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Lessons Learned from Our First "Baby"

I know, I know. All the parents out there with human babies are already rolling their eyes saying, “OMG, you can’t even make the comparison between a dog and a baby!” And don’t worry, I’m not going to try to. But that’s not to say that having a pet before becoming a parent doesn’t provide valuable lessons. I mean, after all, you can’t learn to read and write until you first learn the letters of the alphabet.

So for us, Darla — our dog — has been the ABCs to knowing if we can handle the responsibility of a breathing being besides ourselves. The lessons, small as they may seem, have taught us a great deal about ourselves, and Darla has become our “gateway drug” to parenthood.

It began one day in March of 2011. Sara and I rescued Darla from a kill shelter in Tennessee and adopted her through our not-so-local ASPCA. I was terrified. We knew we wanted to save this little pooch, but were we ready for the responsibility? We are both very independent people who lived by the seat of our pants since before we even met. What would a dog do to our spontaneous spirits? Did we even know how to take care of a dog? What about vet bills? Dog sitting? House breaking? The expense of food? Toys? Pet gear?

We find ourselves asking these very same questions now about getting pregnant and planning a family. Well, almost the very same questions. Obviously, we’re not concerned about dog-sitting issues with our baby. But daycare, on the other hand, yes.

Darla taught us the first steps of being responsible for and having to answer for something other than ourselves. The time was short, but with her we experienced our first sleepless nights when she was a puppy. We learned what it meant to have to decline a social-event invite for the first time (and numerous times thereafter) because we couldn’t find anyone to watch her. I learned how wonderful Sara is at nurturing another, how caring and gentle she is — and how patient she is. And how impatient I am, though that wasn’t really a new revelation. However, having Darla has certainly helped me improve my patience.

Darla has helped us learn what that fear is like when someone — or something — is under our care and gets sick, and how to handle those situations in which they are at their most vulnerable. She’s taught us what it’s like to put the needs of another — of someone who is relying solely on us for care — ahead of our own needs.

I’ve been so impressed with the way in which Sara interacts and cares for Darla, that having this little pooch of ours has allowed me to see a side of Sara that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. And it’s a side that has led me to realize just how wonderful of a mother she will be (not that I really ever doubted) and just how badly I want to have a family with her.

So Darla has been our “baby steps” to a baby. And while I’m sure that after we become mothers we will laugh at the day we compared taking care of a dog to raising a child, but for now: This is what we know. And we’re so happy that Darla has been able to be a little glimmer of light into what our world as moms will look like.

Naturally, like any proud mother, I’m compelled to share a little “brag book” of our first “baby.” Enjoy her cuteness!

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  • Darla, Day 1 1 of 13
    Darla, Day 1
    This is one of the first pictures we took of Darla after we got her. Sadly, the very first picture of her was taken from a camera phone that has since been lost. She was 8 pounds the day we adopted her. She is now fully grown at 48 pounds.
  • Lovin’ the Country 2 of 13
    Lovin' the Country
    Darla is undoubtedly a country dog. She loves all things wild, and just adores visiting my family in the country. We've been told she is a Treeing Walker Coon Hound mix, with what we do not know. But it matters little to us, as we love her in all her mutt-ness.
  • Her Other Mom Made Her a Water Dog 3 of 13
    Her Other Mom Made Her a Water Dog
    When Darla was a wee little one, Sara really wanted her to become a swimmer. I was doubtful. Darla was very hesitant and a bit scared of the water. But, without giving up on her, Sara coached Darla into the water and now she just LOVES to swim.
  • Darla’s First Time at the Beach 4 of 13
    Darla's First Time at the Beach
    Darla was 7 months old when we took her to Martha's Vineyard for the first time. This photo is of her and Sara having a blast the first day we arrived. Darla has never braved the ocean, but she just loves the sand! My two girls here, love them both so much.
  • Giving Kisses 5 of 13
    Giving Kisses
    Darla is a Love Bug, for sure! She has warmed our hearts so much in the year and a half since we rescued her. When she was a pup, we let her cuddle on not in the bed with us, but we quickly realized how much space she takes up! It's certainly made us think about the baby sleeping with us, and we're excited to cross that bridge when we come to it.
  • Darla, the Fashionista 6 of 13
    Darla, the Fashionista
    Before we knew it, Darla grew into this long-legged pooch, and Sara thought she'd look adorable in winter sweaters. And, well, she was right! Darla doesn't give us a hassle at all about her winter wardrobe and she hasn't ever tried to chew or twist her way out of her sweaters.
  • Darla Walked us Down the Aisle 7 of 13
    Darla Walked us Down the Aisle
    Sara and I eloped last October (yes, with an entourage and photographer), and Darla was there with us! This picture was taken as we were arriving to our elopement destination, with our two good friends and my parents in tow.
    Photo: Tamme Stitt Photography
  • One of the Bridesmaids 8 of 13
    One of the Bridesmaids
    Darla was extra proud the day her two moms got married. It's like she knew how important the day was. It was very special to have her with us.
    Photo: Tamme Stitt Photography
  • Do You Think She Knows She’s Beautiful? 9 of 13
    Do You Think She Knows She's Beautiful?
    Like I said, she was extra proud on that fine October day when her two moms eloped. Tamme, the photographer, got some wonderful pictures of our little Darla Doodle Noodle Bean.
    Photo: Tamme Stitt Photography
  • Tulip Festival 10 of 13
    Tulip Festival
    Every year, Albany hosts The Tulip Festival, and I happen to think Darla looks great with purple tulips as a backdrop. Someone told me she seems, "Regal" in this photo, and I couldn't agree more. We took a picture of her last year with the tulips, and MY! How she's grown!
  • Tulip Festival 2011 11 of 13
    Tulip Festival 2011
    Isn't she such a peanut in this photo? It's hard to believe this was only one year ago! Sara, along with teaching Darla to love swimming, has also trained her to pose pretty darn well for photos. Our little pooch is much more of a lady than either of her moms.
  • That Face! 12 of 13
    That Face!
    Darla rides in the back of Sara's Honda CRV, and this is what we see more often than not in the rear-view mirror. Darla just absolutely loves to be with us and as close to us as possible, and this is as good as it gets for her while we're traveling.
  • Our Protector 13 of 13
    Our Protector
    Darla is the best hiking companion these two moms could ask for. She's often on the lookout, and guards us from fellow hikers. If only she knew they were no threat! Occasionally, she'll bark at the passers-by on the trails, but mostly, she greets them with a lick, or is too preoccupied following a scent to even notice them.

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