Elderly Dogs and Babies: A Primer

My first piece of advice? Don’t do it. Wait until your elderly dog is dead, or, if it’s too late and you’re already pregnant, find a good home for the baby (it’s much easier to find a good home for a newborn baby than an elderly dog.)

No! You would never do that. You love your elderly dog AND your baby, and the internet is filled with pictures of babies spooning un-neutered wolf-dog hybrids on lawns littered with spare car parts. People tell you it’s going to be fine. They’re going to be best friends.

But you know your dog. Your dog, to paraphrase Deuteronomy, is a jealous dog. When you first met your husband, said dog had an “adorable” habit of waking you up by crawling under the covers and then walking off with them, leaving you cold and naked and extremely awake. If you tried to stay up and read past nine-thirty pm, the dog would begin making elaborate groaning noises until you turned off the light. It took the dog…four years?…to accept that you were actually there to stay. It was a hard-fought battle for his love.

Pregnancy was hard on the dog. You were less willing to share your food. Your interest in two-hour walks lessened. You needed to use the bathroom nine times a night, and he needed to sleep next to your side of the bed to protect you from predators, so there was a lot of inadvertent paw-stepping.

You spent a lot of time on message boards, becoming incensed at people posting things like: “I’m pregnant! Anyone know where I can unload my incontinent fifteen year old kitty?” You switch to reading message boards designed for parents looking to prepare human children for the arrival of a new baby, but your dog is deaf now, so reading books about being a big brother aloud to him is mostly a time-waster.

Your dog finds labor upsetting. He wags vigorously, he licks your face. He wants to ride in the car to the hospital with you. That’s not an option. You deliver a baby. You lie there, spent, holding your baby. Your eyes meet your husband’s eyes in a beautiful, emotionally-laden moment. Through your cracked lips, you whisper: “you should go home now, the dog will be worried.” Your husband, as per the message boards, takes an article of the baby’s clothing home to show the dog. It’s not a big hit.

You come home with the baby. The dog is sitting on the bed. You show him the baby. The dog turns his head. All of your photographs from your baby’s first day at home feature a glowering dog. Weeks pass. “Are they best friends yet?” people ask. They are the sort of best friends who would write letters to Lucinda Rosenfeld. They are best friends like Melanie Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara were best friends, in that the baby is naive, relentlessly positive and loving, and the dog is a megalomaniac bent on her destruction. You do not leave them alone together, not because you think the dog would hurt her, but because you think it unkind to his sense of well-being.

Other new mothers tell you that they ceased giving a shit about their pets once their baby arrived. You envy these mothers, because they do not feel terrible for ruining the life of an elderly animal. You continue to love your dog fiercely, even when he is obviously gaslighting you.

Your dog waits until you are completely busy with the baby, then hurls his body on the ground and begs to have his belly rubbed. You cannot leave your baby on the changing table. He laboriously staggers to his feet and refuses to make eye contact. “THIS IS NOT NORMAL. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE BEST FRIENDS. WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO BREAK MOMMY’S HEART?”

Eventually, it gets a little better. The dog ceases to leap off the bed the minute she is placed on it. They enjoy watching “Game of Thrones” together, which really can’t be good for the baby, but you’re willing to place dog-baby détente above the recommendations of the AAP once a week. Occasionally, he lets you prop the baby against him for photo-ops.

And then, one night, he smiles. For about five seconds, but just long enough to take a picture you can one day show your child to explain that, eventually, she and your elderly dog became polite acquaintances.