In mid-October, we got a dog. Specifically, we got Gracie, a 4-month-old, white-and-brown Labradoodle.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Gracie came from a breeder. In Kentucky. Which means that our dog has a higher carbon footprint this year than the rest of our family combined. Go ahead and judge; our friends back in Berkeley certainly are, in their own non-obviously-judgmental way. “Oooh,” they croon, “did you think of looking at the local shelter? Or finding a Labradoodle rescue?”
To which the answers are: yes, and yes. Even before we moved to Vermont, once we knew we’d have enough space for a dog, I was regularly scanning the available pups on the Addison County Humane Society website. But we have three very young children, and my husband is allergic to everything. It proved difficult to find hypoallergenic shelter dogs that would do well with three overly affectionate little girls. Labradoodles are hypoallergenic, but that’s conditional on their being multi-generational. We decided it was more responsible to go with a reputable breeder, rather than get a dog that our family couldn’t tolerate.
So, we got Gracie: our family’s first dog. In fact, since neither my husband nor I grew up with dogs, she’s our first dog, ever.
And she’s FANTASTIC. But I’m not going to bore you with stories about how cute and smart she is. Instead, I’m going to address the comment that we heard most in the days leading up to Gracie’s arrival. “NOW you’ve done it!” people said, once they found out that we had an impending puppy. “It’ll be just like having another child.”
I’m not very far into the whole dog-ownership thing, but I can tell you this already: having a puppy is much, much easier than having another child. For Gracie’s meals, I pour dry food into a bowl twice a day. If I could do that for my children, I’d be in business! Gracie follows me lovingly around the house without question; there’s no emotional tug-of-war. And when Gracie is tired, she plops down and sleeps. She doesn’t need a story, or a glass of water, or reassurance that there aren’t witches in the closet. When I want Gracie to obey, all I have to do is cuddle her and give her a few treats while repeating a single command. If ONLY that worked with my kids.
Granted, dog ownership isn’t all cuddles and treats. Gracie arrived already housebroken, but she’s had a few accidents. (Then again, so do my children). She makes one recurring demand, which is to go outside several times each day for exercise and bodily functions. But that’s really another plus: she gets me outside (unlike those housebound first months of new parenthood). And taking Gracie outside involves snapping on a leash, at most; there’s no nagging to put on her shoes, no forcing her wriggling body into a coat.
I’ve found that the biggest overlap between having a dog and having children doesn’t come from the dog; it comes from other people. Being first-time pet owners has thrust us into that familiar, uncomfortable territory of first-time parenthood: total cluelessness over how to best care for this being that’s been entrusted to us. Apparently, everyone in Addison County has a dog, and EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION. As with parenting, there are roughly 67 million dog-rearing philosophies, and fellow dog owners are quick to offer their advice, solicited or not. The counsels we’ve heard so far have run the gamut from the “attachment parenting” school of dog rearing (“Take her with you everywhere you go.”) to the “Crate her and let her bark it out” approach – and everything in between.
So, in my experience, having a puppy is like having a child -- and like most of life – mostly in that it’s confusing and humbling. You don’t know quite what to do for this dependent creature that you love. You worry that any misstep will cause permanent damage. You get lots of conflicting advice from others. And ultimately, you have to cobble together that advice with your instincts, and find your own way. Then you hope that grace – or Gracie -- fills in the gaps.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters, one adorable puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.