There are some women you never want to be. Like the one who gets a boyfriend and then ditches all her single girlfriends. Or the new mom who suddenly knows better than every other mother in history. And you don’t want to be me, either. I’m the woman who couldn’t love her dog and her kid at the same time.
Before we had a child, our dog Briscoe was the child. A rescue greyhound, I was proud of the way people stopped on the street and asked about his interesting markings and his past life on the track. We used to make dinner guests watch his racing videos. We have no fewer than three greyhound posters framed in our house and at one point I was sending out stationery with a custom-made illustration of him. I blogged about him to death. My husband and I took him to the fancy, expensive dog beach, cooked him chicken breasts, marched him in dog parades.
Then, when the baby was born, Briscoe went to stay at my parents’ house for a week. The day he came home, aside from the initial excitement of introducing the baby and the dog to each other, I realized something: If he had never come home, I might be OK with it.
Briscoe is a very good dog in a lot of respects. He never barks and is never aggressive with people. He’s healthy. He’s very tolerant of the baby. But ever since having a child, and especially after last winter, which was brutally cold, I discovered my tolerance for Briscoe’s thrice-daily 15-minute walks–not to mention his anxiety issues and occasional indoor incontinence–was rapidly diminishing. At the end of the day, I just feel so physically and emotionally spent from, you know, having it all, that the dog’s feelings just can’t get on my list of priorities.
I hate being this person. I feel like the bad guy in a Disney movie who is evil because everyone treats him as such. My husband, a gigantic softie, gives me no empathy whatosever when I’m upset with the dog. “He didn’t do it to upset you!” he’ll say after Briscoe jumps on the couch right after a day spent washing the slipcovers. He’ll say “Don’t say that!” when I say something mean about the dog, so I feel mean and censored, even though I’m still walking Briscoe, feeding him, taking him to the vet, getting his nails cut, and so on.
I reached out to some friends who had similar experiences. They, like me, are ashamed of the way motherhood changed their feelings towards animals, and so they requested that I not use their real names. I’ll call them Stephanie and Jessica.
Both, like me, were animal lovers who preferred dogs to babies until they had their own children. Stephanie adopted her first cat six months before she met the man who would become her husband. “It was super important to me that they get along,” she says. However, after having two children, her cat’s foibles, such as meowing outside their bedroom door or knocking baby bottles onto the floor at 5 a.m. became harder to tolerate, especially when both children were young and sleep was at a premium. “Some mornings it would absolutely enrage me. I would never dream of hurting my cat, but there were times when I would yell and then be terribly embarrassed by it.” She intends to give the cat a comfortable life until the end, but doesn’t think she wants another pet after the cat’s time on earth is up.
Jessica couldn’t wait to get a dog of her own. Shortly after they got married and bought a house, she her husband adopted a beagle named Angel they adored. A week before a routine vet’s appointment, Jessica found out that after years of trying, she was finally pregnant. However, she suffered from extreme morning sickness and was having a difficult time connecting to the idea of a baby. “I was more excited to think about the dog and the baby playing together than I was to think about the baby in general.” At that vet’s appointment she found out that Angel was suffering from an aggressive form of lymphoma, and she had to be put down shortly thereafter.
Jessica missed Angel so badly that she decided to adopt another beagle halfway through her pregnancy. “I really wanted our baby to have a dog to play with and to love.” By the time she found another beagle, Charlie, and the paperwork was completed, she was nearly seven months pregnant. Then baby Nina came about three weeks early. “I regretted getting the new dog the instant we brought Nina home from the hospital,” she says. Instead of a touching first moment together, Charlie lunged at the baby when the carseat was placed on the floor. “I realized I made a huge mistake. I was hormonal and overwhelmed and in tears. I started to despise that dog.” Charlie would from then on lunge at Nina every time she cried, despite obedience training, and Jessica decided it was time to rehome him, sending him to live with her parents (who are also dog lovers). “I felt guilty about not missing him, and abandoning the dog that I’d been so determined to get. I always thought that parents who gave away their dogs were horribly selfish.”
Now, she’s not sure she’ll ever own another dog again. “Having a baby is way more all-consuming than I ever could have imagined. I don’t miss barking or feeding or training or walks or shedding or really anything about having a dog. Now I feel like a jerk for ever judging people who couldn’t keep their pets.”
Even celebrities have copped to the sudden pet-hating phenomenon. On Jeff Garlin’s podcast By the Way last year, Amy Poehler admitted, “Sometimes when you have little kids, the idea of having another living being in your house is overwhelming. You love your animals so much, and then when your babies come, you’re like, ‘Get this filthy disgusting creature out of my way.’”
I honestly don’t like feeling the way I do, so I sought advice on how to recapture my original love of my dog. I reached out to Cory Smith, director of pet protection and policy at the Humane Society, and shamefully confessed.
To my surprise, she wasn’t just understanding, she was sympathetic. “You have to keep in perspective that your dog is not suffering because you pet him less. It’s an adjustment: it can be difficult to let go of those standards of care of yourself and your pet, especially when there’s a lot of judgment out there.”
Here’s where I should mention that Smith is a new mother herself, and told me how her own relationship with her cats changed after she gave birth. While she recommended that I, and other new parents like me, “really dig down deep for that patience,” moreover her advice was, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” (which is fabulous advice that can basically apply to any aspect of parenting).
If our dog gets one fewer walk per day, or if the cat gets kept in the screen porch for a few hours so everyone can sleep quietly, it’s still OK. According to Smith, the arrival of children is one of the top five reasons people relinquish their animals to shelters. One of the society’s aims is to support pet owners who might otherwise relinquish pets to shelters, where their odds or finding a new home or even surviving can be slim. In the grand scheme of things–when you consider the horrific treatment many animals suffer–a shorter walk or a grumpy word said in a moment of exhaustion is ultimately not that big of a deal.
I’m not sure if my husband will forgive me anytime soon for loving our greyhound less, but knowing that I’m not alone–and that I’m not really such a bad owner, all told–made me feel much better. And I have a cute solution, in the meantime: even if I’m not inclined to pet Briscoe as much I used to, I can get my two-year-old to do it for me.