I thought I was a big dog person. We had little ankle-biters when I was a kid, so when I became a married grown-up type person with a house of my own, I logically opted to fill my home with larger breeds of dogs. In short order, we had a Llewellin Setter, a Labrador Retriever, and a Weimaraner. All three are wonderful family dogs and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I was happy.
And then I turned 40. So I adopted a small dog.
I know, that is a pretty big leap in logic. Chalk it up to the feminine mystique, guys. And truly, the big Four-Oh in and of itself isn’t a huge hairy deal. By the time you’ve got kids, your own birthdays take a back seat to your childrens’ birthdays, and the Big Day isn’t such a big event any more. But 40 was somehow significant to me, because I accepted that I would have no more two-legged babies in my house until my own children have children. And I love being a mom. The species of the child is irrelevant.
A couple of months before my birthday, I felt a change coming on and began browsing Petfinder.com for small breed puppies. I told myself I was just looking … awww, how cute! … and the small breed pups would get adopted or moved to a rescue very quickly.
Then I spotted her: her name then was Lilly and she was in a shelter about three hours away from us. She was an eight-week-old black, tan and white Chihuahua and had been found wandering in an alley with her sister. And you know what? I had grown up with a black chihuahua! It was fate.
I wrote to the shelter, they approved my adoption application, and I made arrangements to drive to the shelter on July 14, 2005 to pick her up after she’d been spayed. As it happened, that very day was my 40th birthday.
I began nesting. I would love her, feed her, pet her and call her anything but George. I dusted off our cat carrier (small puppy, right?) and shopped on eBay for small dog clothes and snugglies. This was going to be my forever baby, whom I could dress up and take with me everywhere and she’d never leave me some day to go away to college.
My husband thought I had lost my mind. Dog clothes? You’d never catch his Weimaraner in a dress. The lab would wear a hat, maybe. But this was a dog, not a person.
I, of course, thought he was just being a bull-headed man.
So on my birthday, I drove to the shelter with my two skin-kids. It was love at first sight. I knew my new baby wasn’t a chihuahua, she was much too long in the body and short in the legs for that, but it truly didn’t matter. She was adorable. Lilly — now Libby — adored my kids, in true puppy form. But she immediately knew I was Mama. When I got her home, she snuggled on my lap and gazed lovingly at me with liquid brown eyes.
The second best gift I received that day was the present from my husband. He brought home a small dog sized green polo shirt (ah hah!), but it was still too big for my baby. I quickly ordered a lot of small dog clothes from an eBay seller, and oohed and aahed over the tiny garments — some itty bitty fluffy pastel sweaters, a too-cute terry bathrobe with a rubber ducky appliquÃ©, a little biker jacket. And still, all of the clothes were too big for my baby, so I tenderly tucked them into a drawer until Libby had grown enough to wear them.
Somewhere deep down, in the depths of my puppy-breath bedazzled mind, I knew it would be extremely easy to spoil this little bit of a puppy. I told that voice to hush up, the baby was sleeping.
I experienced the joys of motherhood as if anew: potty training, debating over which was the best small breed puppy food for my baby, the angst of crate training. And while those transitions went smoothly, what became evident was that, in spite of my years of experience in rescue and living with dogs, the deep-down voice had been right.
I had let Libby get away with murder. I made excuses for her because of her diminutive size, and I “rescued” her when the other dogs played rough or the children might step near her or when… well, I told myself I was protecting her and it totally backfired.
Libby began to get territorial and possessive of me and her toys. She growled at the children and at my husband when they got close to me.
My husband therefore suggested that I treat Libby like a dog, not like a baby. So I turned her over to the experts: The Big Dogs. Nobody but another dog can really teach a puppy proper canine etiquette, and Grace, Harvey, and Abby knew Libby was, well, a dog. Maybe she was a funny looking odd-sized dog, but she smelled like a dog and looked like a dog but acted like a spoiled brat.
The best doggy mom of the bunch turned out to be our Weimaraner, Abby. I had been watching Abby closely around Libby because Abby has a fairly strong prey drive. But Abby knew better. Abby played with Libby, but was always careful to be sure she didn’t hurt the puppy. She let Libby act like a puppy, but she gently taught Libby manners. And before long, Harvey, Abby, and Libby were happily playing together, and then sacking out on the couch in a puppy pile for a nap.
My baby had become a Dog.
In a last ditch effort to assert my twisted sense of smotherhood, I brought out the doggy layette. Most of the clothes were too small (by now we’d concluded Libby was a min-pin dachshund mix, not a chihuahua mix). And she wriggled out of the outfits that did fit her. Libby absolutely hates clothing! Abby the Weimaraner, on the other hand, looked at me plaintively. I grabbed a t-shirt from my daughter’s stash and stuffed Abby into it. She wasn’t particularly comfortable, but she tolerated it. For me.
And that’s okay. Life is much more peaceful when the dogs know they are dogs and understand their place in the pack order is not at the top. I learned that if I set the same ground rules for Libby that I do for the other dogs, we all get along much better. After all, when I’m in a classroom, I don’t bend the rules for a child who is shorter or taller than the rest, so why would I change the rules because Libby is smaller than her giant brother Harvey? The dogs are happier with consistency, and so are we. In or out of doggy clothes, my pack still knows I’m Mama.
Mid-life crisis averted.