Several weeks ago I told Ian that we should think about investing some stock in the pet care industry. I had just read an article, Why America’s Falling Birth Rate Is Sensational News for the Pet Industry, which highlighted the trend of us job-hunting, loan-burdened, cohabiting 20-somethings turning to our furry babies to replace human ones. Ian and I very happily fall right into this quasi-parenthood. We bought Teddy health insurance, we buy him vanilla cones at Dairy Queen, we send him to daycare, and we've even taken him to get his picture with Santa.
For us, dog parenting is like real parenting “lite.” We still have responsibility for Teddy’s socialization, for his health care, and for remembering to bring his toys when we travel to “Grandma and Grandpa’s.” But we can still put him in his crate and go to the movies on a whim. And, of course, we love that friggin’ dog with our whole hearts. Even with the shedding, the drool, the vet bills (which, btdubs, I’m starting to think he has better healthcare than us), parenting him has been a blessing in our lives together.
However, dog parenting has given us another glimpse into a really annoying part of real parenting: unsolicited advice.
Let me take you through two scenes we encounter with our big pup all. the. time:
At a new groomer checking out:
Groomer: So, what do you feed Teddy at home?
Me: We feed him Purina Pro Plan for Sensitive Skin & Stomach.
Groomer: Gasp! Oh you know that Purina is not good food for him, right?
Me: Well, we’ve tried him on the really high quality foods - I want to feed him those - but he just doesn’t do well on them.
Groomer: Pulls up list of Pro Plan’s ingredients on computer screen. Well I just have to show you this. This ingredient is a byproduct of the brewing industry, this is a preservative...this isn’t hormone-free organic meat from Mount Sinai...
Everyday this week, walking in the shade in front of our building or at night:
Passerby 1: Your dog looks really hot.
Passerby 2: Your dog looks really hot.
Passerby 3: Your dog looks really hot.
Passerby 4: Your dog looks really hot.
In these two instances, these folks usually have the correct intentions. In fact, when people comment on Teddy being hot, it’s often observational (“Wow, he must be hot today!”). But it's the critical comments that make me want to get snippy. The wrong words or the wrong tone implies that we’re bad dog parents because he looks hot. Even though they don’t know that we live RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET.
And boy did I almost lose my cool at a critical comment last night. Ian and I were coming in with Teddy after his nighttime walk when two ladies asked us to hold the elevator for them. We did. I even pushed their floor button for them because they were carrying lawn chairs. One of the women narrowed her eyes, tilted her head in judgement, and asked us in a slow, drawn-out question:
"How can you liiiive with a dog like that in this building?"
In spite of her tone, I responded politely: “Well, Newfies are actually pretty good apartment dogs because they’re so lazy. He’s just a big floor potato.”
Our elevator stopped at our floor, so I loosened my tongue a bit as we stepped out: “... And, you know, there's the fact that we love him. We’re not going to get rid of him.”
The doors closed behind us, and I turned to Ian to say what I really thought: “Bitch.”
More than any fact about Teddy’s life, that he is big and lives in an apartment with us draws the strongest criticism. These particular commenters might think they have my dog's best interests at heart, like the food-mongers and the heat-observers, but they do not. Nevermind that Teddy is not a goldfish. Nevermind that we did, in fact, live in the suburbs with him and even with the big spaces and backyards, he still missed the city. Nevermind that he is a floor potato and, as I type these words, he is engaging in one of his all-time favorite activities: sleeping on the tile by the fireplace.
No, this line of thinking - that only small dogs can live in smaller spaces - is dangerous. As an animal shelter volunteer, I see dogs relinquished because their humans are moving to different spaces. I hear adopters come in and say to me, “I’m looking for a dog, but only a small one because I live in an apartment.” And then I see the shih tzus and poodle mixes adopted the same day they arrive on the adoption floor, while the shepherds and pit bull mixes, cursed only by their size, wait and wait and wait for someone who knows what Ian and I have known all along: dogs don't care about the size of your house, but the size of your heart.
When we got Teddy, we thought he would fit well into our lives. Little did we know that, two years later, we gladly fit into his. I bet it’s the same with real parenting, too.