My sister calls to tell me she's pregnant. As I jump around the living room, Daisy scrambles off the dog bed. My collie/golden-retriever mix has no idea what we're celebrating, but she's all for it. Flinging a soggy stuffed bear across the room, she jams her wet nose into my neck and slurps me.
"Hooray!" I squeal. "Now, Daisy will have a cousin!"
Momentary silence on the phone. "Yeah," says my sister, her tone cheerfully forced. In a clear flash, I recognize what I've become: a "dog mommy."
Before Daisy, I thought people who referred to themselves as "Radar's Dad" or "Bingo's Mom" were a tad ridiculous. But as soon as I rescued my three-month-old puppy from a shelter, I completely understood the parental mindset.
As a new dog owner, I was chronically sleep-deprived. I had bales of dirty laundry - mostly soiled towels. My eyes were bleary, and my voice was hoarse from coaching the little one ("Drop that!" "Leave it!" "Off the couch!" "Good girl!"). Trailing her shoestring leash behind her, Daisy was a 16-pound missile, careening through the apartment, looking for trouble.
Collapsing onto a wooden chair that was riddled with fresh canine gouges, I called my friend Sally. She had a new baby, too, only hers was human. Amazing how much we had in common!
"When Simone cries, I don't know what she wants," complained Sally.
"I know! Is it 'feed me,' 'play with me,' or what? Maybe she's teething."
"She does have a tooth coming in."
"Really? Daisy's already lost two baby teeth. I give her frozen washcloths to chew on."
Sally sighed. "Sometimes I look at her - wailing, smelling like stinky diaper - and I think, 'What have I done?' Other times, I can't believe how perfect she is. Tiny toes. Soft, velvety belly."
"Yes! The naked belly! So yummy. You hear that? She's lapping water in the kitchen. I study her when she's sleeping. You should see her floppy ears and skinny little broomstick tail. She has harlequin eyebrows and a big black nose, and her paws keep sliding out from under her. I'm reading books on how to keep her from hounding the cat. There's so much to figure out!"
"I know! For instance, learning how to breast feed."
I cleared my throat. "You've got me there."
Thanks to Daisy, I've made a whole new circle of friends - all of them doggie parents. We hang out in the park and at the dog run, watching our "children" play. We trade tips. We compete for the cutest anecdotes and the worst horror stories, always with one eye on our frolicking charges. "Play nice!" we call out. "Don't put that in your mouth!"
Daisy is maturing faster than Sally's little girl. At 1-1/2, Daisy is house-trained and rarely chases the cat. She's gentle and sweet, eager to please. She lets me work during the day, curling up near my computer until it's time for our next walk. Sally is still going through the moment-to-moment roller coaster of tending a baby.
I rest my head on Daisy's feathery chest and listen to her heartbeat. She is a constant reminder of simple joy, right here and right now. And unlike human children, she'll never go off on her own. Day after day, year after year, our bond will strengthen.
A couple of months ago, I called my mother up to complain. "Daisy's gobbling up cigarette butts right off the sidewalk."
"Serves you right!" My mother crowed. "You did the same thing when you were a toddler."
Like mother, like daughter?
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