Two years ago, my husband, Andrew King, and I decided it was time to expand our family. We had been living together for four years and had just bought a three-bedroom house, and felt it would be great to hear the pitter-patter of little feet on our hardwood floors. So, with delight and some apprehension, we announced to our families we were . . . getting a dog. We adopted a three-month-old puppy from the local humane society. We plan to have a baby in the next few years, but thought it would be prudent to first test our caregiving skills on something other than a plant. So Titus is our parenting guinea pig, or fur-child as I call her.
We aren’t alone in getting a dog to test parenting skills. Our friends John and Jennifer have been married one year. They want a big family in the future, but are content to start with a puppy with the grand name of Duke. “This is a great way to find out what sort of parent John will be,” says Jennifer. “And so far, so good: he dotes on Duke.”
A colleague, Amy, says some friends told her and her boyfriend (now her exbeau) to try a dog before they had a baby. “I think they realized that together we might not make great parents,” she says. Her dog, Jessie, is now IV2 years old and Amy says raising him has reassured her that she “can do this. I can be unselfish and put the needs of another living being first.”
I have to admit that I call Titus (she’s an Australian shepherd-collie mix with a blue merle coat) my “baby girl” and I’m her “Mummy” and Andrew is “Dad.” At first, I would only say this in the privacy of home. But when I heard other owners admitting they say the same, it made me feel less silly. And a recent study conducted at the Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest substan-
tiates my feelings that I am Titus’s mom, not only her human owner. A team of researchers put 51 dogs through a test to study the bond between infant and mother. When a baby is introduced to a new environment, he or she is fine as long as mom is near. When the mother leaves, the child becomes distressed. When the dogs went through the test, they reacted with similar anxiety, barking and waiting by the door.
Titus is now two years old, a teenager in dog years. I think we’ve done a good job of raising her: she is fairly well trained and loves us unconditionally, so thankfully the few times we yelled at her haven’t sent her running to dog therapy. What have we learned about parenting? Number 1 is patience (see yelling comment). A dog is only as good as its owner, so we had to learn to slow down and not lose our tempers so easily. Another is rearranging our lifestyle and schedules. Both of us have had to give up activities so someone can be home to let her out and feed her. A big lesson is to not overreact—something I’m still dealing with. Andrew has to stop me from rushing Titus to the vet every time she sneezes. Another positive is that by the time I become a “real” parent, I’ll already have suffered through forms of potty training, teething and the canine equivalent of the terrible twos.
Will raising a dog make us better parents? Only time will tell. What I do know is that Titus has brought out maternal feelings I didn’t know I had. For that, I thank her—with a kiss and a rawhide bone.
Tanya, Andrew and Titus are a Toronto family. Guest submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to (416) 596-7730. We cannot respond to all queries.
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