Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebookor Pinterest.
My husband and I welcomed Choco, our first dog, 18 months before we had our son. Next in line was our little girl, who was the baby in the family for only a year before we added a new puppy, Argus. Our family expanded from two to six in as many years, and we were thrilled!
Both of our kids grew up with canine companions who enriched their young lives every day. To observe them romp around the backyard, with their two big brown dogs following close behind, was to watch happy childhood memories in the making. But, in addition to being our children’s playmates, Choco and Argus added other dimensions to their lives by simply doing what dogs do.
During the years that Choco and Argus were part of our family, they offered gifts to each of us with every tail wag and snuggle. As the dogs aged and became somewhat frail, they gave both kids additional lessons on how to be a caregiver.
At 14, Choco’s legs were weak and it was difficult for him to stand and eat. Our daughter sat patiently by his side feeding him kibble mixed with cottage cheese. He took small bites off the spoon she held out to him, chewing slowly, his eyes looking up into hers.
Years later, our son came home from freshman year in college for spring break and learned that Argus, at 13, had developed a serious breathing condition. He stayed behind from our family vacation to watch over his pup, sleeping on the couch near Argus’ bed, ready to attend to his needs.
The dogs were gentle and affectionate companions to our kids up to the very end. Along with sweet memories, what endures for our children are our family values including compassionate behavior to animals and to other people. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children what we believe by our actions and through our words. But having these two dogs during the formative years of our children’s lives gave them daily practice in a virtue that we hold dear.
Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is a blogger at Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
Our family is not very crafty, but each year on Valentine’s Day, I gathered doilies, feathers, and pink markers for our daughter (now a college freshman) who loved making her own straight-from-the-heart designs. I remember her as a little girl as she sat at the kitchen table, gluing red hearts and writing out “I Love You” in glitter while Choco, our big chocolate Lab, slept nearby. That special card for her special dog was one she often finished first.
Did Choco notice and fully appreciate the sweet Valentine from the youngest member of his family? What Choco seemed to crave the most were our daughter’s belly-rubs and ear-scratches—tactile reminders of her affection.
Cho was already six years old when our daughter was born. As she grew from a baby to a toddler, he was her gentle playmate. She tumbled over him while he slept and was patient as she dressed him in our family’s wardrobe of hats. While she played, Choco felt her tiny hand on his head and his back, every caress an expression of devotion.
Touch is a vital component to the relationship you have with your dog. This Valentine’s Day, if you are considering buying your pet a squeaky toy or a card, don’t forget to simply give him a hug. While handling is easy and natural for many pets, for others there can be some hesitancy. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section for tips if your dog resists touch.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
As new parents, even during the first months of our sleep-deprived state, we knew we wanted another baby and dreamed about our tiny son having a little brother or sister. Years later, when our family included a son, a daughter and a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador named Choco, we welcomed a new Lab puppy. Our family now numbered six!
Most of the time, Choco seemed delighted with his new playmate, Argus. When they romped around the backyard together, our older dog resembled his younger self. Meanwhile, the puppy spent many happy afternoons alternating between chewing on and napping next to his big buddy.
Are you considering bringing home a second dog? Here are a few things to think about first:
1. Is your family ready? Are your children at an age where they can interact with a dog? Will they be able to help with feeding, walks for one or both dogs and simple lessons of sit-stay-down for the dog? Are you committed to housebreaking and/or training a new canine friend?
2. Is your resident dog ready? If your dog has mastered basic obedience training, it may be easier to introduce a second dog to your family. If you choose to bring home a puppy, he or she may benefit from learning from your older, resident dog.
3. Are you prepared for the additional cost? Covering the cost for twice the food, vet bills, medicine, insurance (if you choose to insure your dogs), toys and other pet care supplies adds up quickly.
4. Have you considered factors like age, size and temperament of your resident dog? When you are out walking your dog or, if you take him to a dog park, how does he react to other dogs? Does he tend to dominate or is he easy-going? Is he playful and good natured with all other dogs, or does he seems to do better with those who are similar in size?
5. Have you planned for the introduction? When we brought Argus home, we brought Choco out to meet him in a neutral place and had one adult supervise each dog. We made sure to praise both dogs during the introductions, and provided separate food dishes and water bowls for Choco and Argus. As the dogs became used to each other, we enjoyed doing fun things together such as playtime in the backyard and taking walks around the neighborhood.
We loved watching our children and dogs grow up together and, after Choco passed away, we eventually got a second dog to spend time with Argus. I cannot imagine our household without canine companionship. But the decision to bring home a second pet is a serious one, and should not be done on a whim. Carefully consider your second-dog readiness, plan for the inevitable adjustment period, and look forward to many happy days to come—both for your dogs and for the rest of your household.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. (Clement Clark Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas)
Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, is a Christmas tradition that never grows old. I think of his lines while I carry boxes of ornaments from the attic and begin to decorate hearth and home. When it is time to place the pine roping over the mantle and hang the stockings, I do so “with care” for everyone in our family, including, of course, our dogs.
Once the tree is up and decorated and the stockings in place, we are ready for the holidays. Soon, kids will be home from school for winter break and we will greet out-of-town family with big hugs. Amidst the merriment, though, households can easily tip into a state of festive chaos giving family pets plenty of opportunities to find trouble. With snacks spread out on coffee tables—at perfect grazing height for dogs—and suitcases overflowing in guest rooms, inquisitive pups will search for both edible and non-edible treats.
Our family’s pack now includes eight-year-old Moose (pictured above with his stocking) who has been known to snatch many a peanut butter sandwich left carelessly on a counter. Our younger dog, four-year-old Gus, has an unfortunate taste for socks.
This holiday season, amidst the presents and the feasts, the cards and the decorations, I plan to use Moore’s poem as a way to remind my family that our dogs cruise for their own Christmas treats. For Gus’s sake, I will ask them to please remember to hang their stockings and, especially their socks, with care.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight— “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” (Clement Clark Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas)
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
On that afternoon in August when we said goodbye to our youngest child at her freshman dorm, my husband and I became empty nesters. We joined ranks with countless other parents who also turned keys in front door locks and walked into much quieter homes. Although I miss our daughter terribly, I take comfort in knowing that our chocolate labs, Gus and Moose, wait for me at home. They are great companions and cheer me with hearty tail wags, their exuberance on our morning walks, and expressions of devotion when they look up into my eyes, holding the stare.
Having dogs but no children under our roof made it easy to relate to a fellow empty nester, Susan Morse, who has recently published a memoir, The Dog Stays in the Picture. In the book, Morse credits her rescued greyhound, Lilly, with providing similar canine company after her three children had moved out to go to college. I discovered Morse’s writing when her book and the blog I co-author with Lisa Heffernan, Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest were both featured in a story in a recent article in The New York Times, “The Empty Nest Book Hatchery” as examples of a growing group of blogs and books aimed at adults whose children have flown the coop.
Morse’s title refers to Lilly’s steady presence in her household despite constant changes. The youngest children graduate from high school and leave for college while the eldest child, a daughter, begins her career. As her children grow increasingly independent, Morse laments “At least Lilly needs me, even if her constant shadowing has been a bit tiresome, more and more, I’m coming to understand the use of pets as a subconscious substitute for children.”
I love Moose and Gus but am not sure that I am trying to transfer a need to “mother” from our kids to our dogs. I take care of the two pups with the same level of exercise, feeding, and attention that I have always given them. What I treasure, though, are the memories of our kids at younger years that often co-star the dogs. I remember when our daughter, then 10-years-old, first laid eyes on Moose, the puppy. My daughter turns 19 in two weeks. I recall when our son, playing football in college, came home for surgery on his knee four years ago. I love thinking about how Gus, then just several months old, was a great diversion and source of happiness while he recovered.
For Susan Morse, her Lilly "stays in the picture" and is a comfort during a time of family changes. Our dogs stay close at hand and also remind me of family times gone by. I am grateful for Lilly, Gus, Moose and all other pets that help keep our nests full.