Thursday, May 9, 2013

The truth about cats, dogs and kids

I am an animal lover. Regular readers know that we share our apartment with two cats, Lucy and Siren, and with Lila the Dog. Because we have an urban pooch, we meet a lot of other dog people, which is usually great.

But at least once a month, some person with a new puppy will declare, in all seriousness, that it's just like having a kid. 

I always laugh and say, "Except it's not. You can leave your dog at home unattended."

Not so with a human child. Have to pop to the store in a freezing rain downpour? You've got to bundle up baby and take him with you, or find some medium to full sized human being to watch him. Baby sitter bails and you need to get to work? You'd better have a back up on speed dial.

I'm stunned that more than half the people who make the "dogs are as much work as babies" remarks really dig in, press their case. They say things like,"The puppy can't hold it through the night," or "He cries a lot," or my special favorite, "The sleep deprivation is just as brutal."

"No. It's not," I shrug. "And if you can't get your dog to sleep through the night within a week, you are doing something wrong." (Likely thing they're doing wrong: the puppy was too darn young to leave its mama.)

None of this should surprise me. We anthropomorphize pets. I'm guilty, too. I don't patronize non-food local businesses that don't welcome Lila the Dog. And just last week, I read about a dog wedding. But they aren't nearly as much work as kids. Ever. For one thing, dogs and cats sleep a lot, and they're happy to lounge and watch what the people are doing, quietly. I've had many productive work from home days with Lila crashed out in my office. Working while the Grape is home and awake? Total nonstarter.

Pets don't outgrow their clothes every six months. Nor do they require formal education beyond sit and heel. I don't stress about the quality of the cats' school choices or whether the dog has enough age appropriate play mates. None of the fur kids have ever embarrassed me in a restaurant or thrown an hour long tantrum over not wanting to be somewhere (soccer, last week).

The dogs-are-just-like-children exchange usually results in the dog parent taking his/her tennis ball and going to play with someone else. But one woman this morning wouldn't let it go. "If you aren't going to love your dog like a child, why do you have her?"

(Face palm.)

I should back up and say the conversation had turned to the subject of chemo. Or rather, old dogs and chemo. I said that I wouldn't put an elderly Lila through that. The lady looked at me as if I'd proposed skinning the dog to make a coat in manner of Cruella de Vil.

With animals, I believe you always need to ask, "Whom am I doing this for?" A dog doesn't understand why you're injecting it all the time, or why it's in pain. In cases where there's no hope for recovery, or we're talking about an expensive and difficult treatment that will buy a very small amount of time (and with a fifteen-year-old dog, it's going to be a short amount of time), I don't see the point. Not for the Fur Kids, as R. and I often call them. Frankly, if I were quite old, and the Grape was all grown up, I might not put myself through certain medical treatments, if my doctors agreed the prognosis was bleak.

For a human child, the calculus is totally different. I'd go to the ends of the earth to find the best treatments for my kid if he were gravely ill.

I understand about loving an animal.

To this day, my longest elective relationship (25 years) was with a horse, a horse I loved so much that when her sporting days were over, I retired her to a friend's farm an hour outside the city, at great cost in terms of both money and time. I trekked out there several times a week to hug and kiss her (the horse, not the friend). The Grape's very first non-physician-related outing was to visit the horse:
Jenda, age 32, Julian, age 3 weeks, and Me, age old enough to be called an "advanced age" mom on my hospital chart.
But when one weekend, Jenda, age almost 33, developed a painful infection, and the options were euthanasia or an operation with very little chance of success, I had no qualms about choosing the former and holding her head as she slept away from an overdose of barbiturates. Then, I hid under the covers (as much as a mom to a newish baby can) for almost a week and cried, but I never for a moment doubted I had done the right thing.

Lila the Dog is a rescue mutt. I would never buy a dog. When up to four million healthy dogs and puppies are destroyed every year in this country, I think paying for a designer pup veers towards gross.

We call Lila an Arkansas special. She's eighty pounds of Lab, Chow, maybe German Shepherd, and God knows what else. She makes all of us smile every day. Her upkeep involves a significant amount of effort (she gets walked five times at least per 24 hours, she takes pills for her thyroid twice a day, she sheds like it's her job). But none of this holds a candle to the work of caring for the Grape, and I always kind of wondered at all the people who marveled that I had the stamina to adopt a dog when the Grape was one.

"Less work than a second infant, and plenty of people get those," I used to say.

But I digress. I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity while talking about pets to make a plug for rescue dogs.

Rescue dogs are the best; they seem to understand that you saved them. Lila has the patience of a saint, and puts up with the Grape and his friends hanging all over her. We should have named her Nana, after the dog in Peter Pan, because I have no doubt she would lay down her life for my kid. She and Lucy the Cat (the artist formerly known as Lucy the Kitten) are inseparable, even though Lucy never lived with a canine before:

Important aside to those who worry about mixing rescue dogs and kids: I have two points. 1. A puppy is a puppy is a puppy. If it's born at a shelter/with its mama at a shelter, it's not going to have the abuse and neglect issues some older rescue dogs can exhibit. 2. Don't fall in love with a photo. Instead, work with the rescue personnel to choose a dog for your family based on temperament. Most shelter dogs aren't abuse cases, and don't have those hard to fix fear issues. (The folks at Wynne Friends of Animals found us the perfect match.)

Lila sleeps in the bedroom, on an orthopedic bed, and the cats sleep at my feet. The Grape, to his chagrin, has no master bedroom privileges. Lila eats treats home baked by a friend's mom. When we travel, I have a house sitter move in so Lila, Lucy and Siren don't need to deal with the stress of boarding.  They are, by any measure, indulged animals.

I love the fur kids and they receive excellent care at all times. But to say they're as much work as a human child, even the world's healthiest, easiest human child, is idiocy.

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