(post updated August 4, 2013)
Allison Benedikt sent ripples of outrage through online pet lover communities when she admitted in an article at Slate.com that having children caused her to stop loving her dog.
As you’d expect, animal lovers commented that she should burn in hell and worse.
Luckily, we have several thoughtful and eloquent writers who have shared their personal feelings:
- Pup Fan of I Still Want More Puppies wrote Do You Have to Choose Between Having a Dog and Having Kids (read this one first if you want to know what the original article said without giving it any more traffic).
- Dr. V of Pawcurious posted The One Thing I’m Telling You Before You Have a Kid
- Jodi of Heart Like a Dog wrote Free to a Good Home
- Jen of My Brown Newfies had her say in Do You Have to Choose Between Having a Dog and Having Kids – a Mom’s Confession
I’d like to take another approach. Because regardless of whether people should have kids and dogs at the same time, there’s a bigger issue lurking in this discussion, like an elephant trying to hide behind a potted fern.
A Forever Home – Does It Always Make Sense?
I know why “a forever home” has become a rallying cry for the pet rescue community. But does it always make sense? And are we unexpectedly preventing dogs from having their best lives by insisting on it?
What if Alison Benedikt, instead of writing an awful post about how she neglects her dog after having three children in four years, found a new home for him when she had her first child? Would her dog be better off today?
Hey, I’m an idealist too.
I understand the hope that every person will think about the commitment they’re making before bringing home that cute puppy or kitten. But people are stupid, inconsistent, and fickle. We have messy lives. And we make mistakes.
In our idealism to persuade people to give their pets a forever home, do we sometimes make things worse?
Twelve years ago, the press started reporting horrific stories of infants being abandoned.
This wasn’t a new phenomenon. But it was the story du jour for a while.
Several states passed Safe Haven Laws that protected a parent from prosecution if she gave up her baby in a safe place, like a police station or hospital. Instead of leaving the baby strapped to a car seat by the side of the road or in a public toilet.
Is it ideal? Certainly not.
But if fear and shame cause parents to abandon their babies in conditions that cause them to die of exposure, maybe we need to fight the fear and shame while we’re still figuring out how to make sure that every child is born to parents who love and can care for him.
What does this have to do with dogs? Shame leads some people to give up their dogs by tying them somewhere, dumping them, or leaving them outside their local shelter in the middle of the night.
Or, it might have them keeping their dogs because it’s WRONG to re-home a dog for any reason, and the dog suffers in the end.
A Forever Home – The Personal Side
- adopting litter mates might be challenging
- how to prevent fights
- how to train
- the importance of getting knowledgeable help
- how to read canine body language.
But I did know one thing: adopting a dog is for life.
As a result, I had two highly stressed dogs who got into frequent bloody battles. Our last week with Christie found me covered in blood while I tried to figure how who was injured and where.
The day Christie died, her sister Agatha became a new dog. Finally, she felt peace.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have gotten help.
But if that didn’t work, I would have fought past the shame and the forever home dogma to find a loving home for Christie. She was a lovely dog who deserved better than to be bullied by her neurotic sister.
A Forever Home – Back to Kids and Dogs
Yes, I’m saddened to even read a stranger stating that she loves her dog less now that she has children. And I’m angry at human irresponsibility and fickleness.
But that’s life.
So how do we navigate between the forever home ideal and the messy reality of people’s lives?
When a pet person we know goes through a major life change, maybe we can offer some support. For instance, offer to walk their dog. Bring him with us to the dog park. Or give a dog and baby care basket as a shower gift.
Or, if the worst happens and the person decides to re-home their pet, help them. And maybe, just maybe, if we don’t blindly follow the forever home doctrine, the worst might just become the best–at least for one pet.
Your Turn: Do you think the dogma of a forever home helps people think more carefully about the responsibility they’re taking on when they get a pet? Or can it as likely keep people from doing what’s best for their dog?