I grew up with dogs.
I couldn’t imagine life without them.
We had poodles when I was a little girl. My brothers had terrible allergies and couldn’t tolerate exposure to any hair. Poodles are considered the best breed in this case- hence our toy, MohMoh. I think it was short for something, but exactly what got lost over the years. Mazel was our miniature, as in Mazel Tov- ‘good luck’ in Hebrew. My mother claimed she only got them for us, but as with all pets, they seek out the one who really takes care of them. Not the kids who occasionally pats them on the head or wants a quick hug when they’re low.
As a child, I never understood why they stayed just long enough to get their strokes before running to Mom. She was their true source of food, water, love and attention. Not us.
We all hope pets will make our children more responsible. It’s the excuse we use most often for getting pets. But the truth is, parents are the true caregivers and our pets know it. Just as our dogs ran for their one true love when I was a young girl, years later, my dogs did the same after my daughter fell asleep. But they all stayed just long enough to make us believe we were “the one”. In fact, talking to my brothers and sisters later in life we all thought the dogs loved us the most!
That’s the amazing thing about pets, their unconditional, all encompassing love for whoever is in their sphere. We all felt special. My daughter never knew our little Papillon ran to my bed hours after she’d fallen asleep and then resumed his position in her arms after he was fed, before she awoke!
For those of us devoted pet owners, they’re our babies. I have friends and patients who can’t understand that statement. How can they possibly matter so much, they’re just animals? But for us, they hold a special place in our hearts. When our Sheltie had a rare form of cancer that required removing his leg to prolong his life just a few precious months, my ex- husband and I never hesitated.
As a child my babies gave me comfort and solace when I felt overwhelmed, misunderstood or alone among a family of seven. As a medical student working incredibly long hours where I had no say in what I did, my dog gave me companionship, an ear to talk to and never ending support. As a married couple, our dogs gave us a mutual focus for our love and a calming presence when things got crazy. As a single Mom with a little girl, our pets brought us shared moments, long walks, playful games, and the true definition of true love.
They gave my 3 year old the ability to have conversations she couldn’t have with an adult, cry in their arms for a fractured family she missed, and scold them for not giving her what she wanted. They were confidants that gave her the gift of being able to express herself without the fear they’d get angry or leave- a common worry in divorced children. They helped me, a worried mother, guide her through the healing process. Seeing my cocker spaniel dressed in doll clothes and happily being pushed down a slide brought smiles to both our faces. They also helped me feel less alone and vulnerable when I could barely move after many surgeries. They made it clear they’d never leave my side.
Every one of my pets were family. Gifts given to me at a time when unconditional love was desperately needed and truly valued. The only thing they ask in return is love.
Don’t get me wrong, not every pet is a great fit. Sadly I had one in medical school that I truly believe had it out for me. Really. I lived in a small apartment back then so I’d bought the tiniest dog I could find. It was a five pound feisty little chihuahua. The problem was he hated being stuck inside. Given the chance he’d rush out the door and race around the garden area I overlooked, refusing to come back in. It was horrifying. I was so afraid he’d get hurt and it took forever to catch his flying fur. One night he jumped on the bed, climbed on my chest, looked deep into my eyes. . . and peed! I was in shock. I was absolutely sure he’d done it out of spite!
I had no idea what to do. How do you take on the responsibility of a pet and then give him away? I just couldn’t do it. But clearly we were both miserable. A dear friend of the family solved the problem. She had a large backyard and offered to let him join her large family of pets. He was never happier.
Thankfully that’s the only time I wasn’t in sync with my pets. My daughter grew up with an 8 pound Papillon (like a Pomeranian) and a King Cavalier. Willy, the Papillon, spent more time showering my daughter with attention and love. The Cavalier- Charley- was more my sweetheart. He was my blanket, there through most of my surgeries, showing me comfort every step of the way. When I hurt and had to get up and move, he was always at my side. In bed he hugged me close while being careful not to crush or hurt me. He gave warmth and love throughout my recovery, letting me know I was never alone.
After almost 15 years, they both passed away in 2018. It broke my heart. They were the end of an era. The only dogs my daughter truly knew. I’d always had pure breeds, thinking I could count on their size and personality. One day after Charley passed, I was shopping at Petsmart for Willy when I noticed they had rescue dogs seeking homes. The moment my eyes saw Daisy (she was called Arizona then) I was in love. They told me she’d been abandoned at the dog pound, pregnant for the third time. As if it was her choice and not her owner’s. The wonderful people who saved her and her babies were now left with Mom after the litter was adopted. She’s a chihuahua mix, around 3 or 4 years old, with the sweetest face and biggest heart. During our cold spell this winter I learned she likes to burrow deep under the blankets and sleep in a cocoon at my side. Other times she cuddles in my arms, always needing to be near.
When my Papillon passed a few months later I knew I had to find another sweetheart needing a home. Once again I looked into rescue facilities. The people who run the facilities are amazing- they are willing to save, love, and then provide homes to abandoned or abused animals. That’s when I saw a 4 month-old retriever mix and knew he was destined to come home with me. He’s since grown to be a 20-pound boundless, incredibly loving baby boy I had to name Lovey-since that’s all he shows- unfettered affection.
All my pets have enriched and improved my life in ways I never thought possible. Helping me through the toughest times where they were the only constant I could depend on. I saw them brighten up my little girl’s face and bring joy to tough times she couldn’t understand or control. So those moments when they eat my decorative pillows thinking they’re just another chew toy, mark their territory by peeing in my favorite shoe, or come inside the house and then immediately leave me a warm disgusting pile of. . .I look in their sweet faces, unconditionally adoring eyes and remember why I’ll love them forever, no matter what.