Over the years, I’ve very often heard dog owners refer to their dogs as their “fur babies”, and their treatment of their dogs typically reflects that attitude. A close friend of mine refers to her two dogs as “her four-legged kids”, and lavishes love and attention on them as if that’s exactly what they were, snuggling with them, purchasing toys and treats for them, arranging play dates, comforting them when needed, and generally treating them as any loving parent would treat their children.
As a dog owner myself, I can relate to that feeling. My family has had a dog since my earliest childhood, and every dog that has been in our household has been far more than just “the dog”. The dogs we’ve had over the years have been my friends, companions, playmates, and the objects of my family’s love and attention for as long as I can remember.
As a child growing up, having a dog helped to teach me some of my first lessons in how to care for another living creature. One of my earliest memories is of my father placing our new Basenji puppy, Ginger, in my arms and telling me to be gentle, as she was just a baby. I remember being fascinated by the feel of her little heartbeat against my arm and the softness of her fur. Ginger licked my face and made me giggle, and from that moment I was head-over-heels in love.
Years later, and now with two sons of my own, I can truthfully say that the lessons in nurturing, patience, and love that I learned from having dogs in our family have been absolutely invaluable to me as both a person and a parent. And watching my sons interact with our dogs, I can see that they are learning similar lessons which they will find equally invaluable as they grow into adulthood themselves.
Of course, as is the case with many of life’s lessons, the lessons we learn and the personal benefits we reap from raising and keeping dogs do not always come easily; with dogs, much as it is with children, frustrations and challenges often abound, particularly in the early years. Anyone who has raised either a puppy or an infant can attest to the fact that the two are often very similar; they make messes, they restrict our freedom to come and go as we please, they cause us to lose sleep, and in general, they need others to provide for them the care that they are unable to provide for themselves, and this can often be a daunting responsibility.
But as it is with the lessons, so it is with the rewards; while the lessons may not always come easily, they are almost always worth the effort we put in, and the greatest challenges often yield the greatest rewards. Just as I have changed countless diapers for my children, I have cleaned up countless “accidents” for my dogs. I’ve picked up the shattered remnants of beloved items my children have knocked over, and similarly picked up remnants of items my dogs have destroyed (my son’s favorite teddy bear getting shredded by our Labrador Retriever, Jack, particularly sticks out in my memory, although my son’s outrage was quickly dispelled by Jack’s obvious remorse when he was confronted with the wreckage). Countless times, I have felt like pulling my hair out as both a parent and as a dog owner.
But there has always been a point when the frustration passes, and what’s left is one of life’s greatest rewards; the unconditional love of which only the innocent — and what is more innocent than a young child or a dog? — seem fully capable. A dog owner who pours their heart and soul into their canine friend will be rewarded with a degree of trust and affection which is nearly unknown to those who have never owned a dog (or raised a child, for the parents out there). If someone is fortunate, they may find another source of unconditional love that matches the unconditional love a dog can offer, but finding a person who can offer a love that is completely selfless and unreserved may not come as easily as finding a “fur baby” who will love you in such a way. Dogs, after all, have no hidden agendas or ulterior motives; they don’t care about whether or not you have money, fame, good looks, a nice car, or a big house in a beautiful neighborhood. Aside from the physical (food, shelter, and the like), their needs are very simple: our time, our patience, and our love.
And as a reward for giving these things, our investment is returned a thousand times over. I have been the recipient of countless tail-wagging, face-licking greetings (every one of which has always warmed my heart and improved even the most difficult of days), and comforted by their love and companionship in times of pain. I have been there for my dogs as they have been there for me, from the moment our lives were joined until the end which inevitably awaits us all.
And every time, I have had no regrets. Far from it, in fact…after having experienced the love a dog can offer, I am quite certain I will be the parent of a fur baby for as long as I am able.