The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 28, 2008


Misgivings aside, a pet makes family life happier, not harder

Exactly two years ago, I wrote an essay about my resistance to acquiring a pet. At the time, I felt that keeping my household of people up and running was the best I could do; I believed I had no time or energy left over to care for four-legged creatures.

Sitting at my desk now with a thermal heap of soft fur draped across my feet, it’s hard to imagine that feeling. Sure, I remember thinking that a dog would be a lot of work and create some extra untidiness to clean up, but how can you compare that with a soft nose rummaging under your elbow as you work?

Several months ago, another publication I write for assigned me an article about the online site, which matches would-be pet owners with orphaned animals. My children had been asking for a dog for months, and in researching this particular website, the snapshots of canines shaggy and shorn, black and yellow, spotted and brindled, wore me down. By the time the story made it into print, we were two weeks away from the arrival of our new pet.

We based our choice on age, size, gender and approximate breed, though that last category turned out to be somewhat irrelevant since Belle contains so many different genetic droplets that even our vet will speculate only that she is a mix of many kinds of terrier, with a whippet thrown in somewhere along the way. Not able to meet our future pet ahead of her arrival, we relied on the chemistry we felt with her online snapshot and a long phone conversation with her foster family, who described extensively her characteristics, preferences and habits. (And if that sounds like too much of a leap of faith, let it be noted that thanks to the rise of online matchmaking, I have friends who have chosen their spouses on a flimsier basis than that – in their cases, there was no foster family to interview by phone.)

The last time my husband and I brought a new dog home was the day after we moved into our first house, years before our children were born. She was a good dog who remained with us until she died five years ago, but I’m finding the process of integrating a pet into the household to be so much easier this time around. With no children when we got our first dog, I found the responsibilities of caring for a pet to be somewhat daunting: the medical attention, the dietary vigilance, the exercise schedule, the clean-up. Now that I’ve shepherded two children through babyhood and toddlerhood and well into their elementary school years, the needs of a dog seem trifling. She eats the same thing at every meal. If she wakes up during the night, she turns around twice and goes right back to sleep. It took her all of two days to learn where and when to relieve herself, as opposed to my children, who averaged out at 3.5 years to pick up that same skill.

And she’s just so easy to please. A brisk morning walk in the fields makes her calm and relaxed for the rest of the day. Bounding through the house with a toy for about three minutes satiates her need for entertainment for a good three hours. When I’m on the phone, she sometimes puts her head on my knee to be patted, but she never pleads to talk to whoever is on the other end. Just like me, she loves long walks, and she never asks to stop along the way for a snack at Ferns (though she certainly would if she ever suspected it was a possibility).

Of course, I wouldn’t want to stretch the point too far and be unfair to my children. They have talents no canine can replicate. Belle has never painted an autumn scene to hang on my office wall (but she’s also never signed her name in crayon directly on the wall itself). She doesn’t offer to help fold laundry, as my six-year-old does (but she also doesn’t wear my best clothes to play dress-up). Unlike my children, she never inquires as to whether I had a nice day (but unlike my children, she also never fills up our dinner hour with endless stories about imaginary friends or recess kickball games).

What I didn’t realize when I wrote that essay two years ago was that dogs are a wonderful complement to children, rather than an additional responsibility to carry. It is a delight to watch my children learning to love and care for their new pet; it brings out a side of them that I wouldn’t otherwise get to witness.

So it was overall a great decision, and I’m glad I took on the assignment that led us to Petfinder and to Belle. Journalists generally need to stay objective, but in this case, it was a good opportunity to fall for my own story. Despite my misgivings of two years ago, life with a pet suits us just fine.

Unlike my children, if Belle disagrees with that sentiment, it’s extremely unlikely that she’ll ever write her own memoir telling her side of the story. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito