We didn't choose to be dog owners. Ike just found us when he wandered out of the woods one day. But now that we are, I realize that it's probably a good thing that we didn't have children. I couldn't handle the stress. They would have grown up coddled and fussed and protected - and probably resentful towards us about it for the remainder of their lives. Or they'd still be living with us into their 40s...
With Ike I worry that he's eating the right food, getting the proper amount of water and exercise - not too much, not too little. Is that a slight limp or just my eyes playing tricks? He has a skin problem that we can't seem to solve despite special shampoos, ointments and now corn- and wheat-free chow. There's the heartworm pill to give him each month, the flea collar in the spring and summer and we must be ever vigilant for ticks that somehow thwart our best efforts. We've pulled burrs from out between his toes and scrubbed mud off of his nose. Once we were certain he was choking on a captured gopher so we pulled it out of his mouth - much to his confusion and disappointment. Through our inexperience he patiently tolerates our poking, prodding, washing and hugs.
Yesterday we took Ike in to be neutered. Kel and I have agonized over the decision for weeks, even though most everything one reads and hears encourages it. He must be in pain and confused as to why and what happened. Just like a parent would - our hearts break that we cannot make the hurt go away - or even explain to him what's happening. In the long run we know it's the best thing for him. The last thing we want is for him to sire unwanted offspring throughout the neighborhood - or to be lured by the siren song of the canine vixen across the road - and be hit by a car.
We are not the kind of pet-owners who confuse their little furry one with a bouncing bundle of a joy called a human baby. Clearly Ike is a dog. We do not dress him in clothes nor have him wear hats or call ourselves "mommy" and "daddy" - though I understand the appeal of all of those things. (Ike has no shortage of nicknames, however. He's known variously as: Nutter-Butter, Stink Bomb, Munchkin, Pumpkin, Ikester, Ikey and The Ikeman.) But we also understand that Ike depends on us - just as human children depend on their parents - and either benefits or suffers from decisions we make on his behalf. It's (with luck) a long-term commitment - and that's a heavy, scary and wondrous thing.