THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Coupling

Yes, that's my baby

Who says my husband and I can't consider our dog part of the family?

By Laurette Folk
December 19, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

A disturbing thing happened recently: A friend of mine’s dog passed away, and she had written “thinking of my boy” on her Facebook page. Another friend saw what she had written and sent me a note: “Is she talking about a [expletive] dog?”

I thought about this for days.

My husband and I are in our 40s, don’t have any children (yet), and, I’ll admit, treat our 3-year-old Lab like a child. She has a toy box where her toys are stored.

We get down on our hands and knees and play tug. She has play dates with other dogs. My mother has finally acquiesced to this madness and refers to her as her “granddog.”

Then the other day, I really did it; I officially humanized her. I was half asleep, and I thought my dog was yelling “You!” instead of barking “Roo!” out the window at a passerby.

While I have been an animal lover all my life and am on my fourth dog, this is a first for my husband. He had come into this relationship with the meager experience of caring for a gerbil, and that was some 35 years ago. When I bought Josie three months after my old Lab Ralphie died, it was a point of contention; my soon-to-be husband and I were living separately and had not agreed on this new addition to our lives. We had not even lived together, and now we would have to live with a dog as well. But my husband warmed to her immediately and now has more cutesy names for her (and even doggerel – songs he amuses himself and her with) than he does for me.

We are not alone. My brother and his wife refer to their cat and dog as “the kids.” My sister sends me pictures of her cat at the dinner table. Our friends have spent well over $10,000 on their dog for leg reconstruction.

Is this ridiculous? Are we out of touch? Have a screw loose? I mean, really, my dog is not going to come home from school with drawings to hang on the refrigerator, nor is she going to fall in love, score a goal for a youth soccer league, graduate, get married. She’s just not that, well, advanced. Are we wasting our maternal and paternal nurturing on animals?

Some people with children tend to think so, as my friend had implied with his comment.

The answer lies in the definition of love. If you get down to brass tacks, love, and I’m quoting Random House here, is “a profoundly tender, passionate affection,” a “personal attachment.” It does not say “for humans only.”

I got Ralphie in the midst of a nasty depression. He roused me out of bed in the morning. When I was upset, he sat next to me and put his paw on my knee. I shared with him moments I have never shared with anyone else; he took the edge off my loneliness and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. The day he collapsed from a tumor in his heart and had only days to live, I felt my world crumble. He lay in his bed for most of the time he had left. On the last day, he got up, crossed the kitchen, and sat at my feet. I bent down to him, and we both breathed and looked at each other. Then I wrapped my arms around him. It was the most beautiful goodbye I’ve ever shared with another being.

So I debated with myself whether I would love a child more than my dog, should I be blessed with one. And then I thought how ridiculous it is to ask such a thing. What I have concluded is that you can’t measure love in kilograms or liters or dictate where it should go and where it shouldn’t. You love who you love. Compassion has no hierarchy, either. Dogs understand compassion. The rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s pit bulls is powerful evidence of this. If we are now able to extend our compassion to “lower” life forms, perhaps this indicates a baby step toward evolving out of our aggressions, developing a respect for other sentient beings, and honoring their niches on the planet.

So, if it’s all right with you, we’re going to continue loving our dog like a kid. Just wait till you see what she’s getting for Christmas.

Laurette Folk is a freelance writer from Beverly who teaches writing at North Shore Community College and Bunker Hill Community College. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

  • December 19, 2010 cover
  • Best of the New