Being a Good Dog Owner Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

Every day doesn’t have to be a three-ring circus. Simple love, respect and affection are what they (and we) really need.



illustration by Simone Shin

As a mom whose Westchester nest is currently vacant, I heartily subscribe to the philosophy of “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Sure, when one of my kids is temporarily residing under my roof, I worry if he or she doesn’t return by 2:30 am—but when they are living away at school or elsewhere, I employ a kind of benign maternal oblivion. It’s a parenting technique I’ve been employing to great effect recently, now that my two 20-somethings are living on their own, one in the proverbial jungle of Manhattan and the other in the real thing, in Central America.
So, nope, it’s not them I’m worried about. It’s my younger two—my 14-year-old, Kayley, and Gracie, my 3-year-old, who, if you want to get all technical about it, are actually kids of the canine variety. I know what they’re doing because they’re right here lounging around on my bed with me as I write these words on my laptop during a work-at-home day. And what they are doing is absolutely nothing. So I’m feeling guilty. Shouldn’t I be outside in the fresh air throwing a ball to them? (Does a sock tossed at my dresser count?) Because now that my human offspring aren’t in my field of vision as much, I’ve taken a closer look at the lives of my canine ones. And I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I have been giving them short shrift.
But just how bad a Bad Dog Mommy I am came into sharp focus recently when my friend Jill texted me that she wanted to get a few of her adorable Portuguese Water Dog Sadie’s pals together the next day to celebrate her third birthday. What a cute idea, I thought. But something about the date niggled at my brain. After I consulted Gracie’s puppy papers, it turns out the next day was also my dog’s third birthday. And what was I planning for the big day? Nothing. No friends, no gifts, no special outings. Not even a little Facebook shout-out.
Oh sure, my dogs get lots of love, healthy food, and, especially, first-rate medical attention. (Full disclosure here: Their dog dad, my husband, is a vet.) They certainly are not being neglected. What I worry about now is their social, athletic, and intellectual lives—or lack thereof. While I’ve been busy raising my human kids and working, there’s evolved a whole local dog-parenting culture that I never really plugged into. While my two were languishing at home (Hey, they had each other—a built-in play date, right?), I now discover, other neighborhood dogs were being picked up by mini-bus for supervised socialization programs or “camp” with their peers, attending regular mother-dog playgroups, or enjoying standing play dates with individual BFFs. Still others were frolicking at a local dog day care center’s theme days (the Olympics, Mardi Gras, etc.) featuring special activities and treats, just like my human kids used to enjoy at day camp. Kayley and Gracie would really love that, I catch myself thinking when I see an ad for one. Maybe they could audit for the day?
Whoa, wait a minute. Haven’t I been here, done this already—schlepped my human offspring—and my checkbook—here, there, and everywhere in the pursuit of enriching or just plain fun activities? So, for Mother’s Day this year, we make a deal. I won’t expect them to bring me breakfast in bed. And they won’t blame me when they aren’t invited to the neighborhood “bark mitzvahs” or are rejected from their first-choice canine college equivalent. But Mardi Gras Day at the local dog day care still sounds tempting. They really do look just so darling in beads—when they’re not eating them, of course.