When Mother's Day arrives this Sunday, I know that I will be greeted with a "Happy Mother's Day!" by the two of the people I rely on in this world for my emotional well-being: my partner Ted, and my mom, Betty.
They believe that I am a parent because I am a pet parent...a Mom to Duke, our 14 year old bundle of joy, as much as Ted is a parent and stepparent to 10 grown children.
- I pick up his crap and dispose of it so the neighbors won't get mad
- I make sure he's watered and fed, and gets plenty of exercise
- When he needs medicine, I buy it and ensure that he's taking it in the proper dosage
- Now that he's older, he requires a leg massage every now and then for stiffness. Who gives it to him? Mommy, that's who!
In 2002, my ex and I adopted Duke, a gorgeous, spirited, and intelligent lab-terrier mix, from our local animal shelter, the Animal Care League of Oak Park and River Forest. I recommend them highly if you are looking for your own pet. And in the interest of full disclosure, the organization was founded by my brother as his Eagle Scout community service project. And it grew.
I've never had any biological children. Not for lack of trying...just a lack of luck. I love children. So I've tried to be nurturing to those around me.
Yet, I am often discounted on the most sacred of parental holidays, Mother's Day.
In fact, some people, thoughtlessly, have told me that I "don't count," because I have never conceived, adopted, or fostered a child. Yet, I am a woman who has nurtured much, loved well, and provided for my parents, siblings and 11 nieces and nephews. I even helped raise my oldest niece when she was a toddler, during her parents' divorce.
But then, there is Duke, my pride and joy. Life with Duke is magical, joyful and special. He is the one I come home to, and walk every night. The one I trust OutUGo to feed, walk and nurture when I need to be out of town, as I would a babysitter. I interviewed and vetted pet-walking services as carefully as a mother vets nannies for her baby.
Caring for Duke's needs made me aware of being responsible for needs 24/7.
Why then, can't pet parents be recognized as the nurturers they are, and given proper respect or credit?
For instance, what pet parent can't relate to these stories:
I've stayed up late...all night, when necessary, with Duke as he fought through infections, poisoning and illness.
I gave him Pedialyte to restore his fluids to normal after diarrhea and Benadryl for itchy flea dander.
He used to be scared of thunderstorms, and the only way he stopped being scared was if I fed him warm milk and cuddled with him. Or gave him a veterinarian-prescribed (and very expensive) sedative. I lost many nights of sleep between 2002 and 2004 because of storm-related traumas.
I've bathed him in our family bathtub, choosing his oatmeal and aloe-vera soap carefully, as his sensitive skin wouldn't take just any soap. And I spent a lot of time cleverly devising ways to get him under the shower stream to rinse (extra treats work like a charm), and patting his wriggling wet self dry with a big bath towel.
One day, as Duke was chewing a new squeaky toy, he stopped all of a sudden and came over to me, putting his head in my lap.
What a sweetheart, I thought.
Then, he opened his massive terrier jaw to reveal the squeaker imbedded in one of his front teeth. It was a silent cry from a son to his mother, saying "Help me, Mommy. I'm hurting."
I pushed and pulled until the squeaker was finally released from his tooth. It took awhile, as it was imbedded in his tooth. Duke didn't like the intrusion as I pushed, pulled, prodded and finally, yanked. My arm was a mass of tooth bites from the other teeth he'd clamped while I was working on him.
That wasn't all that made me feel like I was trying to control a toddler. Duke used to regularly slip his collar as we were out walking. He'd run so fast, he'd disappear into the distance. I'd chase after him as searched for a sign of his fluffy retriever tail. Eventually, he'd always come home, thanks to the aid of a neighbor, a policeman, or his own accord. But one time, Animal Control got to him first, and he spent two days in "Doggie Jail" on South Western Avenue.
When we came to pick him up, he stretched to his full height on his back legs, and barked piteously. That little adventure cost me more than $100 to get him out and registered with the City of Chicago. He later chewed off his tags. To this day, he won't wear dog tags.
He also picked up a nice case of kennel cough, which cost me a cool $250.
Hallmark Cards appears to agree with me, as does the entire canine-care industry, which earns hundreds of billions of dollars a year in veterinary care, accessories, pet hotels, pet insurance, pet-sitting businesses, and many other cottage industries.
Nearby my house is a canine massage therapist, who has been there for a good, long time now. There's numerous restaurants, pets-only motels, and even a pet airplane that will fly you (with a hefty charge) to destinations near and far.
One year, on Mother's Day, I received a beautiful Hallmark Card, inscribed lovingly from "my boys:"
"To Alison, from your two slobbering mutts."
True, I will never have to pick up the cost of a college tuition, or give a wedding reception, or have "grandchildren." But if "mothering" is "nurturing," and caring for their needs, I am all over that one.
Pet parents, what do you think?
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