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There was an essay circulating recently by a woman who was
bothered by people who referred to their dogs as their babies.
She insisted there is no comparison, that a dog is never going to be like a
real baby and we should all stop calling our dogs our "kids." I sort of get
where she's coming from, having had a menagerie of pets, including a dog,
before I had two kids. And yet, I think she's wrong. I think you can love a dog
as much as a person, can find as much joy in caring for them (and being loved
by them) and can mourn them with your whole heart when they are gone. I know I
My beloved dog Henry was a 15-year companion who meant
as much to me as any human person in my life. He was some sort of Labrador and
terrier mix, a blond dog with a fluffy tail who only came to about knee height,
but would take on a dog twice his size.
We went through a lot, Henry and me. He was there for me during my husband's long navy deployments, through a
miscarriage, a hurricane and two long-distance moves. He kept me company, he
made me feel safe when I was alone (his fierce bark scared more than one UPS
delivery person off my porch). And I was there for him when he got cancer; I took
care of him post-surgery, took him on walks and to vet appointments, comforted
him when he was afraid of the vacuum cleaner and thunderstorms and let him
sleep in my bed (or anywhere else he wanted).
That's the great thing about love. There's enough to go around, whether it's for a baby or a puppy.
He was an awesome dog and we adored
him. So when our first son was born when Henry was 13 and had already
been through one bout of cancer and was starting to show signs of both
recurring cancer and senility, my husband and I joked we should name the baby
after the dog. You know, like Indiana Jones taking his dog's name as his
In the end, we settled on giving my oldest son two middle
names, with his second middle name being Henry. Henry loved his baby
brother—and that's what we called my oldest human son, Henry's baby brother—and
would sit near the baby anytime we put him on the floor. When the baby began to
crawl, Henry would follow him around like a proud papa. He was sweet and gentle
with the baby, though he'd had no experience with kids or babies in his life
(much like me). If we'd had kids earlier in Henry's life, there is no doubt in
my mind he would have been as good and loyal a friend to my kids as he was to
my husband and me.
Henry was put to sleep shortly after his 15th birthday,
when he'd deteriorated to the point that he would walk into a corner of a room
and wasn't able to find his way out. I was seven months pregnant with my second
son at the time, and my oldest son was just 19 months old. But though my
youngest never met Henry and my oldest probably can't remember him, they both
talk about how much they miss Henry. I'm sure that's a combination of the
pictures we have and the stories we tell, but it makes me both sad and happy
that Henry is still with us, in spirit.
We got another dog when my youngest was a year old, a
beagle/boxer who was dumped at the animal shelter when she was 2 years old.
We named her Clementine, and though she is the dog who came after we had kids,
she is no less our child than Henry was. We call her the boys' sister and she
follows them around, plays chase with them, and sleeps under the beds and in their
closets. If the boys are outside, she has to be outside. If they are curled up
on the couch watching cartoons, she is lying nearby. She is as much a part of
our family as Henry was, and I'm so glad she's a part of our life.
No, she's not
a human child, but I don't know that she's aware of that, especially since we
can—and do—love her like one. And I think that's OK. That's the great thing
about love. There's enough to go around, whether it's for a baby or a puppy.