This is a polemic in response to Allison Benedikt’s recent screed on Slate, “The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids: Don’t Get a Dog.” Ms. Benedikt’s position: if you are planning to have kids, then you should not get a dog. My position: if you are unable to make good decisions, then you should neither get a dog nor have children. Let’s just go through and identify the good decisions one needs to make about adopting a dog and contrast those with the most remarkably poor decisions and bad boundaries in Ms. Benedikt’s tract (I say “most remarkably poor” because I would need to quote the article in full to capture the full range of crappy choices):
- Have an intentional conversation about the physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial impact of adopting a dog. Or, if you want to completely fuck that up:
I was just back from a weekend away, and John had come to pick me up from the train station with the best surprise a man can give to a woman he loves: a puppy.
Nothing says “Surprise!” like unintentionally entering into a sacred contract to care for a living being for its entire life as though it were a supped up version of a gift card.
- Once you’ve had the discussion at the general level about time and money, then consider what kind of dog you want to get. This isn’t about cute. This is about allergies, temperament, exercise requirements (e.g. do not adopt a husky to live in your studio apartment with you), workload (read: more shedding = more time sweeping), and how this creature will be a part of you future plans, like having kids. Talk to dog lovers about different breeds and what kind might suit you – this is useful even if you are rescuing a dog. Or if you want to completely fuck that up:
A border collie–American Eskimo mix … we named him after my dad’s Hebrew name … He just looked like a “Velvel.” You know what I mean. (We get a lot of: “Volvo?” No. “Vulva?” No. Do you think we’d name our dog Vulva?)
Well it seems more likely than that you gave your father’s namesake to a creature that will eat cat poop as though it were fine dining.
- Now that you have intentionally approached dog adoption, it is time to adopt/rescue a dog (we will save that debate for another day) and integrate the dog into your life. It’s important that you know your life is going to change and also that you keep some perspective and don’t turn life upside for the dog. Take up to a week off of work I say, bond with your new family member. Then get her adjusted to the daily routine. Make your expectations of yourself reasonable – remember the dog doesn’t care if you are amazing Super Dog Master of the Century – it wants food, water, cuddles, and the option to piss and shit somewhere other than where it sleeps. Doing more than that might lead you to feel overwhelmed or resentful towards a creature that literally will love you no matter what you do. Or, if you want to completely fuck that up:
Velvel quickly became the center of our lives.
[Aside: This is where it gets really difficult not to savage every. single. sentence. in this screed, but I’ll control myself… …ish.]
I developed a very specific, high-pitched, raunchy voice for Velvel, because he had a lot to say…
It wasn’t appropriate for Christian Bale to do this with Batman and it’s just fucking looney to do it for your dog. I say this, again, as a lifetime dog lover, advocate for dogs, and espouser of a philosophy that is named after dogs.
… Velvel watched TV on the couch with us every night and slept on our bed…
Well, that’s legit. I just wanted to go ahead and say that’s legit. Because I won’t get another chance. Next sentence:
Sometimes I let him sit in the front passenger seat of the car and I took the back.
WTF! “Once or twice” okay, but “sometimes” makes me think this was actually anytime Vulva was in the car.
We gossiped about the other dogs in our neighborhood and marveled at what a better and cuter and smarter dog Velvel was compared to them.
This is not the first, but the most glaringly obvious, foreshadowing of lousy parenting to come.
- Having succeeded at steps 1 – 3, you have integrated your dog into your life. She is happy, her needs are met; you are happy, your desires for a pet companion are fulfilled; the relationship is energizing instead of enervating. Then one of the life changes you planned for, or at least gave a single thought to the possibility of, comes along: pregnancy! Kids! Yay! Nothing makes a dog happier than having kids with whom to play and watch over (seriously they love guarding and watching the kids, it’s fantastic). Remember that the dog’s life won’t completely change – that’s the plus of having come up with a sustainable routine in Step 3 for your well suited breed, picked in Step 2 – so you need to prepare yourself for this momentous event. The dog, the children, and your “village” are depending on you to be self-aware as a parent. Or if you would like to completely fuck that up:
Then I got pregnant. … The night before I was to be induced, I thought more about how bringing a baby home was going to impact Velvel’s life than my own.
OMFG! No matter how many times I hit “reload” it always comes back up as Slate.com and not TheOnion.com – someone wrote that and meant it! Dear Ms. Benedikt, breaking out of the delusion that you inhabit your dog’s mind is a big first step to seeing the problem here.
After the baby was born, we did exactly what “they” say to do: John took the newborn hat from the hospital for Velvel to smell … that was probably the last nice thing we ever did for him.
Ms. Benedikt, did you actually read the goddamned link you used? It says to use the sniffing as a way to establish boundaries – it’s not a sop to the dog, it’s an intentional power play to reaffirm your leadership. The dog could smell the baby before you could! This exercise is about boundaries not about familiarity.
Now here are some excerpts from the rest of the article, which you may read in full if you hate dogs, lost a bet, or are otherwise deserving of such misfortune:
A friend of mine once told me that before he had a kid, he would have run into a burning building to save his cats. Now … he would happily drown the cats in the bathtub if it would help his son take a longer nap. … Velvel, avoid the bathroom.
Way to set a new bar for how cruel people can be to their pets. Millions – millions – of dogs are abandoned every year in the United States alone. No doubt folks leaving dogs on the street, or perhaps shutting them up inside a foreclosed house as revenge on the bank (because the mortgage lender who screwed you is obviously going to be the one who walks into the house and find the rotting corpse amidst feces, right?), will be glad to read this and think “hey, at least I didn’t drown Fluffy in the bathtub!”
As Ms. Benedikt describes in detail millions more dogs are figuratively abandoned, left to live with shelter and food but with little care from the owners who did not put adequate thought into the obligations and responsibilities of having a dog before getting a dog. Stupidity, like misery, loves company (because it promises justification):
It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. … A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog. This is a near universal truth, even for parents with just one child, though I have more.
The leap from “I asked most my friends” to “near-universal truth” is too absurd to lampoon. Perhaps Ms. Benedikt’s friends, having been similarly tossed aside like Vulva, simply told her what she wanted to hear. After all, how many people are going to say to their friend, “Allison, we think it’s kind of monstrous the way you’ve just forgotten about your dog. You’re starting to remind us of that psycho down the street who talks about drowning his cats.” Nobody. Nobody is how many people would say that. I bet they were all thinking it, though. Or they were thinking “Wow, even for Slate this is a stupid attempt at contrarianism.” Again, not going to be said.
I know a lot of dog people who are planning to have kids. They thought about that when they decided which dog to rescue. I know a lot of people with kids and dogs who manage to love both – my family included. I know single people whose children are grown and moved on. They also put considerably more thought into what kind of temperament they were looking for when they went to the shelter. I myself rescued a dog once, off the street. I spent too much time and money saving his life, found him a new home, and learned my lesson. I was single by the way. The last puppy I got – my current canine – is chill, hardly ever barks, can entertain and exercise himself pretty well, and does not shed. Why? Because I have kids (and a partner with pet allergies). I picked a breed that suited my needs, went to adopt, and of the two puppies left I got the chilled-out beta instead of the amped-up alpha. Why? Because I have kids.
Hopefully Ms. Benedikt’s love for her children is expressed with more boundaries – because parenting the way she described treating Vulva earlier is a disaster. And hopefully the kids have more staying power as an obligation in her life. Also, where the fuck is Mr. Allison Benedikt? Perhaps he could put five minutes in to walking the dog, brushing the dog, and placing the Desitin out of reach of toddlers (read the article). Perhaps he could even vacuum from time to time, which would help with the shedding. He is, after all, the fool who bought a collie puppy with apparently no forethought beyond “hey I’ll get laid tonight and we’ll both have a story to tell.” I would think the editor of Gawker had enough access to Google to search for “best breed for lazy, fickle people” – he’d see the first result is “a stuffed dog” and the second result is a listing of dogs for lazy people. And you know what? It specifically mentions lazy folks ought not to get border collies!
I realize that Slate has a reputation to keep for contrarian viewpoints. I would prefer if Slate had a desire to have a reputation for thoughtful contrarian viewpoints. While Ms. Benedikt’s screed has generated many comments and even a few other online articles – and page views are the goal right? – it should not be overlooked that she has provided a veneer of acceptability to the emotional and physical abandonment of family pets. Elevating the fickle, lazy love of a tiny minority of dog owners into “a near universal truth” is inaccurate and despicable.
Living with a dog is hard work. Making a good decision about getting a dog is not. Here are those four steps again:
- Have an intentional conversation about your desire for a dog and the obligations – emotional, logistical, and financial – that come with a dog; talk to lifelong dog owners (lots of us out there) to find out more.
- Having decided to get a dog, put some real time into finding out what kind of dog would be good for you and fit into your life, present and future (as much as can be predicted).
- When you purchase/adopt/rescue a dog be sure to seek advice on the best ways to bond with the dog and integrate it into your life. The dog needs routines and you need to those routines to be sustainable; don’t over do it.
- Do your best to be highly self-aware as your life changes as this will allow you to be intentional about how those changes impact your dog (and you and everyone in your family, for that matter).
Last but not least: If you find you are in over your head or your dog’s personality shifts in a destructive way, do everything you can to find the dog a home. If kids are the issue with your dog, ask family and friends who don’t have kids (at home). Look for a no kill shelter.
If you are unable or unwilling to care for your dog and are not able to find a new home or shelter, have your dog euthanized at the vet or preferably in your home. Abandoning the creature to a slow lonely death on the street, to say nothing of drowning it in the bathtub, is both cowardly and cruel.
Even if you follow those four steps you might find you got a dog who just doesn’t like, or isn’t mindful, of kids. It is legit to prioritize child safety over pet attachment. Just remember that the hard work of giving away or euthanizing your dog should be done with as much love and consideration as every other part of the family pet process.
And if you get a dog, and have kids, and find that you are happy and a friend says “Wow, really? I kinda want to drown my dog sometimes.” Ditch your friend, not your dog.