We’d had the puppy for two months when I realized we were in deep. Our little rescue hound-dog mix named Hoot was on our back balcony, and her floppy ears began twitching when she heard a bird singing. My husband and I could see the cardinal in the tree.
“That’s a bird,” Robb said, emphasizing the last word. “Bird,” he repeated patiently as he stroked her little black and tan head.
It had been 17 years since he had spoken that way—back when our youngest son was a baby. I started snickering.
“What?” Robb asked, turning toward me.
“I’m waiting for you to say, `Can you say Bird?'” I shook my head. “Is this where we’re heading now that the boys are gone? Obnoxious puppy parenthood?”
It’s in Our DNA
I already knew the answer. The tendency to baby our dogs is part of our DNA as a couple. When we first got married, we were so over-the-top in love with our two dogs, WeeGee and Katy, that I even made myself want to puke. And laugh at the same time.
I had complete self-awareness that we were pathetic, but I couldn’t stop myself. Back then I called ourselves “Yuppie Puppy Parents.” I remember calling my mother from Bangkok a couple of years after we got married. I wanted her to know which kennel our dogs were staying at while we were gone. “In case anything happens to us, please don’t split them up,” I said weeping. “I don’t think they could take it.”
“Oh, for God’s Sake, you need to have kids,” my mother snarled back.
When either of them nuzzles my neck, I am transported back to the time when my boys were little and would fall asleep on my shoulder.
And we did. Those first two dogs always remained dear to us, but after our boys arrived they assumed a more reasonable spot in the hierarchy of our hearts. They were pals to Gus and Jeb and lived long happy lives, but we eventually moved on after they left our family (though I should mention I slipped into a pretty bad depression after we lost the first of the two, Katy).
But now that the boys are off at college, I can see that my need to nurture and mother has transferred to our sweet canines: five-year-old Jellybean and the new puppy Hoot. I gingerly inspect paws for burrs if one ends up limping and tend to hurt feelings when the two of them fight over a chew toy. I like nothing better than to sit on the sofa with one lying in my lap, even though they’re each almost 50 pounds. When either of them nuzzles my neck, I am transported back to the time when my boys were little and would fall asleep on my shoulder.
Surrogate Four-Legged Children Once Again
I think Robb has it worse than I do. Besides baby-talking to them, he’ll snuggle up with them for naps, positively ecstatic if Hoot wraps herself around him. Whenever he cooks, he makes them treats as well and lets them lick his empty oatmeal bowl in the morning. He keeps track of the puppy’s poop schedule better than any nervous new mother.
Since Hoot’s arrival, I’ve noticed us changing our lives around for the dogs. Just as we did when our boys were tiny and were on certain nap and feeding schedules, we plan outings and dinners with friends based on Hoot—how long we think she can stay in her kennel without a break. We’ve started taking them with us whenever possible, getting to know which restaurants welcome dogs on their patios.
He keeps track of the puppy’s poop schedule better than any nervous new mother.
When we took a recent jaunt to the beach over our sons’ spring break from college, pleasing the dogs figured in almost as prominently in our planning as making the boys happy. We didn’t mind paying a premium for a pet-friendly VRBO rental, and you should have seen us introducing the puppy to the ocean. No, it’s a good thing you didn’t. Just think about how parents react when their baby begins walking and you’ll get the idea. [Insert gagging noise.]
One day at lunch on our trip, our waitress took a photo of the dogs sitting with us at an outdoor table. When she asked if she could post it on the restaurant’s Facebook page, we were as proud as the mom and dad of a star little leaguer. Oh, and the waitress gave them treats too. She sure knew the way to the heart of a person with grown kids, and her tip reflected it.
I have visions of us one day morphing into one of those couples who won’t travel without their pets—the kind you see patiently pacing the patch of green at interstate gas stations across the country, dogs on leashes in tow. The kind who figures out a way to get their dogs classified as service animals so they can sit with them on planes. The kind who are just a bit dotty and ridiculous, buying dog sweaters, celebrating puppy birthdays, getting doggy acupuncture to ease any pains. What am I saying? We’re practically there.