Rescue dog: How owning a dog is like raising a child

Rescue dog Albie makes his parents recall raising toddlers as he hangs on Mom and Dad's attention and brings back unpleasant tasks.

Courtesy of Peter Zheutlin
Rescue dog Albie stares out the window whenever Mom and Dad leave that brings memories of tearful toddlers.

As our rescue dog Albie becomes more and more a part of our life, the parallels to raising children become increasingly inescapable. Though I thought those years of nurturing and caring for two wholly dependent little creatures were over once the junior high school years ebbed and the driving lessons started, Albie has brought them back.

Like the boys when they were little, he stares out the window whenever we leave with a look on his face that would melt the heart of even the most hardened adult. He doesn’t know if or when we’re coming back, whether it will be an hour, a week or longer. And like the boys when they were young, he hangs on our attention and our praise. The feelings of devotion we have for him feel as intense as they did for the toddlers who used to wander into our bedroom at night in their cow-jumping-over-the-moon pajamas.

These feelings come in handy when it comes to managing some of the – how to say this delicately – more unpleasant tasks of living with a dog.

Before the boys were born, the thought of changing diapers was a bit repellant, but when it’s your child with whom you are madly in love, those feelings dissipate. Changing the diapers of someone else’s kid might make you squeamish, but since your own kid can’t yet make meaningless crayon doodles that strike you as brilliant art, what they do create is, well, theirs. You may not admire it, but you can tolerate it.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the same goes for picking up after your dog. When a friend of ours said she’d love to have a dog but can’t get past the idea of cleaning up after it, I assured her that when you fall in love with a dog, the once unpalatable becomes possible. I never thought I could live with the hair Albie sheds wherever he lies down, either. But, as house-cleaner-in-chief in our home, I just haul the vacuum out more often than I used to. You adjust.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that dogs are not children and raising and caring for a dog isn’t nearly as complicated, or as worrisome, as rearing a child. For one thing, though fetch has replaced catch, I will never have to explain the rules of baseball to Albie which, as any parent of a five-year-old can attest, is like trying to explain the mysteries of the universe. Which brings us to another complex subject I’ll never have to discuss with Albie, but which, in fits and starts, I had to explain to my boys. I’m also reasonably sure Albie will never smoke pot, have a car accident, or ask us for money. He’ll never force us to answer the question, where does the girlfriend sleep when she comes to visit for the weekend? And he’ll never go to college in New Orleans, where our older son is in school, and tell us not to worry as a major hurricane bears down on the city.

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