Recently while I was strolling for a family walk with our new puppy, a stranger remarked, “Three kids?! You must be busy!”
For a moment I paused, thinking this man knew something I didn’t. I quickly realized he meant that the puppy was my third child and a definite part of the parenting handful.
Admittedly, I was once a person who thought having a dog was just like having a furry human baby. I honestly did. I wasn’t making a political or philosophical statement. I had even been a nanny. I just couldn’t have known what I know now. This shift in my mind about children and dogs post-parenthood has been on my mind, as we have added a bouncing, baby livestock guard dog to our humble home.
I’m 100% an animal person; I love them. I have a veritable menagerie! (#CatholicArk) Even with my great affection for animals, I still must relay what the experience of having a puppy and small children at the same time has highlighted for me. They are not even close to similar.
You cannot feed kids from a bag that requires no cooking or preparation, three times a day. Good luck cooking a meal and getting your toddler to eat it on a day they’ve sworn off eating. Or, to wear pants. To the childrens’ credit, I’m sure if I made the puppy wear pants he’d rip them off, as well.
More or less, the dog is super stoked to find crumbs on the floor. (As will be a child if it’s in public, only in public!) He never complains or gets picky, nor does he have special allergies that require hourly consideration and planning. It is frowned upon for you to put your children in a crate. It is also frowned upon to put them on leashes.
You cannot send kids to the family doctor when you want to go on vacation, and pay a nice, low, daily fee. I’m certain my family provider would break up with us if we tried this. Anyone want to try this for science? Let me know.
You cannot just give them something to chew on and leave the house anytime you want to go out with friends. You cannot watch whatever movie or say whatever you want around children. While the dog won’t repeat that you think Bob down the street is a “darned hippy,” your kids will. They will do it in front of Bob, obviously.
My puppy likes to drink out of the toilet bowl until empty or chew on a bone for extracurricular activities. His literacy prowess is not of concern, and worrying about his second language development is not high up on my list of concerns. If he understands “sit,” we will be doing well.
While the puppy may need a quick potty run in the middle of the night for a few weeks until he matures, the baby I had four years ago is still iffy on potty training some days and definitely, does not sleep in a crate, unable to wake me in the night with her concerns about unpainted finger nails or looking to be serenaded.
The dog also never says, “MOOOOOMMMMMMMM! WHY?!” 😂👏🏻
To some this will probably seem like I’m saying, have a dog instead of a child. That is precisely not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that the experiences are not interchangeable, and they do not fulfill the space the other leaves. Man’s best friend is not a human child, and a human child is not man’s best friend. They are both distinct and wonderful relationships worth experiencing. Dogs have been domesticated and bred to serve alongside man and to serve him loyally. Children are the absolute greatest good and the future of our species.
I hope this reaches someone who believes owning a dog fills this void or informs them anything about the life of a parent. It does not. It may be a nice appetizer to prepare you for keeping someone alive, but it is not similar.
The complex and natural, lifelong relationship I have with my children is completely indescribable and dissimilar to having a dog, no matter how wonderous your puppy may be. (Ours is THE BEST!) The love and joy I have found in motherhood is not something I can convey to someone who has no children. It is something that has to be experienced to understand. All I can do is try my best to explain that you truly cannot know what you are missing until you have a child. It is not something you will regret. You cannot know this level of fulfillment and joy until you experience it.
I know that sounds convenient, like we’re a child cult trying to convince others to join our misery, but surely there would be a whistleblower somewhere? Wikileaks? Bueller? Consider how many people there are who have only dogs that believe dogs are like children versus the amount of people who have both who believe dogs are like children. Would you trust a person’s opinion on two experiences if they had only experienced one? It’s like getting that annoying dating advice from Suzie who never has a boyfriend but totally knows all the answers to your relationship problems.
A dog will never have my eyes or make the same strange gestures as me or laugh over shared memories at family holidays. He will never make me examine just how difficult I can be, by acting just like me. He will never make me relate better to other humans as I realize that everyone I encounter is someone’s baby. Ask anyone about feeling emotionally “re-sensitized” after the birth of their child. It changes you and for the better. I will never want to put my dog before myself and in doing so, become a more selfless person. I will not grow old seeing him flourish before me, because he will be in an urn in my library.
What am I saying? I’m saying I love dogs. Truly. They are helpful, joyful, excellent company, and loyal, but they are not even close to the experience of having a human child, another experience, I highly recommend. This juxtaposition of relationships begs the question, if someone claims to want to be child free, why would this same person want to pretend a dog is a child. Doesn’t that defeat the child free plan?
If you need further proof of the trouble with pretending canids are hominid offspring, look to all of the dogs harmed by being treated like a baby. Forcing a dog to fill a natural human void, denies them their right to be a dog, something we literally created them to be. Instead of being lead by a strong master, they are left to mow over their owners and rule their homes creating anxious, insecure environments where they feel obligated to step in as alpha. Ask any obedience trainer what causes dysfunction in dog obedience and behavior. They need order, and above all, they need to be dogs. (See Cesar Millan)
Of course after a long day raising the future citizens of the world, it’s nice to snuggle a fluffy dog who doesn’t talk back and just wants a butt scratch. I highly recommend both experiences.