Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Puppies and Parenting

In the very first post I mentioned that in 2016 we welcomed the new addition to our family, a chocolate lab named Ruger. While I am sure children will come with their own set of challenges, I'm not convinced they will be more difficult than raising a Lab puppy. Doing so, however, has really provided me with overwhelmingly more questions than answers when it comes to having kids. The minute I say "Lab", people say "yes they're very high energy" as if they understand something about raising a Lab puppy that I somehow don't. As though I should have known what I was getting myself into and because I was so surprised by how much of an asshole this dog could be, it was my own fault - but I'm convinced my experience is unique and those people truly don't understand. Or maybe I'm full of it and this is exactly what every other Lab owner goes through. Maybe this is what raising kids and listening to other people's opinions will be like - I'll think my experience is somehow different than everyone else's and they couldn't possibly understand what I'm going through, when really I should shut up and listen to what they're telling me.

We picked up our new pup when he was seven weeks old. He screamed, and cried, and wailed when we put him to bed for the first week. His cry was heartbreaking and I slept on the floor by his crate for the first two nights just to keep him company. Getting up every two or three hours at night to take him outside to pee was important because allowing him to mess in his crate was both inhumane, and would reinforce that messing in his crate (or in the house) was okay.

By twelve weeks that intelligent-as-hell dog was sitting on command, but was still under the impression that the entire floor was his bathroom. Our lives ran on a 15 to 20 minute schedule: stop cooking dinner, take the dog out, pause the T.V., take the dog out. Forget about the 20 minute schedule, even for 5 minutes, and you were cleaning up urine. Nothing is more infuriating than a puppy who has been taken outside to pee every 20 minutes for weeks, staring you right in the eye, squatting, and peeing on the floor, without ever breaking eye contact.

He developed such a knack for peeing the minute we turned our heads that a lot of the time we didn't even notice he had peed until we stepped in it, which was compounded by the fact that if you didn't catch him in the act, it was too late to correct him and the learning moment was lost. Is it like this with kids? Do you have to catch them in the act? Or is it possible to sit down a two year old and explain to them the benefits of using the potty instead of the pants? Or is two even the right time to potty train? I remember telling K the other day that if everything goes as planned I'd have to buy a baby book. When she asked me why I responded "Obviously so I can learn how to keep our child alive!"

"Puppy Jail"
We tried everything to get Ruger to stop peeing in the house. We started tethering him to our belts with a leash, which worked really well (although did remind me of those people in the mall that put leashes on their kids), but wasn't always possible. For the times where it wasn't, we put him in a playpen which we dubbed "Puppy Jail". This particular strategy worked really well until he got big enough to push the playpen around the house. In one instance I went upstairs to talk to K about something and came downstairs to find Ruger's playpen panels twisted all up close to the back door (after he had pushed it all the way across the living room) and he was standing in a giant puddle of pee. We took this as a sign that we were on the right track because even though he was confined, he did try to make it to the back door. It also told us it was time to retire his playpen. I feel like the playpen will be my go-to with children, except I think I'll change the name to "Baby Alcatraz" - for some reason "baby jail" flashes images in my head of a baby sitting on the drunk tank floor with a heart tattoo reading "mom" on his forearm, and a half-smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth...I guess at least at that point we would have taught him some respect for his mother.

The cats never really warmed up to Ruger but that didn't stop him from walking right up to them to sniff them until they ran away. One lovely day my brother came inside with Ruger from taking him out to pee and Ruger surprised our cat Winslow who promptly struck him - with a fully clawed swat - in the eye. His eye was red and swollen and he was in a lot of pain and kept screaming and crying. We immediately packed him up into the car and drove him to the vet who gave us two types of eye drops to be given 4 times a day, and an oral antibiotic to be given twice a day. She also referred us to a veterinary Ophthalmologist (yes that's a thing), who's name was Dr. Woof (I swear I don't make this stuff up) who gave us two additional eye drops on top of the two we were already giving him. About a month and $600 later, Ruger's eye was completely healed, he had no infection, and Dr. Woof said there was no damage to the lens in his eye so he shouldn't have any resulting vision issues.

Of course it was after all this happened that I read about how a puppy's blink reflexes were still developing up to six months of age, so when Winslow swatted him, Ruger didn't automatically blink to protect his eye. While lost in Google-land, I also read an article which explained that how close or far you perceive things to be is something that is learned. I always thought it was something that "just was" like sight itself "just is". Again I was wrong; babies learn depth perception by reaching out and touching and grabbing things. My mind is continually blown by the things I don't know about babies and children, and it honestly scares the shit out of me. Had I known that Ruger's reflexes were still developing, could I have prevented the scratch on his eye? I imagine my future child walking around and slamming into walls because I didn't give it the right kind of toys or place it in the right kind of sleeping position.

It was around this time that peeing in the house became less of an issue and Ruger developed a sudden love of eating random objects. He was always a chewer and we kept a steady supply of interesting chew toys for him to alleviate this, however, chewing wasn't the problem. He started eating and swallowing everything he could find. He dug up the grass and swallowed it attached to clumps of dirt, he pulled used tissues out of the bathroom garbage; basically anything that was within his reach. After K watched him poop out a cat toy we removed all the small cat toys from the premises and our house became endlessly clean. When Christmas came we made sure to put only the big and unbreakable ornaments at the bottom of the tree and we did a damn good job of keeping him away from it, but apparently our luck had run out long before and we didn't even know it.

The night before Christmas Eve Ruger stopped eating and started throwing up every twenty minutes like clockwork. We took him to the emergency vet and sat with him until two in the morning, cleaning up his never-ending supply of vomit before the vet came in and told us they couldn't see anything on his x-ray, but wanted to put him on an IV and monitor him overnight. We left him there that night and after a few hours of not sleeping they called us at 07:00 to tell us they were recommending exploratory surgery. The quote they gave us was for $5000 - Ruger was an asshole, but he was our asshole - so we gave the go-ahead for surgery. We feel very lucky to this day that we had the forethought to get pet insurance the very first day we brought him home - or we likely wouldn't be able to afford our IVF baby now! Our best Christmas gift that year was having Ruger back and healthy - minus the cat toy the size of K's fist that got lodged in his bowel after bouncing around in his stomach for a month. The very same toy I thought I saw in his mouth in November, but was gone by the time I got to him. I hadn't been worried about it because I didn't think there was any possible way he could have a swallowed it. Obviously I was wrong.

I tell myself that raising a child will be easier because they won't be walking immediately and therefore wouldn't be getting into things to eat like my dog does, but I know I'm just deluding myself to make myself feel better about knowing sweet nothing about parenting. I read another article that said not to buy soft blankets for babies because they can cause suffocation. I would have bought my baby the softest blanket I could find! I could have literally suffocated my baby with love! This is why people pair up - because K will be such an amazing mom and I'll just be stumbling around in the dark stubbing my toes on everything in my way.

Since all of this, Ruger has graduated from obedience school and I've started teaching him retrieving skills (which he is amazing at), he listens better, and has found his ability to relax in the house. He relaxes by finding the biggest and hottest sunbeam and basking in its warmth. Ruger is still only 8 months old at this point and I'm not sure all of our issues are in the past - but I have learned a lot - and I'm preparing myself to learn everything I can when it comes to raising a child, but if it's anything like raising a Lab puppy, I'm in for quite the rollercoaster ride.

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