While I know it is a common thing to do, I have never referred to any of my pets as my “children” or myself as their “mother.” I’ve encountered plenty of people that say, “This is my baby so and so” while pointing to a cat or a dog and smiling. And I’ve always found this to be creepy. Now that I have my own children I consider it borderline offensive because it seems so insulting to compare the raising of a human being with the raising of a pet. If nothing else, it is at least belittling to both the animal and the child. But having said all that, I can also understand how it happens.
I was reminded of this the other day when dropping Prairie off for grooming. While I wish I could trim her fur and nails myself for a variety of reasons – both financial and as a matter of principle – I cannot. We decided to try a new groomer, recommended by our no-frills veterinarian because the last one required a canine Influenza shot before working on a dog. Even I don’t get a flu shot. I’m certainly not getting one for the dog. Prairie receives all the shots that are required and suggested, but we draw the line at the “just because” boutique variety.
She was fine as we walked into the shop and I chatted and filled out forms. One of the groomers stepped from behind the gate to pet Prairie and the dog beamed and played up her sweetness to get as much attention as possible. The woman commented on how beautiful Prairie was and then we discussed fur styling – an opinion I still feel uncomfortable having. It would be so much easier if I could just flip through a Dog Fancy, rip out a photo of a Golden, and point and say, “This is what I want. Can you do this?” We settled on a cut and a pick up time and I passed over the leash and got ready to leave. It was at this point that the mood in the room switched from light and friendly to sheer panic. And it happened instantly.
Since moving to Massachusetts Prairie has gotten very nervous. She is sensitive to the sounds and smells around us and is always looking back to Ben or I for some kind of reassurance when we take her on walks. In fact, it was the move back home that first made me recognize human emotion in the dog and in her case it appeared first as anxiety. As soon as I gave her leash to the woman Prairie threw herself at my feet and blocked the door. She looked up at me with panic in her eyes and shied away from the groomer as she tried to reassure her.
I was really surprised by the dog’s reaction and tried to help pull her up from the floor and lead her into the back room, but she wouldn’t budge from my feet. Just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to lift the 80+ pound dog and carry her into the back myself, I was asked to leave. “We’ve found that the dogs behave much differently when their mothers leave,” the groomer said. “She seems upset now, but she’ll be fine when you are gone.” I paused and looked at her. Where had I heard this before…?
Mother? Behave differently when I’m gone? This was the first day of preschool/school speech! I knew this speech. I’ve been given this speech. Suddenly I found myself nodding and smiling at the groomer, understanding what she was talking about completely. And yet we were talking about my dog. Catching myself, I shook my head. “Really?” I asked. “You’re telling me it’s true for dogs too and not just kids?” All the women in the salon smiled and nodded, clearly a group that understood the similarities. “She’ll be fine,” they said. “Just head out and we’ll call you when she’s done.”
I dropped the leash, patted Prairie on the head, and started climbing over her to get out the front door. She threw herself against me and the door, but I finally managed to get it open and keep her behind me while I slipped through. Realizing I was choking up I gave her one last pat and goodbye and started to close the door behind me. The groomer stood next to Prairie, rubbing her on the head and waving at me. “You’re mommy will be right back, honey. Don’t worry,” she kept repeating.
The whole thing seemed surreal and yet achingly familiar. I walked to the car parked in front of the shop and tried not to turn around. Sitting in the driver’s seat and collecting my thoughts I finally looked over only to see Prairie’s face pressed against the glass and the woman still waving. It was time to leave. Driving away was harder than I thought it would be and I found myself doubling back to make sure they still weren’t sitting in the doorway five minutes later. They weren’t.
While I appreciate the sensitivity of the groomer and acknowledge the uncanny familiarity of the situation (though both my children reacted with far less drama at the time), I still don’t like being called Prairie’s mother. I am her owner and she is my dog. I can be honest and admit that my relationship with her is not nearly as meaningful or important to that of my children, but it’s nice to be reminded that there is great love, protectiveness, and sentimentality that continues to surprise me in our human-canine relationship.
She is a great pet.