I became a puppy-mommy in a nontraditional sort of way. After graduating from college, I moved back home with my parents and younger brother. In return for these rent-free accommodations I was expected to contribute to the housework and caring for my brother (who is in middle school). Seems pretty reasonable, right?
I had a job teaching a few summer school science classes, but when the summer ended I was unable to find a permanent job. Most of my days consisted of preparing applications to jobs and grad schools in between driving my brother to and from school and helping the family with the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. My days were certainly not exciting, but I definitely kept busy and had the hope of somehow finding a job.
In the days before Hurricane Irene hit Connecticut, I was in charge of stocking the house with bottled water and peanut butter. The morning before the storm, my parents announced that they were going to the store to get batteries. Four hours later, they pull into the driveway with an 11 week old puppy. At the time, I was furious. Despite Max’s cuddly cuteness, my parents had made a huge family decision without even consulting me. Since they had neither adopted a rescue dog nor gotten a puppy from a breeder, I also had plenty of guilt about not getting a dog in the responsible way. On top of all of this, we were about to get hit by a hurricane and would now have to be outside every hour or so trying to housebreak a puppy. It seemed like I was the only one who realized the huge sacrifice we were all going to have to make. My parents assured me that the dog belonged to them and would not be my responsibility. Boy, were they wrong.
As the only member of the family who was home during the day, the majority of the dog’s care was left to me. On top of this, we were trying to crate train him and he barked and cried all night long, leaving the rest of us exhausted and grouchy. My brother’s fear of dogs prevented him from being able to spend any time alone with Max, and my mother needed to be out of state for weeks at a time for her job. This meant that my father and I were the only people around who were capable of caring for the new puppy, and my father was at work most of the day. I became the dog’s primary caregiver. It was my job to feed him, play with him, take him to the vet, sign him up for obedience classes, and work on training with him at home. I had to abandon my hopes of getting a job since the puppy could not stay in a crate for more than a few hours at a time. On top of all of this, I was determined to do everything “right”. I became increasingly anxious about whether I was training him the right way or buying him the right toys. I was afraid that something might happen to him like eating a toxic plant or choking on a rock. My anxiety even reached a level where I had to watch him while he was asleep to make sure he was still breathing. Caring for the puppy had become so stressful that I could barely sleep at night.
My sister was my only comfort. Having just gotten a puppy of her own, she understood a lot of the challenges I was facing. Although she lives in St. Louis, she did her best to give me as much advice and support as she could. I honestly don’t think I could have gotten through those first few weeks without her.
At some point during this whole ordeal, I got pretty attached to Max. While I started out resenting him most of the time, I woke up one morning and realized that I had somehow started to love him. I had been so wrapped up in the burden of having a pet, that I had never considered why people get pets in the first place. And coming home to a little ball of fur that is so excited to see you that his wagging tail is just a blur seems like a pretty nice reward. As life with Max became more routine, much of my Max-related anxiety melted away.
Last week when Max was getting his lyme vaccine, the veterinarian said, “It’s ok, Max. Your mommy is right here.” It seemed weird to hear it out loud, since I had mostly thought of myself as a mere puppy babysitter. But when I thought about it, I knew it was true. I was the person who cared for him and cared about him. I gave him kisses and received slimy puppy kisses in return. I was the only person whose commands he actually obeyed (which is a training issue that I will discuss in another post). I was the one who would rather stay home on the couch with my puppy than go out with friends. I had become Max’s mom.
While my family doesn’t necessarily agree with me, I certainly feel like Max is my dog. My neighbors who have only ever seen me walking the dog agree with me, but my parent’s checkbook would seem to support their opinion. I’m uncertain of what will happen when I finally go to grad school and/or get a job and have to move out of my parent’s house, but I hope and pray that Max will get to stay with me. Although the future is uncertain, Max is my baby and I will continue to love him and care for him. I will do the best that I can to train him. And, of course, will chronicle everything in this blog.