reluctant dog mom
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Health & Wellness Spotlight: Lessons Learned by a Reluctant Dog Mom

Photo By Hillary Ehlen

Miss Phoebe joined our family two years ago. She is a delightful little dog, with a slight underbite and a lower tooth that sticks out a bit. This gives her a perpetual smile. She’s a fluffy gray and white Schih Tzu Bichon. She adores my son, and he adores her. She is deliriously happy when he comes home. Actually, she showers all humans with deliriously happy attention. I hope that her loud greeting bark might scare burglars away, but if they get close enough, they will be treated to slimy dog licks and springy jumps hindering any attempts at foreword progress.

We are her third owners. Her first family had a preemie baby that needed all available attention. Her second family was moving and life was full of chaos. We were asked to become her next family. My son had begged for a dog for several years. I wanted him to have one but I was also reluctant. It wasn’t just the work of caring for another living being. It was fear.

When I was three, we visited my cousins in central Minnesota. I remember getting out of the car and being greeted by a very large dog. It jumped on me, and down I went. There was no biting, but I remember his growl, very big sharp teeth and slobbering lips. In my three-year-old mind, the dog was a Great Dane, big as a pony, but for historical accuracy, it was a Boxer. I was terrified, and fear of dogs went to my core. And it was still there when Phoebe needed a new home.

I grew up in a dog house. We had many hunting Labs over the years, yellow, black and chocolate. My sister just got a beautiful “English Cream” Lab, whose coat reminds me of the foam on a latte. We also had two small dogs, a mini Daschund, Fredericka von Wienerschnitzel, and a mini poodle, Cinderella “Something” who answered to Cinder. I did my best to avoid them. No petting unless it was accidental. I was occasionally forced into service on the Dog Poo Crew. This did not bring me joy.

Despite my angst, Phoebe came home with us. I would do anything for my kid. And while I don’t appreciate her Princesslike bathroom attitude, preferring the white carpet to the great outdoors, she does bring us joy. 

Science proves that pets are good for us. The dog walks get us moving, but the pure companionship improves blood pressure and stress levels.

When Phoebe greets us so happily, she reminds us of unconditional love.

When she eats our socks and underwear, she reminds us that she thinks we are delicious, despite the smelly, dirty parts of us.

When she snuggles us, she reminds us of the healing power of touch.

When my son speaks to her with silliness and throws her favorite toy, it reminds us how important it is to play.

When she is always up for an adventure, we celebrate her enthusiasm and energy.

When she sniffs and explores endlessly during our walks, she reminds us to be curious and keep learning.

When she falls asleep, flat on her back, she honors us with her trust that we will protect and care for her.

These are good lessons for my son, and for Mom. And Phoebe has her forever family, us.

Written by Dr. Sue Mathison

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