My childless dog and I face old age together

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chicoannie48081.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_20210412_160157704-edited.jpg

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.

Success! You're on the list.

Bye bye, doggie

Alas, Halle the dog has gone back to the SafeHaven shelter. I guess I could say I failed as a dog parent, or perhaps she was a juvenile delinquent and I didn’t have the strength to straighten her out. I feel terrible.

I wonder if I care so much because I don’t have human children, only dogs. Without a dog, I feel lost. This dog was such a crazy, happy, loving creature, but I could not sit down or go to bed without having to constantly fight her off. When she wasn’t chewing up my things, she was jumping on me and chewing on me. It was like trying to sleep with an alligator in the room.

I tried all the techniques recommended by the experts. Put her in the crate, send her outside, regulate her food, knock her down every time she jumps, ignore her when she misbehaves, and limit the cuddling time so that she knows who’s “the momma dog.” That’s what the trainer who came to our house said I had to be, “the momma dog.”

Well, this momma dog can’t do the tough love thing.

My husband wants to get another dog right away. But like most dads, he wasn’t the one dealing with the bad behavior, trying to get this crazed animal to settle down at night, worrying about her food, her health, her need to go outside.

I need a break, time to stop grieving for my old friend Sadie, time to accept that Halle could not replace her. You don’t buy a new best friend for a hundred bucks and assume you’ll have the same kind of relationship. Let’s just think of this as a two-week visit by an unruly guest. We had some good times, but she had to go home. We were crying, but Halle actually seemed quite content back in her old cage.

By now, you’re asking, “How does this relate to childlessness?” I think many of us who don’t have children put all our parenting energies into our pets. But I can also compare this to trying to adopt a troubled teen without having raised a child from birth, without having had any input in his early years, without having the experience to know what to do when he turns on you.

A friend bought me an Easter lily because I was sad about losing my dog. Nobody has ever bought me a lily before. Lilies are what adult children buy for their aging mothers on Easter because they feel as if they have to buy them something. It makes me uncomfortable to see it sitting on the table.

This should be the last you’ll hear of Halle Berry the dog from me. I’ll get back to people issues next time, I promise.

But how about you? Have you put your mothering eggs in the dog or cat Easter basket, only to be disappointed? I’d love to hear your stories.