Recently I have noticed a strange phenomenon amongst my forty-something friends. It seems that an extraordinarily large percentage of us have recently bought, or are planning on buying a dog. It got me thinking. What could be causing this rush of canine hysteria? Speaking from my own experience, the purchase of our puppy a year ago was primarily a surrender to the years of constant nagging from my daughter, combined with the acquisition of a large garden having recently moved to the suburbs.
But could there be another reason? Despite not being able to bear our children’s repetitive pleas of, “Mum! When can we get a puppy?” for one moment longer, could it be that this era of mass doggy adoption amongst my contemporaries was happening because of something us mothers were experiencing? For me at least, buying a puppy was also a test. I had been toying with the idea of trying for another baby since I turned 42, knowing I was in my last few years of this being a remote possibility. The arrival of our puppy was, in part, a test of my capabilities of mothering another newborn.
One month in, I knew that my daughter would be remaining an only child.
It is common knowledge that as much as your child insists that they will look after the new arrival, it’s a fallacy. The dog will be your responsibly – you will feed it, walk it, and yes, pick up its poo. I was prepared for the responsibility. What I wasn’t prepared for when our eight-week Rhodesian Ridgeback arrived (a breed known as the lion dog, as it was originally bred to hunt lions), all soft with big brown, butter-would-not-melt eyes, was that we had effectively released a great white shark into our household.
On her first night home, sleeping sweetly in her crate, my husband read up on Ridgeback ownership. “Not ideal as a first dog”, “might be too much dog for a first-time owner” and my personal favourite and one that made my husband go white, “Ridgebacks need constant stimulation otherwise will have the tendency to dig 3-meter wide holes in your lawn”! You would have thought that we’d have done some research before choosing this breed, but nope, that’s just not our style. In we went, head first into doggy world. We were woefully unprepared.
Four weeks in and I was tearing my hair out. ‘Poppy’ as she had been christened by our daughter, was waking me up twice a night and nipping our ankles to the point where, despite it being high summer, the only footwear we could sport were wellington boots. More annoyingly, Poppy could not be left alone for one second for fear of her peeing on the rug, or chewing the furniture. Our daughter, terrified of her razor-sharp teeth, spent most of her time perched up on the kitchen counter screaming, her toes dangling just out of reach from the nipping terror below. The idyllic daydream of puppy and child playing happily in the garden was not coming to life. Dog trainers were called and discussions were had about giving her away. This was way harder than having a new born. Babies may take longer to potty train, but at least you can put a nappy on them.
But then something amazing happened. Lying in bed one night I was woken by a strange sensation. I felt our little dog’s soul connecting with mine. It was an unexpected but beautiful bonding within a semi-lucid dream, I felt her little heart beat, I could smell her sweet puppy breath. She had chosen me, I was her ‘Person’ (and if you don’t get this reference, you haven’t watched the rather wonderful doggy animation, ‘Bolt’). Soon after this happened, I noticed a shift in her behaviour, Poppy became calmer, more obedient and slowly we all began to fall in-love with our little lion.
Of course, pups can become surrogate children, a few of my childless, dog-owning friends can attest to this. But for us mothers, the addition of a pup to the family can be a way of easing the mourning of the end of our child-bearing years. When our children are too big to scoop up and cuddle and start with their hurtful pre-teen backchat, when we realise for certain that we are just too old and too tired to have another baby, a soft, needy pup that appreciates your affections, can be just the ticket, and even if you do have to pick up poo, at least it’s poo that belongs to you.
(The attached photo is of Poppy at 10 weeks)