Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Those Crazy "Dog People"

I come from a long line of devoted, sometimes slightly strange, dog people. But when I say "long line" what I'm referring to is the long line of family members I have who own dogs, not necessarily an extensive canine-owning family history. In fact a couple of years ago I had to ask myself, What's going on here? When did we become this crazy dog family?

Most of my siblings (and parents) own at least one dog. But the spectrum of Dog Crazy among us is wide, ranging from dog owners who feed and walk their pet on a schedule, to dog owners who coddle their animal like it grew inside their uterus. During most of my growing up years we had a dog or two in the house and so the reality that my people are Dog People doesn't bother me, and in fact often provides a nice form of entertainment at family reunions. Watching my step-mother try to coax her Chihuahua rat dog out into the freezing snow to pee is something to behold, indeed!

But we, as in Jeremy and I, have not yet become dog owners. Even though we both grew up around animals I guess our abiding animal philosophy goes something like this: Not a fat chance in Hades will we get a pet until the humans in our house stop peeing on the floor. And now that I have a darling little boy who pees on me every other time I remove his diaper, I'm thinking we're not quite there yet.

Having said that, it has come to my attention that my girls are turning into the most dog-fearing, scaredy-pants sissies that I've ever seen. I think part of their ambivalence toward animals stems from trying to negotiate that fine line between being friendly and being foolish. Our house backs up to an open space with a neighborhood path winding just beyond our back fence, and all the dogs within a three mile radius parade by at least once a day. So, being cautious around animals is seriously important at our house. My girls have had it drummed into their heads since they were pre-schoolers that you HAVE TO ASK FIRST before you pet someone else's dog. And there have been plenty of times the dog owners have abruptly backed away, saying, Sorry girls, my dog is NOT kid friendly or please don't try to pet him, he'll try to nip you if you do!

Over the years it has required vigilant attention on my part to ensure my children's faces aren't chewed off by neighborhood dogs passing by. But they're getting a little older, the novelty of the neighborhood dogs is fading, and these days more often than not they automatically keep their distance. They witnessed a vicious dog fight after school last year and that didn't help their enthusiasm either. A few weeks ago a friendly little dog approached us with his tail wagging and two of my three girls became insanely hysterical, clawing up my leg to get away. Even though I'm not a dog owner I cocked my head and said to myself, Now, that there ain't right!

My younger sister happens to work with dogs for a living and so the next day I called her up and asked if she would host a "Dog Seminar" for my pansy children. I should add that not only does my sister work with dogs, she is the proud owner of three dogs, each which resembles a small horse.
Post-bath "sad faces"
There was a fourth dog, but it died last year, a distressing fact that I asked my children not to bring up but of course instantly became the central discussion point they had on their minds as we drove toward my sister's house. Now how did the dog die, did she eat something? What did they do with the dead dog body? If I ask Aunt Vauna about it is she going to cry or something? The glee in their voices was thinly disguised!

In Memoriam
We spent the afternoon learning and practicing many useful dog interaction strategies, the highlight of the seminar being my children's adoption of my sister's phrase, "Don't do anything to dogs that you don't want done to you." So we shouldn't grab his face? Or pull her ears? Or try to ride him around the yard? My girls asked, each one trying to out-do her sister by imagining an even worse offense. It was a great source of fun for them to draft a long list of actions unacceptable to both dogs and humans. And when we felt we were "street ready" we accompanied my sister and her three horse-dogs on a walk through the local cemetery. (A cemetery is a wonderful place to practice dog etiquette; just like a park only uncrowded!). I'm happy to report that by the end of the loop my girls' jitters had died down (no pun intended) and they were petting my sister's horse-dogs like well seasoned animal lovers.

As we drove home I informed my kids we were celebrating our own personal Animal Awareness Month and I challenged them to look for other opportunities to show their respect and care for animals. No more throwing Cheetos at squirrels with the intent to knock them off the porch railing. No more chasing down terrified rabbits in the back yard in hopes of capturing them and bringing them home to be our new pet. I might not be the poster child for the world's greatest animal lover (I promise my family members are cracking up at that statement), but I also don't want my kids to accidentally become the kind of adults who are thoughtlessly cruel and/or afraid of all animals. My mom always says, Kids and dogs don't lie. I think of that phrase often. Whatever inherent goodness and benevolence is inside of you, kids and dogs will instinctively sense it.

I figure there are many parenting topics and practices that will come naturally to me, but our Animal Awareness Month was a good reminder that there will be just as many topics that require some sort of cavalry. A big thanks to my sister Vauna for agreeing to be our dog expert for the day, and a shout out to the rest of my fabulous dog crazy family for sending me weird photos of their dogs. And you never know guys, one of these days we might turn into one of those dog crazy families too! As mom always says, You don't plant peas and get corn!

1 comment:

  1. funny you post this. elizabeth was near my dog yesterday and she didn't like it. he didn't notice her or acknowledge her existence because he had his ball. deegs loves kids but ignores those who won't give him attention. they can stick their hands in his mouth to take his treat away, sit on him, yank his tail, step on his feet, or drill him in the chest with a power drill. he will not bark, bite, or show his teeth. (yes children have done all these things to him and he still loves them)


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