Patient Angel by Elena Kolotusha; for more information, visit  http://yelena-kolotusha.artistwebsites.com/?tab=artworkgalleries

Patient Angel by Elena Kolotusha; for more information, visit http://yelena-kolotusha.artistwebsites.com/?tab=artworkgalleries

How to Replace Your Dog with a Baby

By Caroline Horwitz

What You Need:

  1. Dog

Buy her when you’re twenty-two and just out of college. You live alone in a one-bedroom apartment and work full time, so you probably shouldn’t have a puppy. But when you finish your Christmas shopping one Saturday and treat yourself to a look in the pet store, you will be smitten the instant you see her, all three and a half pounds of her. She’s a Papillon, according to the label on her window—some obscure breed you’ve only heard of because of your dog atlas but know nothing about. If it weren’t for high school French class, you couldn’t even pronounce it. It means “butterfly.” Big ears on a miniscule body with fur like duckling fuzz. There’s a reason they call it falling in love with a pet.

You make a pathetic salary, even by entry-level standards, but you pay for her to attend doggie daycare while you’re at work, where they have playground equipment, pools, and Serta mattresses specifically for dogs. You stow a lint roller in your car to remove the fur that collects on your skirts and trousers when she lies on your lap on the drive there each morning.

She remains by your side throughout a move across the country to be near your boyfriend, your engagement and marriage to him, grad school, new jobs, cross-country road trips, and two more moves, including three months spent in an Air Force base hotel room. She proves to be an adaptable companion, thriving in any abode or region, so long as she has you.

Later, you will wonder if an unconscious maternal longing was there all along, responsible for interlacing your lives.

 2. Baby

The order of this is imperative. Baby comes next.

When the dog is four and a half, you realize you want a baby soon. Your husband is taken aback, but agrees after haggling for a few extra months. The baby is conceived in the month you agree to start trying.

At your twenty-week ultrasound, the technician tells you that your baby is healthy as well as male.

You read about introducing dogs to new babies in the family. Your dog has always been skittish around young children (a common trait among Papillons, you’ve since learned), but you figure she’ll get used to one that starts out immobile and mostly unconscious, especially since she’ll be around him every day.

You prepare for your baby. You plan to stay home with him and write when he sleeps. He won’t need to attend daycare.

Creating him was easy. Bringing him into the world is not. Though the entirety of your labor is short by first-birth standards (ten hours from first contraction until time of birth), the active delivery of your son is insanity. When you arrive at the hospital, you are fully dilated and therefore cannot have the epidural you’ve been counting on. Less than two minutes after stripping down your bloody underwear and sweats, you’re on the bed being ordered to push.

It should be a quick delivery, but the baby’s head is stuck at an odd angle in the birth canal. You push for five hours on and off, drug-free. Then your son finally escapes into the doctor’s waiting hands and lets out his first cry. It’s a sound from a new dimension of reality. Frightened yet triumphant, a gorgeous symphony.

Combine:

The day after his birth, your mother takes one of the baby’s hospital blankets home to the dog to slowly introduce them, starting with the newborn scent. Even so, when you carry him into the house sleeping in his car seat the next day, the dog pays no attention. She dances around you and brings you her toys. She only becomes aware of his existence several minutes later when he stirs his body, which is the size of hers almost to the ounce. Her ears perk vertically. She whines and whimpers and backs away from him, onto your lap. Your husband encourages her to sniff the sleeping form, but she keeps her distance. She thinks you’ve brought home an alien.

 When You Know It’s Time:

It won’t happen all at once, until it does.

The dog won’t worry you for a while. Once she ascertains that the baby is, in fact, another human, she largely ignores him. Not out of disinterest, you suspect, but a belief that her refusal to acknowledge him will disprove his presence in your lives.

She is forced to pay attention when he begins to crawl. His newfound mobility terrifies her. He grows to almost three times her size and lacks control of his gross motor skills as well as an understanding of what and how he is allowed to touch.

He never hurts her, though. You see to that. When he lumbers on all fours toward her, you slow him down and tell him to be gentle. You show him how to pet her with a soft hand, his rosy palm doing its best to glide over her downy red and white fur. She tolerates it, but still emits low growls whenever he approaches her. This makes you wince, though she’s just protecting herself. You think how easily he could hurt her without meaning to.

Then it will happen. More than a growl.

You’re sitting on the ground, legs stretched out and crossed. Baby rummages through his toy chest across the room. Dog takes advantage of your location on the floor and distance from the baby to nestle beside you. You stroke her, scratch the blaze on her head, run the back of a finger from the bottom of her chin down her smooth throat to her parka-like chest. She closes her eyes and tilts back her head.

The baby wants to play. He doesn’t come for the dog but for you. Smiling, he ambles over on his hands and knees. He’s come to rob the attention yet again.

He stops two feet from her and sits by your legs. She growls—not as throaty and muffled a sound as usual. Before you can act, she curls back her lips, lets out a full snarl, lunges, and snaps at the air an inch in front of his nose.

He cries. You yell. She hides.

It’s time.

***

You’ve read about dog injuries and fatal attacks, many of which befall children. But our dog loved the baby, parents are often reported as saying after their infant’s head or throat has been opened by a set of canine teeth. He never once acted aggressively. Too similar a statement, really, to all those neighbors of serial killers who say, He seemed so normal.

Your dog has now actively threatened your baby, not because she was acting out of self-preservation, but jealousy.

Perhaps she didn’t intend to bite him. Perhaps she never would. You are only certain that her jealousy will not end today.

It’s time.

She is small, to be sure—the product of countless generations of human interference and selective breeding—but toy dogs have attacked and, in rare cases, even killed babies before. To risk even a marring of your baby is to put the dog before him.

You will not tolerate a sliver of a chance of your son becoming one of those victims.

It’s time.

***

Steps to Take:

  1. Locate a dog rescue site, one that organizes entries by breed, geography, and more. Verify its authenticity and tell yourself that you’re not committing to anything, just gauging any potential interest.
  2. Write a flattering but honest post. She is housebroken and spayed and vaccinated. Stipulate that she needs to be in a home without any other dogs, cats, or children under the age of ten. A home where she can be the baby. Be sure to include the photo of her from last Christmas, the one where she’s lying in her bed wearing a red and silver bow tied around her neck.
  3. Receive an email less than an hour later from a woman who describes herself as VERY interested.
  4. Call her and discover that the potential adopter is actually her seventy-two-year-old mother, who is heartbroken over the death of her own Papillon and longs for another. She is retired but active, lives alone, and took her old dog with her everywhere.
  5. Once you’ve met them, you know it’s right. They’re bona fide dog people, the kind for whom babies are cute, but will never trump dogs or their sacred places in the family. The daughter will cry and hug you, thanking you for making her mother giggle again.
  6. Make the delivery yourself a few days later. It’s better than having her taken away. Pack everything of hers that you own, including her regulation-size airplane carry-on pet bag, Santa costume, and half-full bottle of shampoo. Tell yourself it’s because her new owner might need them, when in reality it’s because you won’t be able to look at them anymore.
  7. Stay long enough to get her acclimated to her new people and surroundings, then excuse yourself. Mentally decline their offer to visit her in the future. It would be too confusing for her and too torturous for you. With the exception of pictures, which you will accept, this will be the last time you see her.
  8. Thank her for being your dog as you bring her face to yours a final time, her tongue reaching for your cheeks. Fight the urge to collapse and howl on the sidewalk when she tries to follow you out the door. Wait until you get to the car.

Dos and Don’ts for Afterward:

  • DO think of the lonely woman who adopted your dog, how she’ll spoil and cuddle her for the rest of her days. Perhaps the dog will even extend her life, like the studies you hear about suggest.
  • DON’T replay movie scenes of dog loss in your head, like Good-bye, My Lady or Turner & Hooch or that surprising tear-jerker of a Futurama.
  • DO think about your baby, who could have had his face mauled, his nose bitten off. Think of your love for him so deep, your mama-bear instincts so sharpened by evolution that, at the first real threat of danger to him, you swiftly obliterated it at the source, even though the source was someone you loved too.
  • DON’T think about friends who have babies and still managed to keep their dogs. You’ll go mad reminding yourself that harmony between the two can be had. That they didn’t have to make a choice, and don’t have to worry for their offspring’s safety. That they haven’t let go of important albeit nonhuman relationships that were forged before they became parents.
  • DO count the things you don’t miss: picking up her shit in temperatures over one hundred degrees; her inability to calm down for ten minutes after the doorbell rang; her long white strands of fur that often found their way into your baby’s mouth and defiantly carpeted your home even after you’d just vacuumed.
  • DON’T remember the worst times that the baby and dog worlds collided, such as when your postpartum depression and the baby’s colic interfered with her daily walks, or the time when she barked outside his door and woke him after an entirely sleepless night. You dissolved into tears and told her you hated her.

Definitely don’t remember that one.

  • DO think of everyone involved but yourself. You, who bought the dog with the unquestioning knowledge that you’d own her until death but couldn’t even be responsible for half her estimated lifetime. You, who misses her so much that you feel like you’ve been punched in the chest. You, who feels guilty both for what you’ve done and for your reluctance to do it.
  • DON’T wonder if you made a mistake. You didn’t.

Caroline Horwitz headshot 2

About Caroline Horwitz

Caroline Horwitz is a freelance writer in Las Vegas. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University, and her work has appeared in Lowestoft ChronicleThe Summerset Review, and Forge, among others. She is a Midwesterner at heart but loves exploring the desert with her husband and son. is a freelance writer in Las Vegas. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University, and her work has appeared in Lowestoft ChronicleThe Summerset Review, and Forge, among others. She is a Midwesterner at heart but loves exploring the desert with her husband and son.

 

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22 Responses to “Essay”

  1. mummyspitsthedummy

    Wow – I started reading expecting a bit of a giggle. Now I’m in tears and I’m not even a dog person! Congratulations – on making such a difficult but necessary decision for your family, on a terrific piece of writing, and on being Freshly Pressed.

    Reply
  2. Merilee

    I had to do something similar, but it was before my second son was born. I had a dachshund and a standard poodle. The standard poodle I got because it seemed that I would not be able to have a second child, so therefore the poodle. She was big, smart and a lot to take care of. But when I miraculously became pregnant with my son, I knew. I knew that I would not be able to handle a new baby and a standard poodle. So I found a new home for her. And it was with a wealthy, elderly widow who had just lost her standard poodle. It was love at first sight for them both. I felt good knowing my dog was actually going to have a better life and more attention with that lady than with me, who would be giving all attention to that new baby. It was a hard choice and made me sad, but it was the right choice. I can relate to what you had to do.

    Reply
  3. Animal Advocacy

    I hope you don’t mind but I feel I have to add:

    In reality you’re unlikely to find anyone looking for a dog exactly like yours – if you do it will take you a great deal longer than an hour. You’ll probably end up dropping her off at a shelter, kidding yourself she’ll find a home. In most countries:

    DON’T think for a minute your dog will be rehomed – there’s a huge overpopulation problem because of people like you. She’s four and a half and has to live without any other dogs, cats, or children under the age of ten. She’ll get kennel stress having known only you and yours. She hasn’t a hope. She, and millions like her, are killed after five days. Check out http://www.animaladvocacy.ie/dear-mr-and-mrs-average-pet-owner for more details.

    DO realise how your dog feels – see http://www.animaladvocacy.ie/how-could-you for an example.

    Reply
  4. awax1217

    It happens. Just when you do not even realize it. We have cats and they exhibit some amount of jealousy among each other. Morris is a bully and Boo Boo puts up with him. But Jules downstairs must be kept away or fur will fly. Somethings do not mix. But the baby is first and safety is a priority.

    Reply
  5. Lisa Blair

    This was wonderful….and heartbreaking. I’ve never really had to give up a dog but I lost two within a year. One of them was old and had to be put down due to her arthritis getting too bad. The other a puppy who died unexpectedly after a surgery to remove something he had swallowed from his esophagus. This did remind me of my losses but at the same time it reminded me that dogs really are man’s best friend. We often have to make tough choices for them, but the choices are only tough because we love them so very much.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Haight

    A heartbreaking story told with honesty and a bit of humor. So often, the “right” thing to do is incredibly difficult. But the baby, he is your heart … and a yummy little thing.

    Reply
  7. youniquebyjaimee

    This was a pretty heartbreaking post for me to read, as both an animal lover and a mother. I have 4 dogs and 2 children. The dogs range from small to large and 3 are rescues. One of them I have had prior to having children. I have trained and continue to train both the kids and the dogs. I saw a video the other day that showed a parent allowing her child to put his face in the dog’s face. The dog would snap at the child’s face and the mother and child would laugh. I couldn’t believe it. It was pretty scary, had me nervous, even! That kind of behavior should be acted upon and not laughed about. Eventually what could happen is that the dog will take it a step further and harm the child because the mother never did anything about it.

    I have been pretty active in the animal shelter scene and I do commend your post for mentioning finding a rescue. It seems as though everything worked out for you, but it doesn’t always. The dog typically ends up in the shelter, where it will be more than likely euthanized, especially if it’s been expressed that the dog snaps at children. It’s extremely sad. I hope people follow your advice to go to a rescue, but as a last resort.

    Lastly, giving up a dog is NOT easy. I’m sorry to hear you had to make that decision. 😦

    Reply
  8. shastablue

    I don’t really like the title of this post, and I am afraid I am not really moved as the other posters.

    I don’t think you really tried hard enough to ease your dog with your baby and it’s obvious that you have decided that your dog is not a part of your family, if you’ve decided it just like that. I feel that you should have read up about how to introduce a baby into your household with your dog. You should know that it takes time and that dogs, are just like human children, they feel jealous and may attack because of it. My friend’s children, siblings, bit, scratched and hurled objects at each other and often got really hurt with scars that will stay with them without plastic surgery to remove them but that’s another story. (I would probably see your point better if you had a large dog, like a great dane or a siberian husky, but your dog was a toy dog…these aren’t the dogs you see that horribly maul children and you cany keep them away from your baby by putting them in a separate area of the house for a while.)

    All I can see is an owner who did not do the appropriate training and introduction and decides to dump her dog because it’s too much trouble. Your post doesn’t specify what you did to make sure the dog was accepting the baby properly and what you studied or discussed with your vet to ease the process. It seems you did not expect it to be difficult, but it is always difficult to introduce a new family member. Your dog, is no exception. I feel that you really could have had them both if you really made the effort to if you wanted to.

    I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but I personally feel you could have tried harder, but you didn’t. Or you didn’t want to and this makes me sad and also angry. It is your choice obviously, but I feel sorry for that dog, that she could not have had another owner who would have tried harder to keep her. She loved you and dogs can also become depressed when they experience abandonment. For me, my pets are my family and my children as well, I cannot imagine sending my child away like that. The fact you wrote “it’s time” makes me feel you were expecting to and getting ready to give your dog away in the first place. There are many online ‘tutorials’ detailing the process on how to get your pets to accept your baby. If there is hope yet, please do take a look at one of them to see if there could have been another ending to this story.

    Reply
  9. dyspray

    First, let me just say that choosing to get rid of the dog was clearly a hard decision, and I am sure was not taken lightly. Second, I completely understand that baby comes first, just as it should be.

    That being said, there were clearly some things going on here that were a) not mentioned in this post, and b) not addressed properly by the dog owner(s). A dog that has shown no signs of aggression does not just all of a sudden get aggressive(as stated above “It won’t happen all at once…”)with a baby that is suppose to be part of it’s pack. It is clear that the dog was not given the proper attention that is needed and I am certain the dog tried to get this across to it’s owners, who were not listening. Dogs who are included in the human activities with the new baby, and cared are for properly, would not act this way, and come to love and protect their baby pack member.

    Third, that is an absolutely awful title. The post itself is nothing to be laughed at, either. Way to go on making all the problems with the dog world completely their fault. Let me give a friendly reminder that dogs are completely under human care(as in, there are no “dogs” in the wild). So, if you are going to be a dog owner, at least try to understand their needs and how they communicate. And for new-baby-havers, start with this: http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/articles/dogsnewbaby.htm

    Reply
  10. Momarch Steph

    I have the same fears about my two dogs and sons!! 😦 It must have been very hard.

    Reply
  11. Sitara Srinivas

    I started off reading a bit of humour and ended with a real tear manufacturer. how beautiful writing can be.

    Giving away your pet dog is never easy and for the grace you did it with i commend you.
    best of luck,
    movingabouteverywhere.wordpress.com

    Reply
  12. carolgita

    Reblogged this on carolgita and commented:
    I was one of the lucky ones until we discovered my son was allergic to our Golden Retriever, who had allowed both my children to use his fur to pull themselves up and learn to walk. But after the development of asthma the allergy created we had to say good-bye. I was lucky. My on-laws took her home. They lived across the country, but I not only saw photos, I could visit.
    Thank you for the beautiful piece!

    Reply

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