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'I'm a Mom to a Dog'

Photograph by Getty Images

Like many young women who get the itch to burp and bounce their own babies, Kimberly Gauthier knew her life wouldn’t be complete without having a family of her own. She wanted to be a mom one day, just not in the traditional sense.

There’s a loving, vibrant family inside of Kimberly's big green house in Washington, a little more than 40 minutes north of Seattle. Sitting on five acres of land, surrounded by a plush wooded area, this four-bedroom home also has two bonus rooms and a great room. With so much space to enjoy and explore you would imagine that a family the size of the basketball team lives there. Be forewarned, once you open the large wooden door—stand back—because there’s a good chance you’ll be pounced on by Kimberly’s radiant kids; 3-year-olds Rodrigo and Sydney, and Blue who is just 1 year old—all animals she adopted from a pet rescue service.

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Kimberly is 42 years old and has run the gamut when it comes to defending her choice not to be married or give birth to children. “I didn’t meet my current boyfriend until I was 34,” Kimberly says. “I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m happy with the life that I have. For some women it makes us feel guilty because we’ve come so far and we’ve accomplished so much that not having children seems like a setback, but it’s really not. I am a mom. I’m a dog mom.”

If you think being a dog mom is less nerve-wracking than mothering human children, think again. Kimberly’s three dogs are all on a special raw food diet, which Kimberly believes will benefit them in the long run. She also obsesses over the types of treats she gives them, doing her research, and reaching out to her veterinarian for answers to questions, and then she blogs about her decisions.

“We didn’t walk away from the adoption service with instructions on how to care for our dogs,” Kimberly shares. “We have to figure it out along the way.”

Figuring it out includes many of the same questions more traditional moms must face. How often do we vaccinate or should we stop vaccinating altogether? How do I train my kids to interact well with others? When is a good time to add to our family? We want to take a vacation, who can we trust to care for our little ones?

After some research she began instituting puppy time-outs.

In fact, starting her family wasn’t the easiest process. While most women simply have to meet the right man, add some soft music and an intimate back rub to create their bun in the oven, Kimberly and her boyfriend searched diligently for the right rescue animal to begin their family. “They would ignore us or reject us because we both worked full-time,” Kimberly explains. “It was as though I had to be a stay-at-home mom in order to be fit to care for them.”

Finally, an email from Petfinder alerted the happy couple to an adoption event being held in their area. They walked in and fell in love with a Border Collie, naming him Rodrigo on sight and signed the adoption papers right away. Sydney, a mixed Labrador adopted from the same litter as Rodrigo, joined the family a week later. Baby Blueberry, an Australian shepherd, is the newest member of the family and adds an unexpected air of spontaneity to the group.

Her dogs have a bedtime, between 9 and 9:30 every evening. The "kids" know when it's nearly bedtime. Rodrigo walks over with a little sad face, his sister Sydney becomes excited anticipating her bedtime treat and baby Blue’s reaction is always a surprise—much to the pleasure of his parents.

When Rodrigo’s behavior didn’t line up with her expectations, Kimberly had to figure out how to correct him without being cruel. After some research she began instituting puppy time-outs. “I learned this from watching a program by Victoria Stilwell,” she beams. “Victoria suggested you make a noise and take them out of the room until they associate the behavior with being removed from the room. Keep doing it. It works.”

In the midst of so much learning and growing, Kimberly’s family endured a painful loss last year. A week after she and her boyfriend rescued 4 month old Riley from a shelter, he passed away from canine parvo virus, a high risk illness that plagues puppies left in shelters.

“I didn't think I would get past the grief of losing her,” Kimberly says. “We questioned whether we did enough. We didn't understand why she had to die. We disagreed on adopting another dog because I wanted to adopt right away while my boyfriend wanted to wait a year.”

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A few weeks after they laid young Riley to rest, Kimberly saw a video of a puppy that was up for adoption and showed it to her boyfriend. “We watched it over and over and just knew that he was our dog,” she says. “I tell people now that Riley came into our life to save a place for Blue. Our dogs and cats keep me grounded, teach me to enjoy the moment, and never judge me. It's a breath of fresh air.”

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