You can call me ‘Annie’s mom’

I had just left my dog at the vet’s office for surgery. I was walking down the aisle at the Fred Meyer store looking for chocolate chips when a familiar-looking woman saw me and yelled, “It’s Annie’s mom!”

I smiled. “Yes, it is.” Let the other people shopping around us think what they would. Does it matter that our ‘kids’ are dogs?

Dog moms connect wherever they are. This woman had joined the crowd in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic while Annie and I were waiting to check in. Annie raced over to greet her. She just knew this was another dog mom, and ooh, she smelled good. As the dog mom waited for $200 worth of dog meds, she told me about her three pups, including a big Lab a lot like Annie. I never learned the woman’s name, but her Lab’s name Walker.

Like Annie, I love dog moms. I don’t have much experience as a mother to people, but dogs I understand. I admit I can get a little obsessed. Catch Annie and me alone together and you’re likely to hear me tell her she’s the best dog in the world, that I love her soooo much. I’ll rub my face against her fur because it feels so good. This week, she has a cone-shaped collar blocking her movements and keeping her away from her stitches. The tumor she had removed may or may not be cancer, so I’m worried.

When a friend was visiting the other day, I realized that I was being just as distracted and disgusting as human baby moms can be. I kept watching the dog, interrupting the people-talk to ask Annie, “Does it hurt? Are you thirsty? Want to go out? Did you fart?” Call it mothering. Call it taking care of a friend recovering from surgery, but my first thought these days is always “Where’s Annie?” and “Is she okay?”

Friends who have been watching her while I’m working report that she worries every minute until she sees me again. What if I never come back?

Although the typical household contains at least two humans, there are a lot of single women whose life partners are big dogs. I think of Episcopal priest-friend Susan Church, who is rarely seen without her two big hounds, my late friend Jill Baker, whose dogs were her constant companions, and my friend Orpha Barry, who for years traveled with a massive Akita named Sgt. Pepper.

It’s different with little dogs, which remain like babies. I met a friend with her four-pound pom-poodle mix at the vet’s office yesterday. She obsesses about that dog, talks baby talk, buys it tiny clothes. That’s fine, but I prefer big dogs you can hug hard without hurting them or spoon on the sofa when you’re both weary.

Big dogs provide protection as well as wonderful companionship. With their superior hearing, they detect invaders before you do, and with their big teeth, they scare them off. Annie would probably invite a burglar in and give him big kisses, but a criminal can’t tell that by looking through the window at her 75-pound hulk while she’s barking and growling.

Annie, 11, is considered old. People keep telling me she won’t be around much longer. I’m trying to enjoy every minute with her. Annie follows three other big dogs I loved, Heidi, Belle, and Sadie. When she goes, I’m not planning to get another big dog. My aging body can no longer handle such a large creature. If I get another dog, it will have to be small enough for me to lift in and out of the car. I’m thinking once Annie is gone, I’ll need to move to someplace where I’m surrounded by people who can help me when trouble arises—like this weekend when I had to go to urgent care and was told I should not drive myself. Annie doesn’t drive. I called the neighbors. The childless widow thing gets tricky sometimes. But for now, it’s Annie and me in the woods.

I’m drawn to stories about women with dog partners. A few suggestions: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, Part Wild by Ceiridwen Terrill, and Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness by Anne LaBastille.

Also try Dogs and the Women Who Love Them by Allen and Linda Anderson. I haven’t read it, but it sounds good.

If you know of other good books—or movies—about women and their big dogs, please share in the comments. Are you a dog mom with fur clinging to your clothes and saliva smears on your car windows? Tell us about it.

Men, don’t feel left out. You can tell us about your dog bond, too.

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No, my dog is not my child substitute

Annie 9215AAnnie turned 11 this month. My dog, the blonde in the picture up above, has been my companion since my late husband Fred and I adopted her and her brother Chico at seven weeks. She weighed six pounds, the same as I weighed when I was born. She was a baby then. Now Chico is gone (long story, click here), and Annie is an old dog. Her muzzle has turned white, her knees are held together with plates and screws, and she’s covered with fatty lumps. In dog years, she’s older than I am now. We only have a few years left, if we’re lucky.

Is Annie my baby, my child, a substitute for the children I never had? No. There are occasions when I get called her mom, times when I might even call myself that, but her mother was a dog, not a human like me. Although we understand each other very well, we don’t speak the same language. I am responsible for her care, but she will not grow up and become an independent adult who might carry on my name and my traditions. She will not drive me to the hospital when something goes wrong. She is a dog.

We are partners in our life here in the woods. Together, we cope with the snow, rain and occasional sun. We eat together and we snuggle on the love seat while I write, watch videos or talk on the phone. She takes me on a walk through the woods every day, rain or shine around 3:00. She knows that’s when I’m ready to leave my desk. We know each other’s ways and rhythms. But she is not my child.

Annie will eat poop, plastic, pens, and paper clips if I don’t stop her. She wakes me up when the thunder scares her. She insists on constant belly rubs. She won’t let me eat without sharing. But she’s a lot less annoying than some people. Plus she’s always up for a hug, and she thinks I’m wonderful. How many 11-year-old humans are that agreeable?

I know there are people who consider dogs and cats their fur babies. I wrote about them in my Childless by Marriage book. Some go so far as to dress them in coats and sweaters and push them in baby strollers. They give birthday parties for their pets. I don’t do that with Annie.

Do I tell Annie she’s the best dog in the world? All the time. Do I tell her I love her? Constantly. Do I take her outside and make sure she goes potty? Every day. But she is not my child. She’s something different but equally wonderful. She is my friend, and I thank God for her.

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What is your relationship with your animals? Are they your children? Do they make up for not having them? Do your parents accept them as “grandchildren?”

Are You Childless by Marriage Like Me?

Annie 9215A
Babies? What’s that?

Dear friends, I’ve hit a wall. After 11 years, I feel as if I have told you everything there is to tell. Because I’m childless, widowed and aging, spending my days with people well past menopause, I’m completely out of the baby/no baby loop. It’s just me and my dog Annie riding this spinning globe together. I can write endlessly about the neighborhood dogs and Annie’s upcoming knee surgery, but I rarely interact with children or young parents except on Facebook, with a “like” here and a “love” there.

Being childless means that while my friends are either visiting their children and grandchildren or hosting them at their homes this summer, it’s still just me and Annie. It would be different if I lived closer to my family or they were the kind of folks who actually got together. My father and I often have telephone conversations like this:

Dad: Have you heard from your brother?

Me: No. Have you?

Dad: No. He never calls. Have you heard from anybody else?

Me: No. In fact, I had to call myself to make sure my phone could still receive incoming calls.

Dad: Don’t your friends call?

Me: They text.

But my dysfunctional family is beside the point. I’m living in a  green forest bubble with  my dog. I have nothing new to say. But I have no intention of quitting this blog. So let’s talk about you. I surrendered my chance to have children before many of you were born. Times were different. I want to know how it is for you now. Let’s start with this:

What brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog? Do you consider yourself childless by marriage or fear that you will be? What’s going on? How can we help?

Please share in the comments. Let’s get this conversation going.

Thank you all for being here.

 

Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.

Childless dog-mom takes pooch to church

IMG_20170605_120334609[1]Taking your dog to choir practice must be a lot like taking your toddler to work. By the time it’s over, you vow, “Next time, I’ll get a sitter.”

Annie, 74 pounds of Lab-pit bull love, had knee surgery a week ago today. It was done out of town, very expensive. Now she has a long incision with 13 staples that I have to keep her away from until next week. She is wearing a big blue inflatable collar that looks like a life preserver. She has so many pills I have organized them in days-of-the-week pill boxes, and I have orders to keep her from running, jumping or playing. Right. She can already put weight on her injured leg and she wants to go, go, go.

Choir starts at 7 p.m. At 4:30, we were sitting out in the yard when Annie rolled around on the grass enough to dislodge her collar. A little push with her good back leg and voila, it was off. Oh no! I jumped up and forced the collar back on before she could fight me.

Please God, let her keep it on, I prayed. We still have seven days to go. We ate dinner. I slipped one of Annie’s blankets into the back of the Element and put the seats up so she’d have room to relax. When Annie realized she was going for a ride, she went nuts. She ran, she jumped, and she nipped my arm with her sharp teeth. Unable to jump into the car, she waited for me to lift her. So heavy! I could feel my spine crumbling under her weight.

Before we got to the end of our short, one-car-wide block, Annie had shoved her head between the seats, trying to get up front. Another car was coming the other way, waiting for me to move while I was fighting back the dog. Sorry! Just as I eased around the other car with an apologetic wave, Annie eased out of her collar. Naked dog again. Damn!

I pulled into a neighbor’s driveway, climbed into the back and wrestled with my dog to get the stupid collar on. She wasn’t interested in wearing it anymore. I couldn’t blame her, but I knew she’d be licking and biting her staples as soon as I left her alone. Taking her to choir is a bad idea, I thought, as I clicked her regular collar back on and sealed the Velcro around her balloon collar. I should just stay home. But I had been home constantly since I brought Annie back from the hospital on Thursday. In addition to choir, I needed to return my library book, pick up my mail, and buy a few things at the store. “Lie down!” I ordered the dog. As I drove, I could hear her nails clicking as she walked around. Every other minute, she shoved her face up next to my arm. “Down!”

Post office. I literally ran from the car to my box, grabbed my bills, and ran back. Library. I stopped at the drive-through return, leaned way out the window and let the book thunk into the box. Grocery store. Race down the aisles, glancing constantly out the window to check on the dog. Grab strawberries, bananas, lettuce, cookies, a bag of flour, try to find frozen yogurt, can’t, no time, hurry through the checkstand. Senior discount? Yes, please. Out with my bags. Oh, thank God, she was still in the back. But footprints and nail marks on my choir book showed she had tried to get into the driver’s seat.

Okay, church. Nobody there yet. Annie was going out of her mind with excitement. I helped her to the ground. She dragged me all over the grass and pavement. She did her business. She nosed bits of garbage, chewed on weeds, sniffed at doors, shoved her head into the bushes.

The other singers arrived. “Oh, how cute,” they said, all wanting to pet my dog. Annie dragged me from person to person. They stroked her and talked baby talk to her. They praised her for being such a good dog. They thought she was healing well.

“How is Mom?” someone asked. I let my tongue drop in a sign of exhaustion. My spine was all jumbled from lifting and restraining the dog. My clothes were covered with fur. I had a wet spot on the breast of my blue shirt where Annie’s water bowl tipped over while I was moving it. My arm was bruised where she nipped me.

Annie settled down as we did the readings and started to sing. But when we decided to adjourn to the sanctuary so we could try some of the songs with the organ, Annie dragged me ahead of the others through the vestibule and across the altar to the choir loft. “Slow down! It’s church!”

She raced up the steps, trying to sniff everyone at once. As the organ sounded. “Holy, Holy, Holy!” the dog settled down below us, smiling her doggy smile and panting percussion as we sang. Finally. Peace.

That fell apart when we went back to the chapel to finish our practice. I drained my water bottle to fill a plastic container with water for Annie. She lapped it up, the sound reverberating off the skylight and stained glass window. Then she dragged me to the door. Need to pee. So did I, but I couldn’t leave Annie to go to the restroom. We walked around the yard while the singing went on. Annie and I were there, but it was all about the dog.

After choir, a friend held my stuff while I lifted the dog back into the car. Oh my back.

At home, we each had a snack before we settled on the loveseat with my tablet to watch a TV show. Annie nestled up against me and fell asleep, softly snoring. “I love you,” I whispered. And I do, but this single-parenting business is hard.

Stitches or not, she’s staying home next week. At least with a dog, you can leave them at home for an hour with a bowl of water and a doggy door.

I don’t know much about motherhood, but I have seen that for mothers, it’s all about the child. If the child needs to stay home, you stay home. If the child needs to be fed or changed, you abandon your own needs to feed or change him. If the child acts out in public, you pray everyone understands. At the age I am now, I don’t know if I could be a real mom to a little human. I don’t have the stamina or the patience.

Would I have been up for it when I was young? I’ll never know. But I do know that we need to forgive our loved ones with kids if they seem to go nuts for a few years and don’t have time for us. Forgive them and offer help. Maybe, at least for now, those of us who don’t have children are supposed to help those who do. Try it.

My niece, who is single, recently became a foster parent to a four-year-old boy with special needs. This week, she took in a baby. God bless her, I don’t know how she does it. God bless all who play the mother role in whatever form it takes.

 

When the longing to hug a baby hits

I’ve become the weird old lady who borrows other people’s kids—or at least their dogs.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to snatch anybody’s human children, even though the babies occupying the pew behind me at church the last few weeks are so cute I want to take them home. They’re both about six months old, both Hispanic. The little boy has stick-up hair like Little Richard, and the girl has the sweetest squishy face. So far, both have refrained from tantrums and loud crying. I just want to hold them against me for, oh, forever. I know they’ll grow up into the wiggly kids and bored teens I sing to on Wednesday nights in the religious education program, but right now, I envy the moms and dads who get to hold those blanket-wrapped babies.
Meanwhile, there’s Harley. I have written about Harley, the yellow Lab across the street before. Now he’s a little over a year old, 100 pounds, and so massive he makes my 70-pound Annie look small. He still galumphs and spins in circles, and chews on anything he can find. He spends most of his days in the yard, unattended, with only an electric fence to hold him. He gets a shock through an attachment on his collar when he crosses the line. But when I come outside, he  runs right through his fence. I hurry over to pet and hug him and lead him back to his own yard. I admit that sometimes I go out just to get a Harley hug. He’s always there. When I go out in my car, the last thing I see is Harley standing in the street looking sad because I’m leaving.
When Annie and I come out for our walks, Harley zooms across the street. He and Annie nuzzle and kiss and jump. I tell Harley he has to stay, but he rarely obeys. Time after time, I have taken Harley back across the electric fence and bellowed, “Stay!” but it doesn’t work. As soon as we start down the road, I hear him come after us. I walk him back until he gets tired or his owners notice the commotion and grab him. Yesterday I gave up. “Come on,” I said, and Harley joined us on our walk.  
What fun! Harley, unleashed, ran back and forth across the street, fell behind and ran to catch up, walked side by side with Annie, and gave me big wet kisses. It felt like I had more of a family, me and the two dogs, one toddler, one six-year-old. I was proud of both of them and ready to claim Harley as my own.
When we returned to our street, we met my neighbor in his truck looking for Harley. He looked pretty angry. He muttered about tying up his overactive dog.
“Go to your dad,” I said. Harley jumped into the truck and they drove away. It was back to just me and Annie. So quiet.
Today when Harley is outside and his folks aren’t looking, I’m going to grab myself another Harley hug. You can’t do that with other people’s babies. Did you know teachers and others who work with children are not even allowed to hug them for fear of child abuse? But dogs, oh yes, gotta hug the dog. And if he wants to walk with us? I might say yes. Maybe I’ll get permission first.
Short of kidnapping, where do you get your baby fixes?  

Taking care of Annie feels like mothering to me

I’ve been mothering my dog today. She has yet another ear infection, despite repeated home treatment. The doctor pointed to her floppy ears and said she’s a “poster child” for ear infections. Sunday, she started scratching her ears and shaking her head, sulking in misery in-between. I kept looking at her ears and couldn’t see the problem, but it was worse yesterday, so I called the vet first thing this morning. Out with the work schedule. Annie is more important. I have some things I should see my own doctor for, but not when my baby is hurting.

Annie is always happy to go for a ride, but as she began to realize where we were going, she started shaking. I drove with one hand and held her with the other. At the vet’s office, she ran up to the counter and greeted the receptionist. Then she leaped onto the padded seat to sit next to me, putting her paws in my lap and her head on my shoulder. She was trembling. I held her and tried to reassure her, especially when other dogs cried out from beyond the closed door.

Finally it was her turn. I told the lady vet about Annie’s symptoms and what I had been doing for them. I held my dog as an aide took her temperature and the doc swabbed gunk out of her ears to have it analyzed. I got instructions for medicine and ear wash, and we talked about Annie’s diet because my pup’s getting a little chunky. I’ve been giving her too much chow. Am I measuring her food, the vet asked. Uh, no. This diet is going to hurt me more than it does my dog.

Annie gobbled a few dog cookies, I paid the bill, and we walked out together, her tail wagging, my bank account bruised. I foresee a lot of difficult sessions getting medicine into Annie’s ears, but I will do it. I will let her shake goo all over my clothes, just as I let her lick my face and jump in my lap–all 81.5 pounds of her–because I love her, and it’s my job to take care of her.

If that isn’t mothering, what is?