When my daughter was in third grade, she Googled “hypoallergenic dog” after years of hearing me tell her that our severe allergies prevented us from fulfilling her wish for a puppy.
She created a presentation on a rare breed, the Coton de Tulear, highlighting a list of reasons why this no-shed pup was the perfect dog for our family. I found images of this small, fluffy white dog with dark expressive eyes whenever I opened my computer.
At the time, I used the classic parenting delay tactic -- “we’ll see” -- instead of an outright rejection. I knew that with two young children and a career, I did not want to take on the responsibility of another living being. My husband had zero interest in acquiring a pet. Neither of us grew up with dogs. We both come from traditional Muslim families who believed dogs should be kept outside the home for reasons related to ritual purity when praying.
Fast-forward seven years: The kids are both teenagers. My daughter’s desire for a dog hasn’t abated. And now, I’m starting to feel a little anxious about how quickly the years of child-rearing are passing. I’m more susceptible to an adorable creature that needs nurturing. I struck a deal with my spouse that the dog would stay out of certain areas of the house, and we got on a waiting list with a reputable breeder.
When we picked up our 10-week-old puppy, we settled on the name Frankie (short for Franklin D. Woofevelt). My maternal instinct kicked into overdrive.
I moved an air mattress into the kitchen near Frankie’s crate and slept in front of him, so he wouldn’t cry at night. After being shamed by more experienced dog owners for going overboard, and worrying that I was ruining our puppy, I let him spend one night alone. He cried all night, and I didn’t sleep for a second. But it only took about a week for him to adjust to sleeping soundly in his crate without a human nearby.
I reverted to familiar concerns I had when our kids were babies. I worried he wasn’t eating enough, though the vet assured me he was growing just fine. I wondered if he would ever get potty-trained. I wasn’t sure how long his separation anxiety phase would last, or when he would outgrow his teenage rebellion. Some of the things he still does remind me of the kids’ toddler antics. When I use the restroom, he sits right outside the door anxiously awaiting my return. I entice him to eat his grain-free kibble by adding little chopped-up bits of apples, carrots or green beans to it. The first time I left him with a pet sitter overnight, I typed up a page of instructions for them.
I could tell I was becoming one of “those” dog people. I was reminded of an essay a reader sent me in 2017, in which the writer warned apocalyptically that pets were replacing children in America. Several such screeds point to the rising rate of dog ownership among millennials, the increasing amount pet owners spend on their animals and the delayed birth rate among this cohort. The reader who sent me the link seemed angry -- at her kids and the culture that has encouraged pet worship -- but she also seemed sad. Would she have to settle for grandpups instead of grandbabies?
Once I scoffed at people who described their pets as “furbabies,” and now I monitor the livestream feed of Frankie’s doggy daycare on my phone. I had to stop myself from calling the center when I witnessed a large goldendoodle bullying my baby, er, dog.
It’s easy to mock the more ridiculous aspects of pet culture, such as cosmetic procedures to fix a dog’s naturally floppy ears or doggy slings to carry a pup perfectly capable of walking. But had I known the unconditional, enthusiastic love a dog offers, I would never have waited this long to get our first pup.
Although, I think when kids enter the teenage years, that’s an ideal time to think about a puppy. Frankie is way more excited to see me than my kids have outwardly expressed in years. And while raising a dog is surprisingly expensive nowadays, they never go to college.
I was surprised by the intensity of my bond with this furry creature. I’m trying to be as objective as possible here: He legitimately looks like the cutest, sweetest, most lovable dog I’ve ever seen. No offense to other dog owners.
Even my daughter, who said getting him is one of the best things we’ve ever done, said recently that she hadn’t expected me to fall so hard for Frankie. If I had gotten a puppy 20 years ago, I can easily see how I might have put off having babies for a while.
I guess we found each other at the perfect time.
Frankie turns 1 this weekend.
You’ll have to excuse me, I have a cake to order.