My husband and I have been blessed with one 3-year old son. And yet, in many ways, he is not quite our first-born. Not entirely. Because in some ways, that spot is reserved for – brace yourselves – our dog.
Now I’m not equating a child with a dog. And I’m not pitting love for a furball against love for a baby. But I am saying that our dog, well, he isn’t just a dog.
When we met our sweet puppy eight years and some months ago, it was love at first sight. Love at first smell. Even love at first nip. From that moment on, Fletcher was our sole focus. We went to dog-friendly happy hours. We brought him to our offices. We started a twitter feed for him (@fletchmasterp). We took road trips so that he could travel with us. I even wrote for magazines about how and where to travel with dogs. By all accounts, including our own, we were downright mad for our dog.
And then our son came along. A tiny bundle of baby scents that Fletcher could make no sense of. That’s the moment people warned me about. When the baby arrived, they said Fletcher would shift to the back seat. That we would no longer feel the need to rescue him from burning buildings or seek out dog-friendly hotels. That he would begin to be a burden rather than a blessing. But that didn’t happen. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
With our baby, I was clueless – or at least, I thought I was in my new mom fog. But I knew what to do with Fletcher. So he started accompanying me. Everywhere. While I nursed he would snuggle reassuringly next to me. When our son cried for crying’s sake (as far as we could tell), Fletcher would be a calming presence in the room, never getting ruffled by the rising volume. At the times I needed to just simply walk and get out of the house – please, anything to get out of the house! – Fletcher would trot happily next to the stroller, looking up at me as if to say, “Don’t worry, mom. We’ve got this.”
When we went through two years of unsuccessful infertility treatments for a second child, it was Fletcher’s fur that absorbed our tears. It was his warm body that we held onto when it felt like we had no anchor. I can’t begin to count how many times the simple act of scratching his head helped slow my anxious, racing heart. He never looked at us with pity. He never judged the depths of our pain at another lost pregnancy. He was just there for us at a time when we needed him most.
Now that our son is nearly four and growing more social by the day, it seems we’re always on the go. With everything from preschool to play dates (often on the same day), it would be easy to leave Fletcher behind. Except we don’t. At least not when we don’t have to. Sure, it can be more work to find a dog-friendly restaurant patio. Or to manage a pup and a kid at a busy park. But when I think about how much he’s given us or when I see my son sling his little arm around Fletcher’s big, furry neck in a hug, I know it’s all worth it. Because after all, Fletcher is – and always will be – a member of our family…even if a stinky one.
Photo credit: Gina Zeidler Photography