My Dog IS My Baby

A little over 10 years ago, I made my way to Logan International. I wasn’t catching a flight, but I was going places. In order to begin my journey, I needed to get to the cargo area of the airport. It’s been a long time now, so all I remember is a blur of faces and signs and my cell phone ringing infrequently with someone on the other end telling me that if I didn’t get to them in time they would close and who knew what would happen to my precious cargo.

I started panicking.

I grew confused when every worker I asked for guidance said the cargo area didn’t close for quite some time. And then my panic worsened when my dad, who had accompanied me, said that someone might be trying to steal my cargo. Great. Panting and sweating, we finally found our way to the cargo area. I signed on a line and the attendant disappeared for a moment. When he returned, he was holding a crate with a vast space in the middle.

I opened the door to the crate, looked inside the vastness, and heard faint whimpering. Gingerly sticking my hand in, I found what I sought. Gently, I pulled the little bundle out. He whimpered some more and then scurried back inside the safety of his crate.

“We’re your new family,” my dad crooned.

After what seemed like ages, we got him out. A black and tan bundle of fur, weighing about 3 pounds. I named him Balto.

From that moment on, Balto and I were nearly inseparable. Literally. He’s what you call a “Velcro dog.” Anyone who knows me knows that Balto is almost ubiquitous in my conversations. He’s not just my pet–he’s my friend.

You’re probably asking why I’m talking about this right now. Well, to be honest, I just wanted to talk about how much I love my dog and to tell people to stop telling me that it’s just a dog. He’s not “just a dog.”

Balto is my family.

That’s why John Wick’s reaction to the fate of his dog in the first film is completely relatable. John Wick’s dog isn’t just his dog–it’s his “hope.” He’s lost his wife and then receives a bundle of joy that instantaneously becomes his best friend, his comforter, and then someone takes that away from him. Naturally, John Wick is angry about this. John Wick is all of us pet parents.

Let me tell you a story:

I was at a cookout with my family and I brought Balto. There were many small children there. Up until that point I had never had Balto around small children, so I honestly wasn’t sure how he would do. Given this, I knew I would have to be vigilant. I kept Balto on his leash at all times and he never left my side (meaning I never let anyone else hold his leash). Whenever the children came near, I was wary. I told them to be careful–that just because he is small doesn’t mean he won’t react. For the most part they listened.

But there’s always that one kid.

In this case, it was more than one and they weren’t being belligerent, but they did think it was funny when Balto had clearly reached his limit. He stopped letting the kids approach him. He started growling to warn them off. At this point I knew that Balto had had enough and I told the kids so.

“Leave him alone,” I said, gently. “He’s tired from playing all day.”

Eventually they backed off. I kept Balto by my side and had my own conversations. One lone child came along. She either ignored my previous announcement or wasn’t present to hear it. Either way, she was unfortunately the straw that broke Balto’s back. He went nuts, barking tremendously, and it scared the poor girl, but this was the extent of his wroth. The girl’s grandmother was nearby and took the barking as him being dangerous and approached me about it.

I say she “approached” but that implies she was civil about it. She was not. The woman got in my face telling me that I needed to keep my dog on a leash (as I’m literally holding his leash in my hand) and proceeded to tell me what I should do with my dog. I didn’t think, I just reacted. I got in her face right back. I couldn’t begin to tell you what all was said. I just know I felt defensive of this woman being argumentative. I didn’t care much about what she was saying about me. I cared more about her attitude towards my puppy. Then she said one thing that was as clear as a bell:

“If your dog bites my baby, then I’mma kick him.”

*Cue “In the Eye of the Hurricane”*

Up until this point, I had merely been trying to assert myself with this woman: talking loud, having a comeback for everything she said. I know a lot of my responses were nonsensical, but all I cared about was showing up for Balto. But in that moment, a calm washed over me. It was like the world stood still. I knew exactly what to say and I’d never been more sure of anything in my life:

“Then I’ll kick you.”

That seemed to settle things. People stepped in and diffused the situation and it ended, but not without the woman trying to have the last word. She did say something to me again as her grandchild walked by Balto and he didn’t even do anything. I had words with her again, but nothing nearly as intense as the first altercation. She never kicked my dog and I never kicked her.

This was, and is, extremely out of character for me. I’ve never been in a fight. I’ve never even been in a public altercation like that, but just as she felt protective of someone or something threatening her grandchild, I felt protective of someone or something threatening my fur baby. Normally, I’d feel bad for being disrespectful to someone older than me, especially someone I didn’t even know. And I did for awhile when I looked back at it, but you know what?

I’m. Not. Sorry.

Balto, the first night I brought him home

On January 5, an article was published saying that Pope Francis thinks that choosing pets over kids is selfish. He goes on to say choosing pets over children “is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity.” So…first I will say that I’ve acknowledged that I do think I’m a selfish person. I felt that way before this article was published and now, I certainly don’t feel any less so. I’m not sorry. Second, I would argue that caring for animals increases our humanity–it increases our bandwidth and capacity to care in general. Lastly, I say that people who think they should butt their noses into why people have pets as opposed to children should kindly mind their business.

There a multitude of reasons why people choose to have pets instead of children: the timing isn’t right for them to have an actual, human child; they’re not married and so can’t (or don’t want to) have children, but want something to love in the meantime; they aren’t capable of having children and been unsuccessful in adopting; or they just don’t want to have kids.

It has been reported that birth rates are declining globally. We won’t get into the myriad of reasons why this is a thing. I’ll just point out the reason people making these reports seem to overlook: cost. Children are expensive! From birth until basically forever they incur costs. If you can’t have them naturally, it costs to conceive or adopt them. I understand that, in the end, it’s worth every cent. I won’t argue with anyone there. But some people are, unfortunately, unable to make that choice. They have to live with what they have and if someone is not in a good place financially to accommodate all those costs, why would they want to willingly put themselves in a position to drown?

I’m not dumping on anyone’s decision to have children. I love babies. They are adorable and I am enamored with their smushy little faces. I just want people to stop dumping on other people’s decision not to have children. I want people to stop telling me “it’s just a dog.” He’s a living, breathing, member of my family. For all intents and purposes, Balto is my baby.

I’m proud when he’s doing something right. I am disappointed when he’s acting out. I’m worried when he’s sick. And I scold him when he’s being naughty. The crazy thing is, he understands ALL of it. When I tell him to “sit” and he doesn’t because he just wants to be stubborn, I follow up with “what did I say” and he sits. I have to spell out “treats” or “outside” because he knows what they mean and will go crazy. A few years back, I was so sick I had to go to the hospital. Balto refused to leave my side right up until I had to leave in an ambulance. He’s the first to greet me when I get home from being out. When I’ve been sad, he’s come to console me.

I am sure I could talk to any pet owner out there, and they’d have stories of their own about how special their pets are. We see stories almost everyday about how pets have rescued members of their families. We need them just as much as they need us.

So, all this to say pet parents without human children shouldn’t have to defend why they only have pets. And pet parents in general shouldn’t have to hear “it’s just a pet.” Most of us don’t feel that way because we love our pets unconditionally. And if you don’t, that’s cool. But we do, so let pet parents be. I wouldn’t trade the shenanigans that I have with my black meatloaf for anything in the world. He has taught me to be less selfish, more patient, and so on. Why is that considered a less worthwhile experience?

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