mom

Do You Have To Choose Between Having A Dog And Having Kids?

Christine Burke

For my entire life, I was sure of a lot of things. I was sure I’d grow up and become a nurse and I was certain that I’d travel as much as I possibly could. I was certain there was nothing better than wool socks on a hardwood floor on a winter day and that the feel of fresh sheets on my bed was heavenly. I was confident in my love of the color pink and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

And I knew I’d never, ever, own a dog.

Ever.

Growing up, my family and I moved all over the country every few years for my dad’s job. Our nomadic existence made it impossible for our family to have a pet, and by the time I was a teenager, I had accepted that it was for the best. Pets were messy. Pets were loud. Pets required kennels and food and walks and toys. Not having a pet in college meant I could drop everything and run away on a ski weekend or trip with my friends. I didn’t have to rush home from work to let a dog out to pee and I didn’t have to worry about my perfect couch being covered in dog hair.

I was free. Unencumbered.

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When I married my husband, he, too agreed that a pet didn’t fit into our hectic lifestyle. Both busy with our careers, we told ourselves that it wasn’t fair to an animal to live with us. We’re just too busy, we’d say. We have nothing more to give, we reasoned. We have trips to take, promotions to chase and babies to make. We just couldn’t have a pet.

Then came the kids. And with them came sleepless nights, growth spurts, and more noise than I ever thought possible. Legos littered my family room and Cheerios smashed to smithereens under my feet in my kitchen. I can’t have a pet, I’d say. I have kids. That’s more than enough. My life is full. There was no room in our lives for a pet. I was sure of it.

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And then, one day, I wasn’t sure.

It happened on a bright August day when my children were 10 and 12. We were visiting with friends who’d just gotten a puppy. He’s a mess, my friend said. I’ve been up for four nights straight because he cries in his crate, she lamented. He pees everywhere, she sighed. But, as I saw my children laying on the grass, rolling around with a tiny yellow Labrador, pure joy on their faces, my heart did a double take.

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I shocked no one more than myself when I thought, we should get a dog. For a few weeks, I ruminated on my thoughts, waiting to see if the urge to invite an animal into my home was just a knee jerk reaction to seeing an adorable puppy. I was even more shocked to realize that my feelings weren’t changing. I was yearning for a dog, a little bit of life in our house that would complete our chaos.

As I processed my feelings, I interrogated my friends who owned dogs. Could I do it, did they think? Was I cut out to be a dog owner? And all of them, after laughing loudly because they knew how strongly I had opposed having a dog in the past, assured me that I was capable of loving a canine. They also offered to help me wade into the waters of dog ownership.

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And yet, I hesitated. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to love an animal in the way it deserved. But, I reminded myself of how much a dog would bring to my kids’ lives and told myself that I was doing it for them.

And then a small, white Shih Tzu named Daisy came into my life.

And I knew.

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I knew like the day the nurse handed me my infants and I looked into their eyes and knew I’d love them with my whole heart forever. I knew by the way she nuzzled my leg and curled into my lap that she’d always need me in this exact way and I was okay with it. I knew by the way she followed me around the house on that first day, eager to please, excited to explore.

I knew because when I looked into her soft brown eyes, I felt the fear melt away. I could love her, I was certain.

I knew by the way I didn’t lose my patience when she pooped in the house, tail wagging as if to say “Oops, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

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And I knew by the way my kids ran off the bus and made a beeline to scoop her up and run to the backyard and play. When I caught a glimpse of them lying in the grass, laughing and giggling like they did on that August day with my friend’s puppy, it was settled.

Daisy was here to stay.

I knew that for sure.