CFN – About an hour into a visit with my parents last week my dog, Maggie, started staring at me. I know what she was saying: “I want to go home.”
I could see it in her pleading, Beagle face, in her wide brown eyes. No, I don’t speak “dog” and she doesn’t speak English, but we communicate all the same. Throughout the day I’ll give her kisses and hugs and coo at her, and every now and then she’ll give me a look: (“you’re taking this a little too far, don’t you think?”). I don’t care – she’s my kid.
You may have gasped at this point and said haughtily – “having a dog is not the same as having a child.” Well, of course I know that, I’m not a moron. My dog doesn’t throw tantrums and sass me – of course it’s not the same.
But there are some aspects of dog-raising that are like having a child. I am responsible for her care – feeding, watering and toileting. Well, she does that herself (whether or not I put her outside, unfortunately), but you get the idea. I taught her right from wrong (staring at me while I eat: bad. Not pooping on my rug: good); she still steals garbage, but you can’t win every battle. I praise her for good behavior, scold her for bad; take her to the doctor and get her vaccinated; make sure she’s generally happy.
And yes, I recognize the differences. As I said, I’m not loony. I don’t have to obsessively watch her cognitive development for signs of learning disabilities, or monitor her TV and Internet use. I don’t have to teach her hard life lessons, worry about who she hangs out with, or make her brush her teeth every single night. She’s too afraid of the toothbrush for that.
I just worry about her finally catching up to that woodchuck she’s been tracking for days. I don’t think even she knows what she’d do with it.
No, I don’t have human children, but I’ll wager having a dog is much better. For instance, I never have to worry that she’ll start doing drugs in the school bathroom. I’m almost required to sterilize her, so she won’t end up pregnant. She’s loyal and devoted to me even if I become a big dork, and she won’t put me in a nursing home. She’ll never ask me tough questions, like: “Where do babies come from?” or “Is there a God?” She won’t wear slutty clothes and get a belly button ring.
But parents get mad when you say your pet is your child. I’m sorry, mommies and daddies, but you guys don’t have a monopoly on unconditional love. Don’t give me that dirty, derisive look. After all, I did humor you when I said your kid was adorable, so do me this one favor and let me call myself “mom” when I talk to my dog.
The hard truth is: I’m not grownup enough to have kids. (Some parents aren’t either but that’s another conversation.) I admit the obligations of creating life and not screwing it up are just too much for me. I applaud anyone who is willing to tackle such a responsibility.
But I’m a dog person, not a kid person. Raising Maggie fulfills me just as much as I need fulfilling and I think I’ve done a pretty good job.
Oh, shoot, I don’t think I’ve fed her yet today…
JH Mae is a feature journalist and short fiction writer based in rural northern New York.
She worked for five years at a local newspaper, followed by three years as a secretary.
She recently left the office life to pursue a full-time writing career and now works in her pajamas.