Soon after the wedding night, many couples take a leap into parenthood by way of four-legged pets. The new puppy trains with the locally-renowned trainer and is spoiled with daily walks or runs, co-sleeping privileges, and a well-stocked treat cupboard. For the lucky dogs, this is the life they lead forever, but for others whose household grows with the addition of babies, their rank as the family crown jewel gets shaken. Suddenly the roll-over trick isn’t as cute, daily hikes become weekly walks, and embroidered collars seem ridiculous.
In the midst of diaper-changing and nap scheduling, Sparky’s droopy brown eyes begging for attention can be downright annoying. He is no longer “the baby”; he is now just a pet whose needs can be met three times a day with a few pats in between. Amber Dusick, a humerous blogger who captures the parenting ups and downs with her wit and a few computer-drawn stick figures calls this the “closet phenomenon of parenting and pet annoyance."
Luckily, for the animal kingdom, this phenomenon doesn’t last forever. Pets may climb back up the ladder of importance when Dick and Jane grow up enough to help out or when mom and dad are less preoccupied with soccer game tailgates and figuring out bedtime routines. There are those rare dogs who segue into life with a baby around seamlessly, enjoying more hands to lick and extra crumbs on the floor with no change in routine or shortage of snuggles. Still others hit the jackpot of the dog-centered good life: living with the retired.
My daughters and I attended a playdate the other day, and while it was unusual to comfortably enjoy a new park in the late-afternoon air of a January day without bundling up, the most unusual part was the other kids who were there. There were few sharing issues and not a single meltdown in sight, but there was plenty of licking, panting, running, and even some bottom-sniffing.
This was a playdate at Easton’s Cooke’s Hope community dog park, a fenced-off, grassy Mecca for dogs that comes alive nearly every day at 4:15 PM with anywhere from five to fifteen dogs and their loving parents. Caleb, a sweet-eyed bassett hound rescue, whose parents were sold on moving to Cooke’s Hope because of the dog park, was the first to greet us as we entered, followed quickly by a face to face “hello sniff” from Chessie, the park’s own duchess, named so for being part of the dog park since its commencement.
As we chatted about the dogs and their love of the park, it was clear that this was, as Elsa Priestley, parent of the fluffy white collie mix Charlie, said “a real gathering of people friends and dog friends.” The dogs didn’t stick around for much of the conversation. Too busy rough-housing with one another or chasing the UPS truck down the road, they spent their time running, sniffing and, of course, taking care of their business that their owners nonchalantly cleaned up and disposed of carefully. Charlie’s mom boasted about the 15 year old’s positive results on his recent blood screening, and Codie’s mom told me about the five miles of trails he enjoys frolicking on, leash-free so he can jump into the water at his whim.
These dogs are center stage in their homes, and their owners show no signs of the dreaded pet annoyance phenomenon. In fact, according to the Humane Society, 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog and nine in ten pet owners surveyed say they consider their pet a member of the family.
As Katie Southworth, mother of two daughters and two golden retrievers told me of her first dog: “ I did find that Sammy became low-man on the totem pole after kids came along…but he was our baby before the actual one came along. Now that the girls are older, it has kind of come full circle; we tend to spend quite a bit more time with our furry boys.”
Editor's note: The dog park referrenced in this story is exclusively for residents of Cooke's Hope.