My husband and I recently moved to a dog-friendly apartment. It’s our first dog-friendly apartment EVER, which feels super grown-up for us, almost as grown-up as that whole getting married thing. We got a dog pretty soon after we moved—Harvey, an adult rescue lab retriever/dachshund mix (or a “labradox” as we call him, the greatest of all dog mysteries).
We’ve been having the best time as dog owners. Except it feels weird to call ourselves “dog owners,” we “own” our cars and our phones and our computers. Harvey is not an appliance or a machine, he’s a super-smart, super-sweet, super-furry little dude with wants and needs and feelings. I’m pretty sure you can’t own something with feelings.
Most people who know we got a dog call us our pup’s parents. “You’re a MOMMY!” I hear it ALL the time, ESPECIALLY from other dog owners. And I smile and nod but in my head I’m thinking, ‘Wait, what? A mommy like as in a WOMAN with a CHILD? I just meant to get a dog, I didn’t mean to sign up for PARENTHOOD. Oh my God, I’m having like twelve existential crises all at the same time.’
When you become a pet person, you quickly learn that so much pet lingo is hyper parent-centric. You “adopt” your dog, you become your pup’s “mommy and daddy,” the little guy is your “furry child.” Initially, I was uncomfortable with this language. Children are humans. You raise them to be productive members of society, they go to school and play sports and get their hearts broken and eventually get jobs and maybe get married and maybe have kids of their own. That’s the life of a child. That’s not the life of a pet. I’ve always been wary of taking on a title I don’t feel I’ve earned. It took me the LONGEST time to call myself a writer. I’m still not sure I’ve entirely earned the right to call myself a person. So I get nervous about calling myself my dog’s mom. I don’t want to take a title I haven’t earned. I don’t want to call myself something I’m not.
Here’s the thing. I don’t NOT feel like I’m my dog’s mom. Forgive me my double negative, but it’s true. I’m always worried about my dog when I’m not with him. He sneezes and I’m like, “OH MY GOD ARE YOU DYING PLEASE DON’T DIE!” When my husband and I are gone for more than a few hours, I leave my key under the mat and text friends like mad hoping someone will come take a walk and spend time with our guy. I tell him no even when he’s being the cutest because I know how important rules are for dogs. I take him for long-ass walks and will sit on the floor for a solid half-hour rubbing his tummy because I want him to know how much I love him. In other words, I’m making every effort to take care of him and give him the best life possible. He’s not my child but (I’m so sorry to double-negative you guys again), he’s also not-NOT my child.
We all know that factoid about how there are 50 Eskimo words for “snow.” Maybe there should be more English words for “mom.” I think if there were, I might be able to find the right word, the word that perfectly describes who I am to my dog.