There was an interesting conversation around the water cooler the other day when one of my colleagues was lamenting about the almost obsessive nagging from her daughter to get a dog.
It was interesting hearing the reasons why a young mother with two small children – both under the age of six – would understandably shy away from the prospect of bringing a new “life” into the house when she knows full well who will end up mothering the pet.
At the same time, this mother wanted her children to have the experience and benefits of having a pet in the house and growing up with a pooch to cuddle and play with.
The conversation brought me back to the time when my first husband passed away when our daughter was six. She never asked for a pet, but instinctively I knew a new puppy would be a distraction and a source of comfort over the months and years ahead, which I knew would be incredibly difficult for both of us.
Snoop was only a member of our family for a few weeks when my husband died. Through the fog of the following weeks, the new pup played a critical role in helping my daughter cope. We were late taking the little pup for its first veterinarian check up. That’s when we found out Snoop was really a Snoopette and we settled into a 17-year friendship with the most amazing dog in the world.
I can’t remember the time and energy it took to train and care for Snoopette. I remember the fun we all had together such as the time she jumped off a dock to follow me head first into the lake (who said shih tzus don’t like to swim?), and how she would be waiting by the front door at the same time every day waiting for the school bus to drop off my daughter.
But I also remember the anguish and heartbreak of watching her go blind and lose the ability to control her bladder. Her passing was gut wrenching, especially for my daughter who called Snoopette her best friend EVER!
It was such a strong memory of loss that when my two younger daughters were born, I resisted getting another dog. We had a lop-eared bunny named Louie who would chew on anything he could get his teeth into. We had a love bird that would sing so loudly when the telephone rang we had to move the cage out of ear shot so we could talk on the phone. We had more goldfish than I care to admit to.
But these stopgap measures to avoid having a dog never took hold and when my girls were 16 and 13, I thought the time was right for another dog in our lives. I remember sourcing out shih tzu breeders and when I found one, I kept it a secret until a pup was ready.
One Sunday morning I left the house early and came home with the new bundle of joy. My girls were shocked and delirious at the same time.
Anna has been in our lives for nine years. She’s been described as a therapy dog, a best friend, the smartest dog in the world, a princess and so many more worthy adjectives. She is an important part of our family and we couldn’t imagine life without her.
I offered this advice to my colleague: she will know when it is the right time to add a dog to her family, and it will be one of the best decisions she could make…if she gets the right dog to match her family’s temperament.
I suggested she do her research on various breeds, really look at the maturity level of her children, and be committed to taking care of the pet too, because they will need “mothering” until they find their place in the family home. And it all goes well, it will be one of the best gifts she can give to her children.
Patricia Mills is the founding publisher of Sudbury Living and is currently the president of the NEO Kids Foundation.