Thursday, April 02, 2015

The First Year with Molly: How a Non-Animal Lover Adjusted to Dog Ownership

It's been a year since we adopted our beautiful Golden Retriever, Molly.  If you recall, I felt very strongly that Molly was meant for our family.  I prayed about adopting a dog for at least a year.  For months up till we got the call that she was available, I could think of nothing but what joy adding a dog to our family would bring my children and even me and Kevin.  I really and truly believed that this dog was in God's will for our family.

Then it might surprise you, as it did me, that the first several weeks of dog ownership I cried daily.  I could not stop feeling overwhelmed with the new added responsibility of dog ownership.  I felt that I had made a huge mistake.  I can only liken it to postpartum depression.  I may know a little (a lot) about that.  I was constantly exhausted.  I couldn't eat. I was stressed, worried, fearful of the dog around the kids, felt certain that this dog was going to ruin everything I had worked hard to achieve and very confused.  You can see why I might be confused, one day feeling absolutely certain and the next like I've made a huge mistake.

If you're feeling that way too about your new dog, let me tell you what I did to ease my frayed nerves. First, I talked about it with dog owners and people who I knew would not tell me "I told you so".   I discovered that I was not the only person to ever feel overwhelmed with a new pet. I learned that even people who had always had dogs and always loved dogs felt that way when they brought home a new pet.  I cannot tell you how comforting that was to me.  I stopped feeling like a failure and started feeling like maybe I could figure this out.

Secondly, I stopped thinking of the dog as a child.  So many people talk about their dogs as their "fur babies"  and that dogs are "forever toddlers" (by the way, who in their right mind wants THAT?) that I got myself all worked up about raising this strange child who licked goose poop on our walks.  What do you even do with that?  If you are a fur baby- dog toddler person, great.  No condemnation from me at all. But it's not for me.  I started thinking of her as what she is: a dog; a pet.  Once I realized she is an animal and not a child I have to raise to adulthood and send to college, I was able to calm down a little bit more.

Thirdly, I hired a fan-frickin-tastic dog trainer.  Andrea formerly trained service dogs, so...there you have it.  What else is there to say?  She was the absolute key to me not losing it and Molly staying as a member of our family.   She came to our home and gave us private "How to own a dog" lessons. More than training Molly, she trained us.  She advised me against dog food snobbery, which turned out to be very important for Molly as her system cannot handle the current "best diet for dogs": grain free.  She told me things the vet didn't bother to mention.  She took my calls at 7am.  She completely understood how I could be so overwhelmed, even though she's trained dogs since she was a child. Andrea taught us how to teach Molly to be the dog we hoped to have.  Molly doesn't know this, but she owes Andrea a huge debt of gratitude.

She now has a full name so I can yell at her properly.  It's Molly Aggie Muster Smith because she was born on April 21, Aggie Muster, one of the greatest traditions at Texas A&M. Molly has made some great progress over the last year. She has learned how to be a family dog and get along with rambunctious little  people.  She still eats socks, but I'm told dogs grow out of that.  She has been known to bring us stuff she once would gobble down without a hesitation so we can tell her she's a good dog for not eating it.  She tests her boundaries, but she always obeys when corrected.   Just today, I accidentally let her out off her lead. She ran into the neighbors yard and looked at me like she was going to run, but she came back when I told her to come!  She still digs holes and sits on the plants.  I choose to look at it as an excuse not to garden anymore.  The kids ran through the plants and broke stems with soccer ball already. I was only half-assing it anyway.   I was afraid of all the extra dirt, but my home is actually cleaner, at least in the areas Molly is allowed, because the kids don't leave their junk all over the place for Molly to eat/chew.  I hate dog hair, so the house gets vacuumed frequently.

In just one year with us, she's taught the kids responsibility of caring for an animal. She's definitely part of our family. We all love her.  Molly's place in our home is secure.

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"Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." ~Colossians 4:6 (NASB)