Not really, but sometimes-maybe? I don’t have to discipline my dog daily, I don’t have to do homework with my dog and I don’t have to teach my dog life lessons. Parenting is exhausting. Not really news to anyone but at the end of a day with a ten year old girl I am beat. But with my dog-Maximus (Max) I’m nowhere near worn out.
Every morning he races to the bathroom where I am and jumps on me with his tail wagging. He knows it’s time for his walk. We walk quietly him and I both sniffing the morning air and looking for cats, squirrels and birds. He likes to sniff everything. Often times I find myself zoning out while he carefully investigates each blade of grass and when I feel like enough time has passed or the police will be called on me for lingering he’s all too happy to keep walking.
I never really wanted another dog. Yes another dog. Early in our marriage my husband bought me a Dalmatian puppy. It was adorable. The dog grew fast and so did his speed. He was rambunctious. He tore up a couch, a chair, windowsills, a flower bed, a new pair of jeans and many other items over a three year period. People said neuter him he’ll calm down so we did. Boy is that a big falsehood. Then we sold him. The purchaser brought him back. We kept him for a little while longer then we took him to the pound. Yes were young and irresponsible dog owners. We heard he eventually got adopted. We hoped. We felt guilty.
At the age of seven my daughter wanted a pet. We bought a fish it died. We bought another fish it died. We bought another fish it lived. Then we flushed it one night. Yes my husband and I are killers. I made him get rid of the fish with me so I wouldn’t be alone in my crime. I was the only one who cared for the fish. My daughter regularly overfed it and I always hoped it would die it didn’t. I know I am not right. It was two weeks before my daughter noticed the fish and all its accoutrement were gone.
Then one day our neighbors Corgi had puppies. She mated with a Jack Russell. My daughter saw those puppies and really wanted one. We talked for days my husband and I. How would we do this differently? We had a child which at this point seemed easier than a dog. Well like all responsible and idiotic parents we let the love of our child override good sense and bought the dog. Max’s body is white and he has one black ear and one white ear. He’s been the best thing ever. We love him, talk baby talk to him, carry him around and walk him endlessly. We were smarter this time. We got a fence to keep him in the yard, went to six dog training lessons with him (best investment ever) and purchased a mesh dog tent for him to sleep in at night.
So what’s the point of this writing? What’s the lesson? How does this work therapeutically? I don’t know. I think my dog has taught me more about my child. I work fast and I am always on the move. But when my daughter and I walk the dog we talk, linger and observe. When we bathe him she learns a skill and giggles a lot. We sit together and watch the funny things he does. Max creates a lot of conversation. Maybe therapeutically it’s simply about connecting, people, animals and nature.
Julie North is a counselor in a rural county in South-Central Michigan. She has a private practice and is currently being trained in TF-CBT and complex trauma therapies.