It’s a Dog’s World
How having a dog helped me learn to take my own advice and get over myself.
Let’s just get it out there, I am not a mom. I am an aunt, a godmother and so much more, but personally, I am not a mom. What I am, however, is a dog mom.
I know. I can feel the mom’s rolling their eyes at me. I get it, it’s not the same thing. But my dog is my baby. That’s my dogter and I treat her very much like she’s my child. Alas, I am almost 40, so why not love the one I’m with, right?
Denver Grace, in all her prissy humbleness, has two toy bins, a pearl collar AND a diamond one (fake of course), a wardrobe full of clothes, and even has Ugg’s and Chucks. Like I said, she’s my dogter; I throw her birthday parties and wrap her Christmas presents.
Now that we’ve covered that, I shall proceed. Being a dog mom has taught me way more than I anticipated.
It’s taught me that I can’t be lazy if I don’t want her to potty in the house. Since I don’t live in a house with a yard, I have to get up and walk with her. She can’t do that on her own.
I have learned that I am shockingly concerned about what I allow her to eat. If I wouldn’t eat it, why should she? So many dog foods are loaded with meal fillers that are not healthy for our pets. So yes, I am that person in the PetSmart that is reading the labels of all foods, snacks, etc. to be sure that their ingredients are up to Denver’s standards.
I realized that I was paying more attention to what I was feeding her than what I was feeding myself and decided to change that as well. I matter also. I mean, if I get sick from eating crap food, who would take care of my dogter?
I figured out that being a dog parent was more work than it appears to be from the outside. They are tiny babies, looking for a pack leader and hold you responsible for their care, love and attention. And boy do they want your attention. Love me, hold me, feed me, walk me. It’s not just a walk in the park, although that helps!
My pocketbook found out what frivolous spending actually looked like. My bank thought my shopping habits were bad? Well, hello spoiled puppy Denver. Boom! I cannot tell you the amount of random crap I have bought for her simply because “she’d love this.” She probably doesn’t know why the diamond collar is so much cuter than her leather one, she mainly just wants to play fetch.
I will say this, though, she knows what and where every single toy she owns is. And it’s a lot of toys, on two different levels in the home. I can ask where her taco is, and she will bring it to me. Did you want to play with her rope? Well, she will grab that for you as well. Every toy has a name and every toy has a different purpose to her.
The main thing I have learned from becoming a dog mom, is that I need to get over myself.
It’s a tough reality to admit that your dog was able to make you realize more than a decade and a ton of money in therapy could.
When Denver was about three months old, she had a, umm… we’ll call it an incident.
But I’ll tell you this much, what it actually was, was an awful mean cat that attacked my sweet precious baby girl for no other reason than that Denver was curious and a tiny baby. What a bitch.
This “incident” as it shall be named from here on out, resulted in my tiny puppy having a razor-sharp cat claw rip all the way through her eye, all the way down to her lens. It was bad. I am not just saying that because she’s my baby, I am saying it because it’s true.
I spent my birthday in the emergency room, crying as they told me Denver would need surgery and there was potential that she could lose her eye. I was a mess. Denver was kissing me, like I was the one in pain. That’s why we don’t deserve dogs; they love us first and themselves second. They feel our pain, our sickness, our heartbreak, our love. They are full of empathy.
That was the first real lesson that I learned from having a dog. I would not realize it until much later, as is the case for us slow-to-learn humans.
After what felt like a million doctor visits, multiple months, a few different sized head cones (she grew fast because, duh she was a puppy), thousands of dollars, a few loans and a million tears, the cone came off and she could see.
I am emotional just typing that, remembering the day that the doctor told me she could tell she had almost full vision in her eye again. I was bawling like an actual parent in that vet’s office. I know, it’s not the same, but it’s close. I had prayed for months for fully restored vision for Denver. I even brought it to my prayer group, even though I felt silly doing that. They never treated me like it was an odd request; they jumped on the line with God along with me and we prayed for a miracle.
God delivered one.
No, she cannot fully see like it never happened, but she can see. When the incident occurred, I was told that the goal was to save the eye, but that the vision would most likely never return. Then, I was told that she would only see shadows from then on. Then I was told that she could see. I already knew that though. I had faith and constantly tested her bad eye to encourage it to heal better.
That was the second real lesson I learned from being a dog mom. You have to have faith. Again, I failed to truly realize this lesson at the time I was learning it. Sometimes you need to step away from something to really see the value in it.
Finally, she was cone free. Then, I had her spayed and they tossed another cone around her for a bit which she was not crazy happy about. But after that, she was free. We started going to dog parks, for walks, out to eat, to bars. I took her everywhere. She had all her shots and was good to go.
Denver was terrified. She would hide behind me, on me, anywhere away from other animals she could get. At one dog park, she crawled up my back and stood on my shoulders, that is how scared she was. I hadn’t considered the fact that she might be scared of other animals due to the incident.
I had not even considered my baby girl’s feelings. What kind of mother was I? That isn’t even the lesson I learned, though it should have been. I started to ease her into dog parks more slowly. No longer did I just release her and expect her to run around like the other dogs. Those dogs had not been mangled by a vicious, mean animal. Those dogs had not spent over have their lives in a cone due to an incident that led to extreme and terrifying surgery. Those dogs were not her.
We started going for walks and I would cross the street when other dogs were approaching so she would not start shaking. She sat in my lap at restaurants and bars if there were other dogs around. Then, she started gaining confidence. Last month, at her birthday party, she walked around the brewery by HERSELF. For hours. She did great.
After we moved into a new neighborhood, she began learning more about other animals like squirrels, birds, frogs. Yesterday, she actually chased a squirrel. Five days before that, she licked a frog during our evening stroll. That frog happened to be having sex with another frog, so I am sure he was not as excited about it as I was, but that was HUGE for her. What a big, brave girl.
My new neighborhood came with a brand-new dog park. It’s adorable. She hates it. There are always other dogs in there. You know, since it is a dog park. She likes to run around it when it’s empty. She walks along the balance beams and smells all the other dogs and has a great time. The other day, she wanted to go in, even though there were other dogs in there. I jumped at the chance to take her in, since she wanted to be there. There were five dogs in there. One of them was a sweet baby puppy, only 6 months old. This puppy wanted to play with Denver so bad.
As this puppy chased my scared-to-death dog around the dog park in circles, I was low key freaking out inside. Like, she would never want to step foot in there again. She finally ran in-between my legs and claimed her favorite shelter spot as the puppy circled my feet to try and play with her.
Then the other dogs came over to me, trying to see Denver since she was new. Felt more like a “fresh meat” situation honestly. She sat between my legs, tail down, ears back and eyes wide open. She didn’t run. She didn’t crawl up me or even try to. I was so proud of her.
Here is the ultimate lesson I learned. As we walked away that day, she was proud of herself. She was wagging her tail and skipping along. This is not an exaggeration guys, she was literally skipping with a smile on her face. As I looked at her, I said, “you won’t ever make any new friends if you don’t open up. Just because that cat hurt you, doesn’t mean every other animal is going to.” Boom. I should have dropped a mic onto my own head.
This lesson is a two part one. She was all happy and proud and thought she made new friends and I stood there in my parental shadowing and stole her freaking thunder. She thought she had made new friends. I told her she had not. She was right. I was wrong. Luckily, she is a dog and not a human, so it didn’t affect her at all. Denver was still happy, proud and smiling. If I had said that to another human in this same situation, I could have hurt them in so many ways. Bad on me for that.
The epic part of this lesson is the hurt part. I told her that not everyone is out to hurt her and that she needs to trust people, giving them a chance. Holy crap. Did you guys hear that? I am sure we have heard ourselves saying this to other people, even ourselves.
And you know what, I gave her great advice. I was right. You know what else? I am a huge hypocrite! How many times have I been hurt and built up a large wall to keep it from happening again? How many times have I allowed myself to be less than I am capable of because I was scared of the pain that could come with it? How many times have I chosen solitude over the chance to be hurt by someone else?
ALL THE TIME. FOR YEARS.
It was this moment, walking my happy dog around the neighborhood, that I realized all of these lessons at the same time.
My dog loves me more than herself, even when I am stealing her joy. My dog has empathy for me that I did not have for her when she needed it most. My dog loves fully without any strings attached. My dog puts me above herself, except when she really wants to play with her taco toy, and I am playing solitaire on my phone. We do not deserve them.
My dog has faith that I will feed her every day. My dog has faith that I will always come home. My dog has faith that I will always protect her. My dog has faith that I have her best interest at heart. I am her pack leader and she has full trust in me. Even when I am too tired to play with her, even when I am stressed out, even when I can’t be home much due to work, even when I travel too much. In mom, Denver trusts.
My dog would never tell me to do something she isn’t doing herself. Mainly because she is a dog and can’t talk. But she tries to talk. She makes funky noises and howls at me and, not joking, I understand her. We have a special connection, like mother and dogter should have. My dog is scared, but she keeps trying. My dog is nervous, but she shows up. My dog is willing to grow, no matter how many baby steps it takes her. My dog doesn’t give up.
We should not give up either. My ex-husband, the one who cheated on me non-stop for 6 years, he can’t hurt me anymore. Because he hurt me, doesn’t mean every other guy in the world is going to. My childhood, filled with abuse and heartache, is my past and not my future. The only way that becomes my future, is if I allow myself to stay in the past.
I have to believe in myself, my abilities, my people. I have the power to change my mindset, but I have to be willing to put in the work. I have to care enough about other people, to want to be an example to them. I have to have enough faith in myself, to know that I have no limits. I have to be willing to do the work.
We all do.