Every boy(girl) should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one.
As I write this, I am not sure if I am crazy, a glutton for punishment, a pushover, or a combination of all three. Nunzio, a ten-week-old Coton de Tulear puppy, is staring at me from his still-smells-like-new plush bed. We’ve just spent thirty minutes in the thick, Houston heat to try and encourage an outdoor potty routine. How did I get here?
I have four kids: three older children between the ages of eight and eleven, and one little booger, aged three. Our ten-year old has been asking for a puppy since she could say “puppy.” We had long ago promised her that she would have a dog while still young enough to enjoy one. However, we were committed to waiting until our sweet little one was officially a member of the big-boy-underwear club. Little has just recently completed potty training. As most parents will tell you, when your youngest child finally enters the world of the restroom-users, you feel a bit like you have your life back. Your purse gets smaller for lack of diapers/pull-ups and wipes; you no longer have to find public bathrooms with changing areas that are clean enough to lie itty bitty baby or giant toddler upon (a near impossibility); and you don’t find yourself wondering at odd moments, “Do I smell poop?” or—even worse—“Is that my child?”
So, just as we started enjoying our diaper-free moment in the sun, we took the plunge and purchased a pet. After years of research, we arrived at an appropriate, hypo-allergenic (one child is allergic), not big, but not-too-small breed. We located a reputable breeder, and here we are.
Our furry addition is exactly the cuddly, adorable, playful, and easy-going pup we all envisioned entering our lives. But he is also not house-trained – a major thorn in the side of this busy mom who is now practically chained to the dog’s hip for fear of piddles and messes. And, he is not always at his most adorable, especially when we have to walk him in the rain through muddy puddles.
His teeny bladder can only hold on for about three to four hours between potty trips. Our ten-year old was emphatic about her ability to take responsibility for the dog, but her dedication is lacking. I’ll give you one guess who listens for the gentle knock on the crate door at 3 a.m. that says, “I need to go!!”
But even with all the angst, I know our family is truly complete now that we have our fur-baby to love, snuggle, and clean up after.
For families out there who are wrestling with the big “Should we get a pet?” question, here are a few tips before you walk down the path to puppy (or any other animal) parenthood:
Make sure the child who wants the animal is ready to be the caregiver
Our ten-year old finally appears capable of handling another living thing. I say this with some trepidation as there are still many days when I need to remind her to brush her teeth and take a shower. But, she is incredibly maternal, has read every book a ten-year old could devour about proper dog care and training, and we knew if we didn’t act quickly, we’d be giving her a puppy just in time for college!
Since our puppy has come home, our ten-year old has not left the pup’s side. She slept on a blow-up mattress beside Nunzio’s crate; occasionally helped walk him at 3 a.m. to avoid any inside accidents; has handled all feedings; and has devoted hours to cuddling and play. I hope it continues. I am counting on some slow-down, but even if she keeps up half this pace, all will be well.
Make sure the other kids want the animal just as much
We didn’t think it would be a good idea to add a furry family member unless/until every existing human family member was completely on board. This wasn’t easy; our eight- and eleven-year old are skittish around dogs. Valuable time with friends’ and cousins’ dogs eased their minds and showed them the greatness that is animal love. Our little one did not have as much of a say, but he seemed excited about having something smaller and furrier around than himself. Once everyone voiced some support, we knew it was time to take the plunge.
Do your research
Shelters are often the best way to go for families who are seeking a new furry companion. I encourage families to try that route first as it is always a positive experience to rescue an abandoned or orphaned animal. If going with a breeder, whether because of a specific allergy or size concerns, or because you may want to show your dog, be careful. There are many puppy mills that pose as breeders, and there are many first-time breeders who lack the experience necessary to avoid breed pitfalls/genetic issues. Ask lots of questions. When possible, meet the breeder and their dogs and talk to owners of past puppies from the breeder you select. Finally, try to select the puppy that best fits your family in terms of temperament and personality, not looks.
Remember the commitment and the LOVE
If you know your little one desperately wants a pet, but you don’t see yourself owning and caring for a dog fifteen years down the line — you may want to inspire your child to choose a different pet. There’s a world of creatures out there: fish, reptiles, amphibians, hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs. The list is endless. Know what you are prepared to commit to, and show your animal love and kindness.
Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot about little puppies.
I have four kids, a husband, and a puppy. Am I nuts? Clearly. But I’m crazy happy too! I know my kids’ new fur-brother will be a delightful—albeit stressful and effort-inducing—addition to our family. The smiles on my kids’ faces and the smile on Nunzio’s puppy face are all I need to know we made the right choice.
Now—if you’ll excuse me, my little one needs his underwear “inside-outed,” my big kids need dinner, and my fur-baby needs another potty excursion. That’s happiness.