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!
Read more of Aela’s writing at Two Moms Make A Right