Dear Courage: Double Dog Dare

Dear Courage,

My husband and I are deciding whether or not to get a second dog. Our first—Maisie—is almost nine and doing well (knock wood!), though she now and again shows her age. Walking with her, snuggling her, and playing catch with her (when she deigns to bring back her ball instead of engaging in her own mischievous brand of keep away) are absolute pleasures and I can’t imagine our life without her. We don’t have any children—we agreed early on in our relationship that we wanted to build a life without children, even though we are devoted aunt and uncle to our nieces and nephews, both actual and honorary. But Maisie is our baby, of that we have no doubt. My husband feels sure that it would be mutually beneficial for Maisie and New Dog, and put a renewed spring in Maisie’s step while offering guidance to the whippersnapper as he or she tumbles around during the first years of life. I, however, am not so sure. What if Maisie responds to the new pooch with growing stress and the addition to our family exacerbates age-related aggression rather than encouraging playfulness? What if we can’t handle the added work of raising a new dog? Two dogs are double the work, double the cost, and double the effort. My heart wants to say yes, because I know how much joy dogs bring to our lives, but my head keeps coming up with reasons to say no. Can you help?

Signed,

Double Dog Dare

Dear Double Dog Dare,

When my daughter and her husband were expecting their second child, who is now three and a half, they asked me to visit while they prepared the nursery, spent time alone with one another and with their first born—a delightfully precocious and sensitive child of six at the time—and tried to “batten down the hatches” in advance of a major shift that was certain to usher in unanticipated changes to their growing family. I hopped at the chance to support them, as they had moved away from Vermont for employment prospects and my chances to be with them were few and far between. But I know I provoked discomfort when I swooped in with my grandmotherly kisses and quickly administered a Cassandra-like warning: Make a plan in writing lest ye be upended by a torrent of responsibilities. Write it down, I told them, even if you don’t think you need to. Make a list of duties and draw up a calendar that clearly defines what each partner is charged with on a day-to-day basis. I highly suggest you do the same. Vis: “X walks the dogs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Y takes them on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sundays, we always make time for an extended play session together and then make dinner before curling up by the fire. X takes them to the vet in the spring; Y does it in the fall. When emergencies arise, X and Y promise not to blame each other but instead work to resolve the problem with the greater good in mind.” Negotiate. Evaluate your time and be honest with one another about what you can each do in service of your family.

So often in this modern life do we assume that the tremendous amount of time and energy required to sustain and support our families will evolve organically. Cooking, cleaning, working, taxiing, finding childcare, etc.—these are the tasks that are specific to families with children, but they repeat themselves, with variations, in families of all different configurations. You, your husband and Maisie are a family, with all the rights and responsibilities of such an august entity, and you are not immune from the vagaries wrought by diminishing resources. Prepare for a new family member with a pragmatic assessment of your capabilities. Know that a considered approach to family job descriptions does not threaten the unmitigated bliss of nuzzling a newborn’s neck any more than it can erase the sheer joy of scratching a grateful puppy behind its ears or watching it tumble joyfully with its older, wiser sibling pup. Dogs are our babies—here’s mine right now, looking for a nighttime constitutional and a bit of love—and we must make sure we prepare as much as we can to preserve and protect their physical, emotional and mental well being in concert with our own. The only way we can do that is by knowing ourselves—and ourselves in relation to others. There is no better time to start then now, before you get a good look at those puppy eyes and that sweet, wet snout.

Something tells me you’re about to sign on for double the work, but with proper planning, you’ll be able to enjoy double the love. Good luck!

Signed,

Courage

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People ages five to 500 are encouraged to send their questions via email to dearcourage@thecharlottenews.org or via good old fashioned post to Dear Courage c/o The Charlotte News, P.O. Box 251, Charlotte, VT 05445.

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