You hear a lot about how dog parents aren’t the same as human parents, because they can’t truly understand caring for someone so much.
Let me tell you that no one thinks loving a child is on the same level as loving a dog.
But you can parent a dog. You can love him with your whole heart. You can value him, and see his worth. Your heart can be filled with so much love that it aches at times.
You bathe him, and make a game out of drying him off always sneaking in kisses as he makes a mess in your bathroom, all the while not minding because you love this sweet nugget. You read all of the nutrition facts and research the best food for him and always ensure he has more than enough, even though there are cheaper less-nutritional options.
You worry about if he has friends, and always makes sure he can have playdates or another little buddy to pal around with so when you’re not around you know he is content.
You train him. You teach him how to eat, how to play, how to be potty-trained, and feel a pit in your stomach when you have to chastise him for not following the rules.
You plan trips or days away based on who will watch him when you are away, sometimes foregoing extended trips because you know you won’t be able to stand being away from him that long. And you love showing him off to people, and brag about him as you proudly display pictures of him to family or strangers when you are away from him, while equally feeling guilty he is not with you. You boast on any of his talents and how smart and handsome he is.
You allow yourself to sleep in multiple contorted positions as he sprawls all over your bed because his comfort is more important than your own, and it melts your heart to see him so comfortably sleeping knowing he is feeling safe and secure with you.
You do without other things in life, because you would rather spend your money on your family, and he is your family. You plan Christmas presents for him, birthday parties, and thoughtfully pick out each toy you think he would love.
You take him to the doctor on time to make sure he has all of his vaccines, because the thought of him being sick breaks your heart. And when he is sick, you rush him to the doctor or the hospital because you cannot bear seeing him in pain or discomfort, not even asking for the numbers as you force over your credit card into the receptionist’s hand.
And you exhaust all options to keep him healthy. You demand any test be done to diagnose and treat anything that could possibly be wrong. You fight with insurance to see what all can be covered.
And when you are told the worst news, that no matter how much you pay, where you travel, or what doctor sees him, that there is no curing him this time, your heart shatters. It shatters into pieces and your world turns dark. You look into his eyes that have only known kindness and compassion, and you have to make the decision.
No one else gets to but you. You have to decide that when the time comes, and it always comes too soon, that he will not be in pain or suffer. He is your dependent. You chose to look after him. You chose to be there for him, which includes the heavy parts.
So you schedule hospice and contact hospitals in advance to find the most comfortable way for him to leave this world, and put on a brave smile despite the fact that you’re still breaking inside. You want him to be as happy and content as possible. And he feeds off of your energy. You snap as many photos and videos of him as you can.
And when the time comes and he is in his last moments, you’re there with him. You hold him. You feel regret, anxiety, dread, and fear flood your entire body. You want to scream, but you don’t. Instead you look in his eyes and kiss his head, making sure your face…his favorite thing in the whole world, is the last thing he sees, as he is snuggled up with his favorite blanket. You watch him take his last breath, and then you finally unleash all of your emotion. You sit there screaming and crying, not caring how many people around you hear your pain. And you hold him.
You stay until the doctor comes back again and you plead and beg that the staff is gentle with him as they take him, and make sure he won’t be by himself even though logically you know it won’t matter at this point. And you grab his favorite blanket as you’re barely able to make it out the door so you can save it in an air-tight bag because you are afraid to lose his scent.
And you grieve. You cry a lot. You cry in the middle of the night a lot, because he isn’t there with you. You look through pictures and videos that initially make you happy, but leave you feeling cheated and empty all over again. You avoid driving down the street where he had his last moments because despite how long it’s been and how good of a day you’re having, there are too many emotions and memories tied to that place.
You set up an area in your house that serves as a small shrine to his time here with you including his favorite toy, his tag, his prints you made in dough so you can always remember the size, and his ashes.
And you learn to live without him. You learn to think back on memories and not break down. You grow to appreciate his time in your life and are truly thankful of the type of person you turned into for caring for him. You still celebrate him on his birthdays, and make sure he has his ornament on the Christmas tree, this time as an angel. And you can reflect on your time together as the bitterness fades and is replaced with appreciation.
Is parenting a dog the same as parenting a human? I don’t believe anyone truly thinks that. Losing a human child would have to be the hardest, most difficult thing a parent could ever endure. No, a dog is not the same as a human. No, the loss is nowhere on the same spectrum. No, the relationship could never be the same.
But sometimes some people belittle others for calling themselves a dog-parent. All I think is that those people haven’t had the privilege of being connected with one of the world’s most loving, genuine, happy, and devoted creatures. And I hope one day they get to experience that kind of relationship, because despite the loss that we inevitably encounter, it is one of the most rewarding experiences one can go through.