that family.  Many of my friends got amazing dogs this way and many dogs got wonderful homes.  As soon as my brother moved out for good, I think it took about 5 minutes before he was replaced by a stunning black mutt named Sadie.

As we learned about different aspects of different breeds, we both fell madly in love with the Golden Retriever.  Long after I was married and out of the house, my dad got a beautiful boy named Barclay, and he and I shared the dog.  Barclay was my dad’s, but I was his best babysitter, and we enjoyed 11 years of co-ownership.  

When my dad passed, I felt very lost.  It’s amazing how you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel so alone.  And then while looking through pictures one day, I got the bright idea to look on different breeder’s websites and see what kind of golden retriever’s might be looking for homes.  I ended up talking to a breeder who had an 8 month old puppy who was available.  With 4 kids at home, and an older german shepherd, my husband was understandably insistent that we could not bring another dog into the house, but for the first time ever in my life, I did what I wanted to do, and not what was expected of me.  I told him I was going to pick the dog up, and all he had to do was help me to introduce the two dogs.  In the time it takes to say “you want how many dogs?” Oscar was an integral member of our family.  That was 6 years ago.

Everywhere I take Oscar, people fall in love with him.  He is a gentle giant, handsome and sweet.  My daughter says he is the canine equivalent of Jeff Bridges, and I’d have to agree.  From the moment I brought him into our home, I started to heal.  I could almost hear my dad telling me what a beautiful dog he was, and I could sense him smiling at the pleasure my youngest children got from him.  Today is Oscar’s 7th birthday.  Time has certainly flown, and the acute pain caused by my father’s passing has certainly eased.  I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t had him there by my side to help me grieve, and luckily I don’t have to worry about that.  So happy birthday my big, sweet boy, thank you for all that you have given me.

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