Learning mother lessons from the dog


I came home from church choir, weary and glad to finally relax. A soak in the spa would feel great. But it was not to be.

As I opened the door of the dimly lit laundry room/dog room, Annie jumped on me, smearing something dark on the left leg of my jeans from knee to crotch. Mud, I thought. The floor was also covered with black. What was going on? I turned on the overhead fluorescent lights and gasped. It was not mud. It was blood. Blood in the shape of dog footprints.

Where was it coming from? I lifted up the front end of each four-month-old dog, looking for blood. I checked Annie’s mouth, feet and even under her tail to see if she had come into heat early. Then it was Chico’s turn. Oh God. He was bleeding heavily from the little toe of his left front foot. It looked as if someone had sliced it down to raw, bloody meat. The nail was completely gone. It appeared some of the toe was missing, too, but it was hard to tell with so much blood.

The puppy resisted inspection, although he didn’t seem to be in much pain and appeared to walk all right. I blotted with paper towels, one after another covered with blood. I had blood all over my hand in a minute, but I didn’t care.

I needed a closer look. I tried to lift all 30 pounds once and failed, took a deep breath, gave it all my strength and hefted him onto the washing machine, “Mom’s” examining table. Blood all over the white Maytag. It didn’t matter. I looked at his wound, felt sick at heart, and set the dog back down. I cleaned the washer with a baby wipe.

Chico kept licking blood off the concrete floor as I tried to wipe it off with paper towels. Annie kept biting at the towels. With every step, Chico spread more blood. Oh my God, I thought, something has cut off his toe. My perfect puppy is maimed.

He was still bleeding. I took him inside, not caring about the blood dripping on the kitchen floor and the beige rug in the den. It was 10 o’clock at night. Sitting on the floor, holding Chico next to me with one hand, I dialed the vet’s phone number and got the answering service.

“My puppy has hurt his foot and I don’t think it can wait until morning.”

The gruff woman said there were no emergency vets available that night. She could give me the number for a vet in the Valley . . .

“No, I can’t do that.” Not when I was too tired to drive an hour and a half of mountain roads, not when Chico was walking around just fine despite the blood.

“Well, Chico, I guess we’re on our own till morning,” I told the dog.

Back in the laundry room, I sank down onto the bloody floor. Chico walked over me, bleeding onto my bare ankle. It did not matter. All that mattered was that Chico be all right.

We sat vigil. Eventually the bleeding slowed. The puppies went into their crate, snuggling up together for the night.

I re-filled the water dish, put out the pee pads and locked the doors, saying a prayer that God take care of Chico.

Early the next morning, I dressed quickly and greeted the dogs. Chico’s wound was dry, with a magenta hole in his toe. It was just the nail that was gone. Still, I skipped breakfast and called the vet as soon as they opened. I listened to the hold tape, Mozart, interrupted three times by “Your call is important to us . . .” before Denise at the desk listened to my problem and told me there was nothing they could do. I should watch it and put pressure on the wound if it bleeds again.

“Will the nail ever grow back?” I asked.

“Oh sure,” Denise said.

The dogs, seeming to know that Chico was injured, spent the morning lying around on the deck instead of their usual roughhousing. I joined them, ignoring work and husband to snuggle with my puppies.

Mothers, even mothers of puppies, will do anything to keep them safe. If Chico had been hurt worse, I would have driven to the valley, arriving at midnight, probably getting lost on the way. I didn’t care about the blood on me. Whatever I had to sacrifice—sleep, clothes, my spa soak, a big vet bill–I did not care. I just wanted him to be all right.

Of course I know these are dogs, but when your family consists of two adults and two puppies, that’s your family, and you’re the mommy.

The lesson that motherhood teaches is that we are not the center of the universe; if we don’t have children, we must learn that lesson some other way or remain perpetual children. I may be late to class, but I’m learning more every day.

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Taking the dogs to work

I may be starting to get a handle on this dog-mom-as-pack-leader business. As you may recall, we adopted two Lab-terrier puppies earlier this month. Almost three weeks into it, I feel much more relaxed about the whole business. We’re falling into a routine. I feed them breakfast, take them out, stash them in the laundry room while I shower and have my breakfast, then we all dash down the hall to my office, where they munch their rawhide chews and fall asleep.

Every hour or so we have to go out because their bladders are small. I still pack one under each arm to carry them out because I don’t trust them not to pee in the house, especially when they just woke up, but that’s 27 pounds of dog now. It’s a race between housetraining and dog growth.

Eventually they have lunch, they potty, Fred and I have lunch, and we all go back to work, stopping every hour or so for a potty break and playtime. We repeat the routine until they fall asleep for the night and peace finally reigns over the kingdom.

As for training, it’s coming along, most of the time. They sit, they come, they bite less, althought they’re still better paper shredders than the machine in Fred’s office. When they’re not eating, excreting or sleeping, they’re usually wrestling. It drives me nuts. But I think I had a breakthrough this morning. I actually got them to separate and sit perfectly still for at least a minute.

What’s all this got to do with childlessness? Lots of things, actually. These are my baby substitutes. There is no denying it. I know they’re dogs. I know they won’t take care of me in my old age. I know they won’t give me a party on my 80th birthday. I know they’re animals that will kill smaller animals, given the chance. I know that all of our conversations are one-sided. They are not people.

I think the puppies become so significant because I don’t have children. At 56, this is the first time I have ever cared for a baby anything longer than a couple hours. I am learning lessons that mothers of human babies learn much earlier in life, especially this: the child’s needs come first. I’m struggling to spread my attention among the pups, my husband, and my work. I’m losing work time and spending tons of money on these little guys. These are all experiences that are familiar to women with children, but they’re new to me.

Yesterday, when my husband and I had to go out of town, I took the puppies to daycare. I’ve never done that before. Our other dogs have stayed in the yard or gone to a kennel, but these guys are too small. They can squeeze through too many openings in the fence, they need to be fed often, and they wreak havoc in the laundry room when left there very long. At $20 a pup, it was worth it for the peace of mind. I’m assuming that within a few months, they’ll be self-sufficient enough and big enough to trust on their own, but not yet.

Dogs are not children. But look back a post or two, and you’ll see my friends gave me a puppy shower. Now I’ve taken them to daycare. And God help me, every friend who calls or visits gets called Auntie or Uncle so-and-so. I can’t help myself.

I think the puppies fall somewhere between the dolls I used to play with and the children I never had. They’re kind of like toys, but they’re also live creatures for which I’m responsible.

Back in the real world, I’m working on my chapter about the psychological effects of childlessness. If we don’t become parents, are we perpetual children? Opinions vary, but I’m leaning toward yes.

And now I have to go because the dogs are fighting again–just like my brother and I used to do. My poor sainted mother would spank both of us, saying, “I don’t care who started it.” Next time we got within punching or kicking distance of each other, we’d be at it again. Ditto for the dogs, except I can’t spank them. Corporal punishment is no longer acceptable in dog training.

Have I lost my mind? Or are dogs a healthy substitute when you can’t have children? What do you think?

Dog mom? Cesar says no

In trying to figure out how to handle these two pups we have adopted, I have been devouring dog-training books. None of the ones I have read address how to deal with two puppies at once. I hope the next book coming from Amazon will give me a clue. As it is, every time I get one under control, the other pops out. This can go on for a long time, with the husband standing around saying, “What should I do?”

“Grab a dog or get out of the way!”

Anyway, I need to get control, preferably without screaming or having to lift these increasingly heavy dogs to get them where I want them to go. In his book Cesar’s Story, TV’s “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan insists that people who treat their pups as child substitutes are going to end up with dogs that are ill-mannered, disobedient and possibly dangerous. Why? Because dogs don’t need a mommy; they need a calm, assertive pack leader. They need exercise, discipline and affection, in that order. None of this cuddling and baby talk all day stuff. If they haven’t earned affection by their good behavior, we are supposed to snub them. Hard to do when they’re wailing or staring at you with those sweet brown eyes. But Cesar says if their human owner appears to be all emotion and no authority, dogs will assume she’s not a strong leader, and they’ll take over.

I know he’s right, but I am rarely calm and definitely not calmly assertive. I panic and wind up hollering things like “Quit biting me, you little brat.” At least human babies don’t have teeth at eight weeks. Do they? What I know about human babies could fit onto a 3 x 5 card, with room to spare.

So I’m trying. The dogs are in a crate near my desk right now, listening to oldies on the radio while I work. I’ll let them out in an hour or so. All day long, it’s work, dog, work, dog, work, dog. Once they go to bed at night, I leave them alone in their cozy bed in the laundry room, even though I’m finally done working and I really want to cuddle. Can I just hold them and rock them once in a while before they get too big? Just a little?

Most of the childless women I have interviewed have pets and treat them like their children. Would it be easier to treat them like dogs if we had actual children? We’ll never know. One final note from Cesar: People need dogs, but dogs don’t need people. Left on their own, they pick a pack leader from among themselves, find their own food and do just fine.

Now, has anyone got a baby gate I can borrow? The pups have figured out how to get up the steps from the den into the rest of the house.