A recent blog post over at Cognoscenti caught my attention this week. In her post, Hinda Mandell discusses her reaction to the results of a study in the New York Times this week that dogs have complex emotions, similar to human children. In effect, dogs are people, too. Mandell reports the finding led her to the admission that her dog Nigel had dropped in status after the birth of her first baby. She also realizes “doggie ownership in no way prepared me for motherhood” (Cognoscenti).
Mandell continues that dogs are great companions and need daily care (similar to a baby) but her love for her baby is much deeper than her love for the dog. She argues that caring for dogs, while somewhat laborious, takes minimal effort in comparison to an infant and therefore didn’t really prepare her for the arrival of her baby. When both the baby and dog need her, the baby’s needs are more urgent since the dog is a “big boy” and the baby demands more attention.
I find this topic fascinating because before the birth of my first child I really, really wanted a dog. I regularly visited my local animal shelter and volunteered to walk the dogs, imagining how fun it would be to bring one home. My husband was skittish, though. He is a dog-lover, too, but he didn’t want to commit to an animal when we weren’t sure where our careers would take us.
Fast forward two years and one baby later. I had just finished a 5 a.m. feed and had dropped back into my warm bed with my 8 week old baby curled up in my arms. As a wave of sleep crashed over me I thought: what if I had a dog right now? And that dog wanted to play or be fed or needed a walk at this moment? (Of course, fast forward again another 4 years and I now have three kids, so these delicious moments with my new baby are constantly interrupted by the needs of the other children.)
And yet, I’m still so, so grateful that I never adopted one of those sweet dogs. The two types of guardianship, while both based in pure love and devotion, are completely different. In my life I have loved dogs with my whole heart, but I agree with Mandell that the caretaker responsibilities of a human child are vastly different than those of a puppy, both more arduous and more rewarding. At the time I felt a longing to expand our family, to be loved and to love something back. But it turns out I really wanted a baby, not a dog.
Do you think having a dog prepared you for having a baby?
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