Friday, April 25, 2008

Taking the dogs to work

I may be starting to get a handle on this dog-mom-as-pack-leader business. As you may recall, we adopted two Lab-terrier puppies earlier this month. Almost three weeks into it, I feel much more relaxed about the whole business. We're falling into a routine. I feed them breakfast, take them out, stash them in the laundry room while I shower and have my breakfast, then we all dash down the hall to my office, where they munch their rawhide chews and fall asleep.

Every hour or so we have to go out because their bladders are small. I still pack one under each arm to carry them out because I don't trust them not to pee in the house, especially when they just woke up, but that's 27 pounds of dog now. It's a race between housetraining and dog growth.

Eventually they have lunch, they potty, Fred and I have lunch, and we all go back to work, stopping every hour or so for a potty break and playtime. We repeat the routine until they fall asleep for the night and peace finally reigns over the kingdom.

As for training, it's coming along, most of the time. They sit, they come, they bite less, althought they're still better paper shredders than the machine in Fred's office. When they're not eating, excreting or sleeping, they're usually wrestling. It drives me nuts. But I think I had a breakthrough this morning. I actually got them to separate and sit perfectly still for at least a minute.

What's all this got to do with childlessness? Lots of things, actually. These are my baby substitutes. There is no denying it. I know they're dogs. I know they won't take care of me in my old age. I know they won't give me a party on my 80th birthday. I know they're animals that will kill smaller animals, given the chance. I know that all of our conversations are one-sided. They are not people.

I think the puppies become so significant because I don't have children. At 56, this is the first time I have ever cared for a baby anything longer than a couple hours. I am learning lessons that mothers of human babies learn much earlier in life, especially this: the child's needs come first. I'm struggling to spread my attention among the pups, my husband, and my work. I'm losing work time and spending tons of money on these little guys. These are all experiences that are familiar to women with children, but they're new to me.

Yesterday, when my husband and I had to go out of town, I took the puppies to daycare. I've never done that before. Our other dogs have stayed in the yard or gone to a kennel, but these guys are too small. They can squeeze through too many openings in the fence, they need to be fed often, and they wreak havoc in the laundry room when left there very long. At $20 a pup, it was worth it for the peace of mind. I'm assuming that within a few months, they'll be self-sufficient enough and big enough to trust on their own, but not yet.

Dogs are not children. But look back a post or two, and you'll see my friends gave me a puppy shower. Now I've taken them to daycare. And God help me, every friend who calls or visits gets called Auntie or Uncle so-and-so. I can't help myself.

I think the puppies fall somewhere between the dolls I used to play with and the children I never had. They're kind of like toys, but they're also live creatures for which I'm responsible.

Back in the real world, I'm working on my chapter about the psychological effects of childlessness. If we don't become parents, are we perpetual children? Opinions vary, but I'm leaning toward yes.

And now I have to go because the dogs are fighting again--just like my brother and I used to do. My poor sainted mother would spank both of us, saying, "I don't care who started it." Next time we got within punching or kicking distance of each other, we'd be at it again. Ditto for the dogs, except I can't spank them. Corporal punishment is no longer acceptable in dog training.

Have I lost my mind? Or are dogs a healthy substitute when you can't have children? What do you think?

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This blog has moved. Please switch over to the new site at All of the old posts have already been transferred over there, and it would make life easier if you would comment at that site. Thank you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dog mom? Cesar says no

In trying to figure out how to handle these two pups we have adopted, I have been devouring dog-training books. See my May newsletter at for reviews. None of the ones I have read address how to deal with two puppies at once. I hope the next book coming from Amazon will give me a clue. As it is, every time I get one under control, the other pops out. This can go on for a long time, with the husband standing around saying, "What should I do?"

"Grab a dog or get out of the way!"

Anyway, I need to get control, preferably without screaming or having to lift these increasingly heavy dogs to get them where I want them to go. In his book Cesar's Story, TV's "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan insists that people who treat their pups as child substitutes are going to end up with dogs that are ill-mannered, disobedient and possibly dangerous. Why? Because dogs don't need a mommy; they need a calm, assertive pack leader. They need exercise, discipline and affection, in that order. None of this cuddling and baby talk all day stuff. If they haven't earned affection by their good behavior, we are supposed to snub them. Hard to do when they're wailing or staring at you with those sweet brown eyes. But Cesar says if their human owner appears to be all emotion and no authority, dogs will assume she's not a strong leader, and they'll take over.

I know he's right, but I am rarely calm and definitely not calmly assertive. I panic and wind up hollering things like "Quit biting me, you little brat." At least human babies don't have teeth at eight weeks. Do they? What I know about human babies could fit onto a 3 x 5 card, with room to spare.

So I'm trying. The dogs are in a crate near my desk right now, listening to oldies on the radio while I work. I'll let them out in an hour or so. All day long, it's work, dog, work, dog, work, dog. Once they go to bed at night, I leave them alone in their cozy bed in the laundry room, even though I'm finally done working and I really want to cuddle. Can I just hold them and rock them once in a while before they get too big? Just a little?

Most of the childless women I have interviewed have pets and treat them like their children. Would it be easier to treat them like dogs if we had actual children? We'll never know. One final note from Cesar: People need dogs, but dogs don't need people. Left on their own, they pick a pack leader from among themselves, find their own food and do just fine.

Now, has anyone got a baby gate I can borrow? The pups have figured out how to get up the steps from the den into the rest of the house.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This blog has moved. Please switch over to the new site at All of the old posts have already been transferred over there, and it would make life easier if you would comment at that site. Thank you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No, not dogs again!

Yes, dogs again. Sorry, but that's all I can think about these days. You see, Fred and I adopted two 7-week-old puppies last week, and it really feels as if I have two babies. They're the same weight as babies, have the same needs, and fill the same needs in my heart. Last night, my church choir surprised me with a puppy shower. There were two baby blankets, but of course no little onesies. I did get dog treats, chew toys galore, balls, weewee pads, and lots of advice. There was a gorgeous white-frosted cake with big red flowers on it. This may sound totally nuts, but it felt as if I had received something I'd been waiting for all my life. I sat on the floor of the chapel opening presents and soaking it all in.
As assistant director, I was surprised that there had been a wave of e-mail that didn't include me. Those sneaky singers.
Puppies are certainly not the same as humans. They won't take care of you in your old age. Conversations are rather one-sided. And they poop and piddle on the floor. But for the childless woman who wanted children and didn't have them, they're one way of filling that emptiness.
Has anyone else found that to be true? What other ways can you feed the maternal need? I'd love to hear your ideas.
And yes, I promise to get back to human issues next time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Are childless women immature?

Does not having children cause a woman to miss an important stage in becoming a mature adult? Does she remain the perpetual daughter and never learn to put others' needs before her own?

I have asked these questions of many women. the answers vary. Some admit that yes, the childless woman misses some of the critical lessons that come with motherhood. In fact, a recent New Zealand study maintains that mothers have been proven to be smarter than non-mothers, possibly due to the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy or to the demands of motherhood.

Other childless women claim that that's ridiculous, that in fact in some mothers are less mature than they are because they have had less time to work on their own development. And many say that childless women learn the same lessons in other ways, perhaps by caring for other children, their own aging parents, a spouse or people they nuture in their jobs. I'll add taking care of animals to the mix. Of course it's not the same, but sometimes their needs do outweigh yours.

What do you think? This is the next chapter I'm planning to tackle in my book. I don't have the answers to my questions, only opinions. I'm sure that no one answer fits all. What have you seen or experienced? Does one need to have kids to fully grow up?