Before I was a parent, I had a dog. It’s a story you’ve probably heard before. The dog was my baby, blah, blah, blah. He went everywhere with me – work, errands, road trips. His patience always rewarded with a toss of the ball wherever we could fit it in. He went to “doggy daycare” twice a week and brought home art projects. School pictures arrived in our inbox monthly. It was a mutually enjoyable arrangement.
Then we had a real baby. And everything changed overnight. Because, DUH, babies. But the thing that didn’t change very much at all despite the warnings, was the dog.
Many cautioned us on the pitfalls of owning a pet post partum: you won’t have the time or energy for the dog… Your love for your child will override that of the dog… He’ll be in the way… You’ll wish you didn’t have him…
That last one cut through my heart like a knife. Surely that could never happen to me. I’d always believed the love a girl has for her dog is absolute. I should know – I’m a girl with a dog. He’s my surefooted sidekick and my unconditional friend. Whatever doubts or worries I’m carrying feel lighter when he’s around. My dog doesn’t care if I cry because I’m a hormonal woman – heck he doesn’t even care that I’m a girl. He makes me feel confident and strong without saying a word. With my dog in tow, I feel capable enough to tackle even the most difficult of tasks. Things like hoisting a 50-lb bag of dog food onto my hip, using a lawn mower, or hiking to the ends of the earth.
Things like motherhood.
Make no mistake – it wasn’t easy at first. He didn’t get as many snuggles or treats or attention, period. During that first sleepless month, I had a recurring nightmare that I’d forgotten him outside in the snow overnight. But it never happened and he was fine, I was fine, and over time, the sun returned and everything turned green once again. Without my trusty companion to comfort me during those early days, I definitely would have melted into a puddle of incompetence.
As babies do, ours became more curious and less cautious when it came to the dog. And the dog began to allow this strange and small new creature into his world. He joined her on the carpet for tummy time. He gave up his ball. He started getting closer and closer until one day, he reached out and licked her face. More specifically he licked her eyeball, but it was close enough. My heart swelled as I witnessed the innocent beginning of something as beautiful as a girl getting to know her dog.
Watching their relationship blossom from tepid friendship to trusted allies threatens to blow my heart right out of my chest some days. He’s her protector, her curious companion, her Hoover, and best friend on four feet. Sure, he bowled her over once in the stroller because I was holding a tennis ball a few feet away. Sometimes his 90-lb. frame is just a little too enthusiastic for her wobbly footing. But then he steals a slobbery kiss or her [very accessible] Cheerios® and she dissolves into a fit of the giggles.
I hope he makes her laugh for years to come. But even more than that, I hope he someday helps her feel confident and strong. That he provides comfort when life gets rough and a soft place to snuggle when she wants to cry. Because when she’s ready to come back out and play, he’ll be there.
Every. Single. Time.