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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Dog who is NOT my baby visits the vet

Last week I wrote about my dog Annie and how she’s not my baby, not a substitute for children. Well, my not-baby and I went to the vet yesterday. Annie has been limping pretty badly on one front leg and one back leg. She also has a lump on her left front shoulder that seemed to have grown since our last vet visit. I was afraid of cancer. I also feared she would need knee surgery. Not that she showed any problems as she jumped around the waiting room greeting everyone.

It was a long visit, involving an extensive exam, blood tests and biopsying the lump. Good news. The lump is a benign lipoma—fatty tissue. The knee is fine. It’s her hips that are wearing out. And her weight making it worse. Ms. Annie is now on a diet because “Mom” has been giving her too many treats. Time for “tough love,” the vet says. I have some new drugs for me to hide in her food and a bill for $285. Feels like parenting, but I am still not my dog’s mother.

I was proud of my baby, no, friend, no, companion, no, partner, at the vet’s office. Huddled between my legs in the waiting room, trembling with nerves, she behaved perfectly. She didn’t even try to murder the two poodles who came in and whined the whole time. She just barked once at each dog to let them she was there.

She poured on maximum cuteness as she pulled me down the hall trying to greet every doctor and aide that we passed. In the examining room, she set her massive paws on the counter where she knew the cookie jar sat. “She’s so cute,” the vet’s assistant kept saying. I know. Her body might be 8 ½ years old and her joints starting to go bad like mine, but she’s a puppy at heart and she loves people. Thank God that lump was nothing life-threatening.

Now, how do I convince her that carrots are better than cookies?

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In other news:

I have been chosen to be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit happening a year from now, Oct. 6-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be on a panel discussing aging without children, but there will be lots of different topics related to childlessness. Check out the website and “like” the Facebook page to keep up with plans for the conference. You might even think about going. Another Oregonian, Kani Comstock, author of Honoring Missed Motherhood, will also be speaking. I just got her book yesterday. I look forward to reading it and sharing it with you.

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Speaking of sharing, here are some articles you might want to read.

“Being Childless Feels Worse Than Being Single” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, published Sept. 22 in the Washington Post.

“Women Who Rule the World Still Asked, ‘Why are you Childless’” by Stefanie Bolzen, Sabine Menkens and Peter Praschl on Sept. 22 at Worldcrunch. You have probably heard it before, but why are women who are elected to lead countries chastised as “less than” for not having children? Does anyone dare say that about men?

“The Case for Including Childless Adults in Your Parenting Village” by Louise Fabiani, published Sept. 27 in the Washington Post. The childless aunt or uncle, biological or not, could be a great help with the kids. Why not let them in?

I welcome your comments on any or all of this pot luck post.