Sheepdog and I were married a little over a year when I had the brilliant idea to get a puppy. I never had one growing up, but Sheepdog did. Plus, I figured that we should test our care taking skills out before I got pregnant with a human. We scanned the newspaper ads and drove out to a farm in Elmer to meet and pick up our new “baby.” He was a chocolate lab with beautiful blue eyes. We named him Max.
Max was trouble right from the start. I thought he was possessed. He chewed everything… shoes, furniture, doors, floors. He dug up plants. I had no idea what I was doing and I was a horrible dog disciplinarian. I was at work all day and Sheepdog was in law school, so Max was home alone for long stretches at a time. He began to hate us for it and he acted out accordingly. Looking back, I should have done so many things differently. I was naive and inexperienced and just threw in the towel. Through Sheepdog’s sister we found a friend in West Virginia who had a 100-acre farm and wanted Max as a hunting dog. No, really. He went to go live happily ever after on a real farm. I struggled desperately with it, but I finally conceded that I was just not a dog person.
Shortly after Max left I got pregnant with Kid A. Then came Kid B. And then Kid C. And a miscarriage. And Kid D. Life was messy and chaotic and busy enough without adding a dog to the mix. None of our houses had pet-friendly yards and I had horribly bad memories of Max still fresh in my mind, so I did not even consider it again until more than a decade later. But during this time Kid B had become obsessed with dogs. I mean crazy obsessed. It was weird. She would crawl around on all fours and somehow make her hands look like real paws. She would bark and make other dog noises that were so authentic that I often thought there was an actual dog in our house. What kind of horribly selfish parent wouldn’t get a live dog for this kid? Me. Because I’m just not a dog person.
In 2006 we moved on Halloween Day to a bigger house with a great yard. The kids quickly settled in to their new schools as I unpacked our things. When the holidays rolled around and I started planning for the big day I got an idea. What if I surprised the kids with a dog on Christmas Eve? It would be perfect! This time I would do it right. No brand-new puppy, but a dog that was about a year old. It would definitely be a rescue this time too. I endlessly researched breeds, talked to dog owners, scanned the internet, and found the perfect dog. He was a 10-month-old vizsla mix named Chex. I thought he was perfect. Sheepdog went to pick him up on Christmas Eve and I kept the kids busy until we could surprise them with the newest member of our family. It was exactly as I had envisioned it… the kids squealed with delight when we told them that Chex was our dog.
Turns out, our dog was too strong for any of the kids to handle him. His freakishly powerful tail was inconveniently at face-height for the children so he kept whipping them all in the eyes. And he was highly excitable and peed on just about everything. He was on top of the kitchen counter with lightning speed. Kids C and D quickly became so fearful of him that they locked themselves in their rooms, telling me through closed doors and tears that they were never coming out again. And it was Christmas Eve. Things calmed down a little and we read the Christmas Story and put the kids to bed. I walked Chex and put him in his crate for the night. He immediately started to howl. Like a crazed wolf. On a night with a full moon. I truly believed with all my heart that Santa would just skip our house that night because Chex would scare him away. I cried myself to sleep with absolutely no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.
Some time in the night I decided that Chex had to go back. We simply could not keep this dog. Half of our kids were scared to death of him and, frankly, I was scared of him too. He was so strong! It broke my heart, but we called the family who we got him from and humbly asked if we could return him. Immediately. Sheepdog loaded him in his truck with his stocking full of new toys and treats and drove off. On Christmas Day. So, that was special. I struggled desperately with it again, but I was reminded that I am just not a dog person.
After the 18-hour dog debacle, I vowed to never again even entertain the idea of getting a pet. My friends and relatives made me promise that I wouldn’t do that to my family or – just as importantly – another poor dog. Then I got pregnant with Kid E. More chaos, more lost sleep, more life.
Fast forward a few years. Kid B deepened her obsession with animals, especially dogs. While she outgrew the acting like a dog phase, she began relentlessly asking about us getting a dog just about once every other month. I told her we’d think about it (lie), but it just wasn’t a good time for us to get a dog (never will be, kid). When I was reading a book about animals to Kid D’s kindergarten class I asked who had pets. Everyone in the class except my kid raised their hand. I felt horrible. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just suck it up and get my kids a dog? They teach responsibility, provide companionship and security, and can reduce stress and anxiety. I was being selfish and a bad parent for not giving those things to my kids.
So I did it again. Oh, yes I did. I researched breeds. I scanned the pet adoption websites. I talked to people who had dogs. I found a beautiful puppy at the Georgia SPCA that I thought would be ideal. Sheepdog was concerned initially, but he just couldn’t deny the many benefits of dog ownership that I was repeatedly pointing out. Very reluctantly, he got on board. We gingerly approached the subject with the kids, making sure that they knew up front that we were just testing the waters. They were over the moon.
I took Kid A and Kid B with me to the shelter. Interestingly, the dog room was set up like a maze but I was immediately drawn to the exact spot where they held the puppy I found online. And not only her, but her litter mates as well. They all had Girl Scout cookie names… Shortbread, Thin Mint, Samoa, etc. They were all adorable, but Shortbread and I bonded immediately. The girls loved her too. I asked about her adoption. Shortbread had been recently spayed and her incision had become irritated. We couldn’t bring her home for at least a week, which was a great thing in my opinion because I still was taking baby steps and I wanted to live with this decision for a little while prior to pulling the trigger. We put down a pre-adoption deposit and they gave me her paperwork. I left the shelter feeling really good about dog ownership. This time I was going to do it!
Until I wasn’t. By mid-week I had developed a significant twitch in my right eye. I kept having nightmares about worms. And vet bills. By the end of the week I was in a full-blown panic about bringing home this puppy. Even though I was reminding the kids hourly that we were still just entertaining the idea of getting a dog (they did not know about the deposit), they were devastated when I announced that we were, in fact, not adopting Shortbread. I was so proud that I put and end to the nonsense prior to actually involving the dog, but I was still the worst mom on the planet.
As protection from myself and any future insanity about dog adoption, Sheepdog swears to never allow me down this road again. He guarantees to forbid it. By now I think the kids have forgiven me. I continue to struggle with it, but I think now I truly understand that I am not a dog person. More than that, I suck at dogs.
Maybe I’d do better with cats. (I’m totally kidding)
Wish me luck for tomorrow…