The best way to encourage planned parenting is to give every newly married couple (say those who have been married 6 months or so) a new puppy to raise. It could be a pass/fail test – if you raise the puppy successfully, you pass.
I know this because Mark and I got our first dog 6 months after we were married.
We bought her for $100 (on the theory that she was supposed to be a black cocker spaniel) on January 1, 1988 from a couple we met the night before at a New Year’s Eve shindig in Charlotte, North Carolina. My best memory of that New Year’s day is riding around Charlotte looking for an open store with Shadow in my lap so that we could purchase basic items like a food bowl, water bowl, dog food, toys, etc.
We called her Shadow not because she was all black, but because, the day we brought her home she looked at her reflection in the patio door and was afraid, ie., afraid of her own shadow.
It’s hard to believe, but this tiny creature destroyed an entire bathroom in two days. We both worked, and had read that the way to raise a puppy if you couldn’t be home with it all day was to place it into a small enclosed area, so we chose our bathroom. In the first day, she shredded all of the toilet paper off of the roll and scattered it throughout the bathroom, tore the shower curtain in half horizontally, so that the part from the floor to halfway up the length of the curtain was missing, and ate about half of the wicker trashcan we had in there. (This is not a typographical error – I don’t mean she hate half of the trash in the trashcan, I mean that she ate half of the actual trash can.)
The second day, in the same bathroom (we really didn’t have anywhere smaller to keep her at the time), she finished off the shower curtain (we are not sure how she got up there, but she did), finished off the trash can, and figured out how to open the cupboard in the vanity so she could browse through the towels there at will.
We took her to the vet the next day, because some of her shots needed updating. Good Dr. Gandy took a long look at her, and seemed unconvinced that she was, in fact, a cocker spaniel. It turned out that he was right – our best guess is that she was a cocker/lab mix of some type. That is okay; it was the best (and only) swindle we ever took part in! He suggested training her by putting her in a carrier. We tried that, and (once we made it through the stomach virus she picked up somewhere) she did much better with things.
Although Mark was ambivalent about getting a dog at first, he and Shadow quickly bonded – helped by the fact that, since at first she was especially frightened of males, he would hold her and pet her for hours on end to help her over her fear – to the point that she was (as Tyra is today) decidedly his dog. She also cared for me, but for the first seven years we had her, I would catch her looking at Mark occasionally saying, “You know, we really don’t need her – you and I would be fine without her!” I’m glad Mark didn’t agree!
When we were first married, we lived in a small town in North Carolina, but after 3 and 1/2 years, we came back to Alabama to be closer to parents. Since we then, as now, were living in a small town fairly near to a lake, Mark and I decided to buy a boat. Shadow took to the boat right away, which is pretty strange for a dog that hated the water. Shadow could swim, she just emphatically refused to. (In fact, once, we had the bright brain flash that perhaps Shadow didn’t like to swim because she didn’t like the way the lake bottom felt on her paws, so we took the boat out into really deep water and with Mark beside her in a life vest, we gently placed her into the water. Mark still has a scar across his abdomen where she climbed over him and up the sides of the fiberglass boat to get away from the water.)
Her favorite speed was wake speed. (Wake speed is extraordinarily slow, for those of you who don’t boat. The motor barely stirs a ripple in the water.) She would just laugh and laugh from the front of the boat, like she’s doing in the picture above, as long as you were at wake speed. If Mark drove any faster than wake speed, then my job, per Shadow, was to sit in the front of the boat and hold her tightly until we got to wake speed again. That is, unless the ride got to0 bumpy, in which case she would jump out of my arms, walk back to where Mark was and stare at him in protest.
By the time she was 7, Shadow had slowed down considerably and just generally seemed kind of lonely, so after much not very subtle lobbying on my part to Mark, when a friend of mine at work told me about a litter of lab/cocker puppies that was advertised in the Birmingham paper, we called about one, and the next great adventure of Shadow’s life began – the raising of a puppy.
It took exactly one day for Shadow to adopt Woof as her own. (The puppy was, of course, J.P. Wooflesnort, the same unfortunate dog who was dragged into the tub by Kayla). After that, she raised Woof, trained Woof and played with Woof. Training by us was not really required; Shadow was very intelligent and knew what she wanted her puppy to do and not do.
To raise a dog is to place the history of your marriage within a framework that includes what is going with the dog at that particuarly time. For example, we acquired Woof in October, right in the middle of the college football season. I had a blast with the two dogs, especially since I worked in town at the time, so could come home every day at lunch time to let Woof out of the carrier (we learned something from our training of Shadow – humans aren’t that hard to train, after all!)
The Christmas I was about to turn 30, Mark kept threatening to give me “peep-os” (Translation: Flannel pajamas with feet in them) for Christmas. He found an even better way – he conned another family member into believing that I was longing for a pair of them, and had that family member give them to me. I have always appreciated the effort it took for that person to find these pajamas; “footie” pajamas for adults are quite rare!
Even when Woof was an adult, Shadow cared for her like she was her puppy. Here, Shadow and Woof are lying on the same dog bed in the sun in one of the houses we used to live in.
In Shadow’s last years, Mark and I got rid of the boat and purchased a small travel trailer for camping, instead. Both of the dogs liked to camp in this way. We had tried camping with Shadow in a tent at Wind Creek in mid-March early on – Wind Creek was living up to its name, and Shadow kept looking at us asking why we were huddled in this tent to keep it from flying away when we had a perfectly good house to go live in. Neither of us had a good answer. However, the travel trailer, complete with aids for roughing it like an oven, a microwave, electricity, water and air conditioning, was another matter entirely. That kind of camping, she loved.
We always wanted to give Shadow the chance to help raise a people puppy, too, but unfortunately that was not to be. Shadow developed kidney trouble in late 2002, and died in May, 2003 at the age of 16. The people puppy didn’t arrive to live with us until December 1, 2004. They would have made a great pair!
So, on this day when I hear rumors that a wedding has taken place in a church called Westminster, between a couple whose first names are Kate and William, I would offer them the following advice: get a dog! The rewards in love and laughter alone are immeasurable.
Have a great day everyone!