I am, and have always been an animal lover. Before I was a mother, before I was a wife, before I was a live-in girlfriend, I had a dog who was dependant on me and my very best friend. Last September, while a friend of mine was dog-sitting for my husband and I, someone stole my very best friend Thunder.
He was a gift I received on my birthday when I was 11 years old.
I offered a $2000 reward for him, put up posters, handed out flyers, but after six months of searching, I had to give up because quite honestly, my heart couldn’t take it anymore. He was my old man, he had been there for me through so many milestones in my life, he had travelled with me, comforted me, and suddenly, just like that he was gone.
For anyone who has ever had a pet, you know how they burrow deep down beneath your skin right into your heart. You love them like a member of your family, and when they are gone, you feel that loss as though it were a sibling or a friend.
When Thunder was stolen, our other dog Toby was going through some major health problems, which was why Thunder was with a friend. Toby had come back from a kennel we will never use again with swelling in his brain. He was lethargic, he wouldn’t eat or sleep, he couldn’t even stand long enough to move himself from one place to another. With all of this going on, once we started him on a round of steroids to hopefully bring the swelling down, he got really aggressive towards Thunder. He was irritable, and a bit mean and Thunder was a lot smaller than he was. We had hoped to get him better and then bring Thunder back home.
With Thunder gone, and Toby back to his old self, I was suddenly pregnant.
There were a lot of fears that came with suddenly being pregnant and planning for our future and one of those fears was how Toby was going to react to having a new baby in the house.
We have always had our behavioural issues with Toby. He is mistrusting of men, doesn’t get along with any other dogs (besides Thunder) and we knew having someone else in his space was going to be a touchy subject.
I got a lot of questions about Toby when I was pregnant. One of the most asked was “What are you going to do with him when the baby comes?” This was a question that always stole all the words I had from my mind. I just couldn’t comprehend it. It was as though people believed that now that I had a baby on the way, I would be shipping Toby away to a shelter or somewhere… trying to re-home him.
Toby is a lot of work. He is full of energy, he loves to cuddle, is always in your space, acts out when he feels neglected, and that is before we even get to all of his social behaviour issues. That being said, when we adopted Toby, we made a commitment to him and that was until the end… not until something else came along.
I can only imagine how some parents must feel with a baby on the way. It is overwhelming. There is so much planning and so many factors you have to take into consideration before bringing a baby into your home. It can all be made more stressful when you have a pet. I completely understand that.
However, I also believe that if you have patience, and are willing to put in the work, you can make any situation work for your family.
Toby was attached to me through my pregnancy, and I was glad for it because I was insanely emotional and often I would get sad at the thought that my oldest friend, Thunder, wouldn’t be here to meet my new bundle of joy. Often, Toby would lie on my belly as it grew and grew and grew. He would feel the little kicks and movements and he would react to them.
I think this is key with any pet when you are pregnant. They can tell something is changing and they can sense that you have a baby on board. Cuddling with a pet while you are pregnant allows them to bond with your baby before they are even here.
In the beginning when we brought our daughter home, we were overly cautious. We introduced them slowly, giving Toby a sock she had worn all day to smell and see how he would react. He reacted to her cries and coos. We noticed that when she cried he would rush towards us, wanting to see what was wrong.
It wasn’t long before he was attempting to kiss her whenever he could. If her hand was within reach, or her foot, he would sneak as close as he could to her and get in as many kisses as he could before we noticed (or he thought we noticed).
My husband was a lot more cautious than I was and would often over-react when Toby got too close. But I was with him all day throughout the end of my pregnancy, and I was with the both of them all day afterwards and I could sense that he wasn’t showing any signs of aggression towards her. He was curious, and he knew in some way that she was the newest member of the family.
That being said, no matter how much I trust Toby, I wouldn’t leave them unsupervised together? Why? Because babies are just as unpredictable as dogs can be. I wouldn’t want her reaching out and grabbing onto him in a way he is unready for and would react to before he realized.
As parents of children, and fur babies, it is our job to teach our children what is acceptable when it comes to animals. And it is also our job to train our pets to react to things accordingly.
You have to think about the life your pets have had so far. In a house with adults, they don’t have anyone pulling at their ears or tails, they don’t have anyone poking at their noses or their eyes, or falling on them. When you introduce a baby into their lives, you have to realize that everything will be entirely new and it may shock your pet to realize that your baby isn’t as gentle as you are.
At this age, our daughter doesn’t do much so Toby seeks her out. Although, I know there will be a time when she will be the one looking for him, and he may not want her to find him. When she gets big enough to start grabbing for him, I am going to be sure to explain to her that she needs to be gentle.
Just like I will teach Toby that he always needs to be gentle.
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
There is no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to pets and babies. They can co-exist, so long as you take the time to teach them how. You have to remember that nothing new is easy, not even for us. You can’t expect your dog to know what to do without any help or guidance from you, the same goes for your growing baby.
Thus far, I haven’t had an issue with the relationship between Toby and our daughter. I know that very soon I will have to readdress everything with him when she starts moving around. I am sure those movements will confuse him, and he may not like it when she is so mobile.
I will just remind myself that I was his parent first, and my job is not done. Every day will be a new test to my parenting skills.
Remember that is exactly what you are: a parent. You may not know exactly what to do when it comes to the co-existence of your new baby and your fur baby, but just remember there are a lot of resources out there to help you along your way!