These last four months have been difficult for the Lomonaco family.
In February, my father was murdered at 52 years of age. Somehow, our small family struggled through, bolstered by the love of our friends, family, community, and colleagues. Now, four short months later, I have lost my child, suddenly and painfully.
That’s right, I said it. I lost my child.
When speaking with other pet parents, there is no need to explain the use of this word to describe my dog. Yet for many others, some pet owners and petless persons alike (yes, on occasion, I do associate with people that don’t share their lives with animals), using such semantics to describe my dog is seen as me being “overly dramatic.”
It is easy to tell the difference between these two types of people. Pet parents understand when I use the term, nodding sympathetically, imagining their own pain after such a loss. The latter category, those that don’t “get it,” simply respond with a restrained eye roll and some level of indignation, discomfort or disbelief…did she really call that dog her child?!
To those people, I ask, how is my experience as a dog mom that much different from the experience of a human parent?
As a parent, when your child is an infant, you carry around a diaper bag full of supplies – ointments, wipes, spare diapers, burp clothes, perhaps a pacifier or a prepared bottle. As a dog mom, I carry a leash, treats, a clicker, poop bags, and toys everywhere I go with my dogs.
When you were expecting your child, did you lose sleep from worry, excitement, anticipation? Did you look at your ultrasounds frequently, thinking about the new life you were bringing into your home nearly constantly? Did you go through dozens of names before you chose the right one? Get lots of advice from every parent you came across, some of it good, some bad, some desired, some unwanted? I felt all those things too, staring at their pictures as I waited to bring home my animals from the shelter.
Many parents choose to feed their children the best food they can possibly afford. Nearly every parent would gladly go without a meal to provide for their child. Similarly, there are weeks when our budget is stretched – Jim and I go without many luxuries (and a fair number of basics) to keep two freezers full of raw meat stocked to provide the best nutrition we can afford for our pets.
You think carefully about where your child will go to school. I think carefully about how I will train my dogs and yes, where I will take them to school. You want your child to grow up to be a productive, polite member of society. I expect and train for the same in my dogs.
Your child’s school may be a big factor in your decision as to where you’d like to purchase a house. For me, as mom to a Chow mix and in my heart to one angelic Saint, I have to think about where I can buy a house so that my dogs will not be discriminated against and murdered by the legal system simply for their breed; despite the fact that my “banned” and “dangerous breed” dogs are probably better trained than the vast majority of “friendly breeds.” Have you ever had to worry that someone would murder your child or refuse you homeowners insurance for moving into a new neighborhood or buying a new home because she had freckles? Frizzy hair? Problems with her speech? For being a little taller or bigger than the rest of the kids? I have to worry about those things.
My mom drove a Mustang Shelby until she had three children, at which time the Mustang was traded in for an S.U.V. Similarly, the Lomonacos drove a sedan until bringing a Saint Bernard home, at which time we had to upgrade to a minivan so our family could travel together. I like to take my kids with me when I run errands or go on vacation with me much as you enjoy these activities with your child, and even more than many parents of human children I know.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure that your child is safe when riding in the car. Your child likely rides in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belted. My dogs are seat-belted too, in one of the few harnesses on the market that is impact tested for dog safety.
You take your kids on play dates so that they can socialize, play, learn manners and life skills from their peers. I searched far and wide until I could find well-mannered, healthy, socially appropriate play mates for my Saint Bernard as he progressed through rehabilitation for his reactivity. You enroll your child in ballet, karate, horseback riding or baseball, mine learn agility, tricks, how to play various games, solve puzzles, and yes, even are able to “read” a few words.
Perhaps you read books about parenting or consulted with more experienced parents when you were newly blessed with a child. As a dog mom, I consult with trainers, breeders, other pet parents, books, videos, and magazines to learn how to better raise my furry kids.
You probably bought your children backpacks. I bought some for my kids as well. You buy your baby a crib, I buy mine a crate. You buy clothes, I buy leashes and harnesses. We are both responsible for doctor’s visits, grooming and hygiene, carefully selecting and hiring a baby- or pet-sitter.
Are your kids the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to sleep? Mine are. Do you find it hard to relax when your child is sick, stressed, or in pain? I do. Do you wipe teary eyes, clean up boogers or vomit (and in my case, slobber as well), brush your toddler’s teeth, bathe him, gently brush his hair until it shines? Me too!
Do you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do to take care of your children, like get out of bed and take them to soccer practice when you have a fever, cold, or broken leg? I know that for me, there have been days that I felt like hell and got out of bed anyway to give my dogs a walk in the middle of a snow storm, so I think I can empathize with how you feel on those days.
When Monte came to me, he was very ill. I likened the experience to adopting a special needs child – a nearly 100 pound child who was so ill he’d defecate all over himself numerous times a day, would need constant bathing and cleaning, expensive vet appointments seemingly every other week, scrapes, cuts, bruises, injuries that needed maintenance and attention, recovery from surgery, treatment for an oral tumor, hundreds of dollars in “treatment” from behavioral specialists, countless hours of work bringing him through that “therapy,” trips out to the bathroom at 11:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m., and 4:00 a.m.
I’ve kissed my share of boo-boos, hung doggy “fingerpaintings” on my fridge, called a friend to brag and celebrate when my dog surpassed my wildest expectations. I’ve made doggy birthday cakes, bought birthday and Christmas presents, planned vacations around my dogs, turned down social engagements which forced me to leave them alone without care for long periods of time.
Have you ever had a bad day, lost your temper with your child, and felt bad about it later, apologizing? Me too. Do you have dreams and hopes of the future, fears and worries, or watch your child affectionately as he sleeps?
If so, perhaps we have more in common than you think. So to parents who do not have pets, try to have a little empathy when a dog mom or dog thinks of the family dog as a child. Imagine how you might feel if human children had a ten or fifteen year lifespan (or, in Monte’s case, not even six full years) and how hard it must be to love so deeply, knowing you will almost certainly eventually have to make a decision to compassionately end their life.
Perhaps we’re not so different after all. Maybe we pet parents, too, deserve to celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day with our four legged children, celebrate their lives, grieving and mourning their loss when necesssary, without judgment.
I really appreciate this quote, posted to the Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training Facebook Page:
“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan. . . .”
“The Once Again Prince,” Separate Lifetimes, by Irving Townsend