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Don't Believe The Hype: Having A Dog In No Way Prepares You For Parenthood

This article is more than 5 years old.

Just as I was finally coming to terms with the benign neglect of my dog — following the birth of my daughter three and a half months ago — I read a New York Times op-ed headline that felt like a punch to the postpartum gut.

Dogs Are People, Too.”

It’s a declaration that makes intuitive sense to any fawning dog owner. But it’s also a declaration I was trying to brush aside as my maternal instinct for my baby was kicking into high gear. Now I’m experiencing guilt all over again for the lack of attention my pooch, Nigel, has received, and — perhaps more devastating for him and I both — his lowered status in the household, post-baby.

Dogs are wonderful companions. But they’re not babies, even if they <em>are</em> “people.”

For example, I never noticed that Nigel had fur until my baby girl was born three months ago.

In order to understand the ridiculousness of this epiphany, you have to understand that my dog was my baby — until, that is, I gave birth to an actual baby. And then my dog became a hairy nuisance — or, a furry nuisance to be more precise.

Yet the headline’s veracity did not alter a second postpartum epiphany: Doggie ownership in no way prepared me for motherhood. At first this came as a personal surprise, a betrayal even. I thought that the devotion needed to care for and raise a dog mirrored what is needed to help a baby flourish. Now I realize that such a mindset is equivalent to thinking that caring for a houseplant prepares one for pet ownership — since both require fresh water daily.

Baby Mandell and NIgel lounging. (Matthew White/Courtesy)
Baby Mandell and NIgel lounging. (Matthew White/Courtesy)

Pre-baby, I thought that tots and pups shared many traits:

•    They’re both cuddly and love to snuggle.

•    They’re both objects of oodles of love and adoration.

•    They both eat, cry, sleep, poop, ride in cars and throw up.

Post-baby, I realize:

•    The deep love I feel for my dog is actually pretty shallow in comparison to my baby girl.

•    There is always greater urgency when dealing with a baby than a dog.

This epiphany may seem offensive to many childless dog owners. And it may seem obvious to most people with kids.

But as someone who is known in my circle of family and friends for being rather Nigel-centric (the dog, after all, has his own Facebook page), this realization has made me feel a little sad. Maybe that’s because it represents a clear delineation of life pre- and post-baby. Or maybe it’s because I feel bad for Nigel, amidst the newborn chaos, because he is a “person” too.

And then there are the rare times when Nigel’s presence makes me feel like I have two babies in my house — which is a testament to Nigel’s neediness considering he’s 11-years-old.

When my baby was eight weeks old she had a significant projectile-vomiting episode. Within seconds of her spit-up landing — SPLAT! — onto the floor I heard Nigel heaving in the living room. It was now his turn to throw up a carrot I gave him minutes before.

It’s not that I’m no longer a dog lover. It’s just that I’m now a dog realist.

So my husband cleaned up the baby’s spit-up and I cleaned up Nigel’s spit-up, and I felt that dog and child shared some telepathic, gastro-intestinal connection.

Of course, I didn’t treat the simultaneous vomiting episodes with equity. I called my daughter’s pediatrician. I didn’t have time to call Nigel’s vet — nor did I experience any urgency to do so. He's a big boy who's vomited many times before.

It’s not that I’m no longer a dog lover. It’s just that I’m now a dog realist.

Dogs are wonderful companions. But they’re not babies, even if they are “people.” In many ways this is a good thing:

•    You can keep them in the car by themselves on a brisk fall day when running errands.

•    You don’t have to worry about them when you’re at work.

•    You don’t have to entertain them or worry whether they’re keeping up with their peer groups.

•    They produce practically zero laundry.

•    You don’t have to keep your phone on vibrate in case daycare calls with an emergency.

They pretty much take care of themselves. At least compared to a baby.

This program aired on October 17, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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