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Au Revoir, Mon Enfant: Breaking Up With My Dog

Hinda Mandell: "I thought that my love for Nigel was limitless, until I found its limit, in the form of my infant daughter." Pictured: Nigel. (Courtesy Hinda Mandell)MoreCloseclosemore
Hinda Mandell: "I thought that my love for Nigel was limitless, until I found its limit, in the form of my infant daughter." Pictured: Nigel. (Courtesy Hinda Mandell)

I never found Nigel’s doggie breath off-putting. His beard odor, however sour and encrusted with forgotten kibble crumbs, was his aromatic essence. If you were to show me the most obsessive dog owner out there, I could have raised her nuttiness tenfold — easily.

So if you had told me 13 months ago that, after the birth of my daughter, I’d give Nigel away to a random man I found on Craigslist, I would have told you that you’re crazier than a rabid raccoon.

But that’s what happened.

I am already on the record saying that dog ownership does bubkas to prepare a person for raising a human. While dogs can be childlike, and we, as owners, infantilize them, canines are not our sons and daughters and babies. Even if our love for them seems limitless, maternal and biological.

[Nigel] certainly doesn’t look like a danger to babies. But after years of pure devotion, I all but guaranteed that Nigel would one day see my real baby as competition.

I thought that my love for Nigel was limitless, until I found its limit, in the form of my infant daughter. Nigel attacked her one Saturday morning in May, biting her head and scratching her face when she crawled too close to his doggie treat.

The irony is that Nigel is a cutesy dog. He weighs 16 pounds and has eyelashes that could be the envy of Hollywood.

He certainly doesn’t look like a danger to babies. But after years of pure devotion, I all but guaranteed that Nigel would one day see my real baby as competition.

I was making French toast when I heard Nigel’s growls and barks. Then came the anguished wails from my 10-month-old daughter.

When we took Mirabelle to the doctor’s office that morning, her face blotchy and puffed up with scratches and bitemarks, I expected that our pediatrician might call social services. How could he not? As evidenced by my daughter’s face, we — her parents — had put her in a dangerous situation.

But the doctor treated our emergency visit as routine. He was non-judgmental, and he told us that her scratches were superficial and required only Neosporin for treatment.

Regardless, once we got home, my husband was adamant. The Dog Had To Go. Nigel would not have the luxury of a second chance, because Nigel was not my child. He was a placeholder for my child.

My husband posted an ad on Craigslist, offering charming Nigel photographs and a brief description of a dog that would do best in a home without children.

Within minutes, we received half a dozen responses. I struggled to shut down my emotions, which I would have to do to let Nigel go. Still, I wondered if there was a way we could justify keeping him.

By loving Nigel so intensely, I had failed him, leaving him unprepared for living in happy coexistence with a baby. But I didn’t have time to linger on this fact. I had practical things to attend to, like gathering Nigel’s leash and poop bags and kibble and heart-worm pills for Mike, who was coming to take Nigel away.

Mike was an older gentleman, a retired engineer who drove a red Mazda convertible. He lived by himself in the country. He seemed like the perfect candidate to whom we could transfer ownership.

I grabbed Nigel’s leash for one last walk down our driveway. I peeked into Mike’s car. Fleeting worry that Mike was a canine torturer looking for his next victim dissipated when I saw the comforter folded on the passenger seat. It was so perfect. Nigel would be happy with such creature comforts.

My tears flowed as I tried to get Nigel to stop sniffing the grass and start peeing already. I looked up and saw my neighbor waving to me from inside her black Honda. She slowed down to say hello.

“I have to give away Nigel,” I said. “He attacked the baby this morning.” I was almost sobbing now, and I felt mortified.

By loving Nigel so intensely, I had failed him, leaving him unprepared for living in happy coexistence with a baby.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, pausing before telling me where she had just been. “Yesterday was the anniversary of David’s death. I was just sitting in my car at the cemetery, playing the music for him that he liked to listen to and telling him what’s new.”

I cried harder. Our neighbor had lost her son decades ago to a car accident when he was a teenager. Nigel was not my son, he was my dog, and he was still living, and this made me feel both guilty and selfish and juvenile and very green.

Nigel and I made our way back inside the house. I said goodbye with one last kiss. He was oblivious to the fact that he would not see me again. The coddling might continue for him, but it was over for me.

My husband walked out with Mike and our dog, closing the door behind him. I did not watch Mike drive him away. Nigel was already gone.


Related:

Hinda Mandell Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Hinda Mandell, Ph.D., a Boston native, teaches in the Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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