How to Replace Your Dog with a Baby
By Caroline Horwitz
What You Need:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Steps to Take:
- 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.
- 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.
- Receive an email less than an hour later from a woman who describes herself as VERY interested.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 Chronicle, The 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 Chronicle, The Summerset Review, and Forge, among others. She is a Midwesterner at heart but loves exploring the desert with her husband and son.