My childless dog and I face old age together

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April 10, 2008

Fred and I adopted two 7-week-old puppies last week, and it really feels as if I have two babies. They’re the same weight as babies, have the same needs, and fill the same needs in my heart. Last night, my church choir surprised me with a puppy shower. There were two baby blankets, but of course no little onesies. I did get dog treats, chew toys galore, balls, wee-wee pads, and lots of advice. There was a gorgeous white-frosted cake with big red flowers on it. This may sound totally nuts, but it felt as if I had received something I’d been waiting for all my life. I sat on the floor of the chapel opening presents and soaking it all in.
As assistant director, I was surprised that there had been a wave of e-mail that didn’t include me. Those sneaky singers.
Puppies are certainly not the same as humans. They won’t take care of you in your old age. Conversations are rather one-sided. And they poop and piddle on the floor. But for the childless woman who wanted children and didn’t have them, they’re one way of filling that emptiness.
Has anyone else found that to be true? What other ways can you feed the maternal need? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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I wrote the above in 2008, shortly after my late husband and I adopted 7-week old puppies Chico and Annie. Those dogs took all my attention in those early days. Messy, needy, adorable. They were my babies, or as close as I was going to get.

It was absolutely the wrong time to adopt dogs, especially two at once. My husband’s Alzheimer’s disease had reached the point where I couldn’t leave him alone, and within the year, he would be living in a nursing home. Three years later, in April 2011, he would die. By then, I had just one dog, Annie. I had to give up Chico, prone to jumping fences and attacking other dogs. I have a bite scar on my leg from when I tried to keep him away from a visiting dog. It broke my heart to lose him, but I couldn’t keep coming back from the nursing home to find that he had run away again. I don’t know what happened to him. As in old-fashioned human adoptions, once I signed him over, I gave up all rights.

Now it’s April 2021. My Annie has gone from baby dog to middle-aged to old. She’s stiff with arthritis and loaded with benign fatty lumps. Her once-tan face is now completely white. Instead of saying how cute she is, people comment on how old she is. Some hint that she won’t be with me much longer. I know. That’s the hell of “fur babies.” They don’t live as long as we do. In less than two decades, we watch them go through the entire life cycle from birth to death.

I’m feeling very sad because she has lost her most of her hearing. Yesterday, the vet confirmed there was nothing they could do about it. I wish I could give her my hearing aids. I know what it’s like not to be able to hear. Both of my parents had severe hearing losses, and my hearing isn’t great anymore. Even yesterday at the vet, trying to communicate from the parking lot (COVID restrictions), I had to admit to the technician that with all the traffic noise in the background, I couldn’t hear what she was saying, even though the phone was turned all the way up. She came out to talk in person.

Annie doesn’t hear me coming and going anymore. She curls up in the doorway so she can watch me and know where I am. She doesn’t respond to verbal commands. I try to use gestures now. She mostly understands. I talk to Annie all the time—since Fred died, she’s the only one here to talk to—but now I know she can’t hear me, and that breaks my heart. She is still my beloved companion, and I thank God for her every day.

I know I should be writing about you and your childless by marriage situation. I will get back to that, but I know that for many of you, your pets are part of the family. Feel free to tell us about them. With Mother’s Day coming very soon, we all need a dose of kitten or puppy love.

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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?”

Kitty purrs and puppy kisses for Christmas


My friend’s dog just died. He’s heartbroken. He took this dog everywhere with him, just adored her. He and his wife have human children and grandchildren who all live far away. In recent years, the dog was their baby. Now instead of celebrating Christmas, all he wants to do is cry. As a dog mom, I know how he feels.
For many of us, our dogs and cats are our only babies, and we treat them that way. Some people go overboard. I always feel sorry for the pets forced to wear reindeer antlers or jingle bells. That can’t be comfortable. Of course there are those folks who also dress their dogs and cats in velvet and fake-fur hats and coats or Christmas sweaters for the holidays.
Have you seen the YouTube video of the cat being wrapped like a Christmas present? You’ll laugh, I promise.You may also be tempted to watch the many other offerings there. They’re funny but also true.
How many of us hang up Christmas stockings for our fur babies or put gifts for them under the tree? Surveys have shown that nearly half of us give our pets wrapped gifts for their birthdays and Christmas. I actually don’t. My dog Annie tends to eat everything I give her, whether it’s food or not. Also, I don’t think she likes Christmas. I’m gone too much, and our schedule is all out of whack. But I know plenty of people whose pets are on the gift list.
Most of us consider our pets part of the family. But how far does that go? Do you put your pets’ names on your Christmas cards? For me, it depends on whether or not the recipient knows Annie, but there’s something about being able to write down multiple names that makes it feel more like a family. For a while in my younger days, I secretly hoped some people would see the name on my card and think I had had a baby. They didn’t need to know it was a dog.
How about you? Do you give your pets presents, dress them up for Christmas or include their names in their holiday greetings?
Bonus question: Does your family think you’re nuts?
Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your lives with me all these years. May your holidays be full of kitty purrs and puppy kisses.

Puppy love is the best

This is my baby Annie when she was just a couple months old.

At my first sight of Harley, I melted. Is there anything cuter than a Labrador retriever puppy? I don’t think so, but my dog is half Lab, so I’m biased. My across-the-street neighbors adopted Harley a few weeks ago. Their beloved cat Toby had disappeared, probably killed by a coyote or other local predator. The husband, Pat, swore they would not get any more cats. It’s too dangerous for them out here. He had always been a dog person anyway. And the wife, Paula, tried to go along with it, but she says the hole in her life was just too big. She didn’t have any kids, and she needed something to fill that need to nurture. So they got Harley.

Harley is cream colored, about eight weeks old now, small enough to carry around like a baby, soft and cuddly, but his massive feet promise that he’s going to be a big dog when he grows up. His bark is just a squeak. He’s learning about the world around him. Paula is already training him, taking him for short walks on a long blue leash and taking him to work with her every day. They are bonding like every mother and child.

Five and a half years ago, I had two baby dogs, Annie and Chico. My memories of that time are a blur of piddle, poop and chewed up furniture, papers, toys, and shoes. They were adorable. I took tons of pictures and wrapped my life around those dogs. They were my babies. My friends even threw me a puppy shower, complete with cake and presents. It was a beautiful and exhausting thing. And I’m glad it’s over. Raising babies, whether they have four legs or two, is hard work. I don’t want to do it again.

But oh, like those women who gush over human babies, I turn into a baby-talking mess when I see puppies, and I’m full of advice for the new “moms.” I’m rarely impressed by people’s baby pictures of little humans. They’re kind of funny-looking really. But puppy pictures, oh yes, I can’t get enough.

Like me, Paula married an older man, and she does not have children. But now she has Harley. I think we’ll be spending a lot more time together.

Is a dog a real substitute for a child? Probably not. But there’s nothing like a puppy to ease the pain.