It’s always sad when a person dies. Their friends and families and even coworkers mourn, and they may take a long time to process their grief. But there is something even more profoundly sad when a pet parent dies, and their pets have no understanding as to why Mom or Dad never came home for them again. I am always sad for animals when they are given away to a shelter – or worse – put out on the street, unwanted. They never know why, or what they’ve done to deserve everything they’ve known to suddenly change. But a pet who loses his parents, especially to unexpected tragedy, is suddenly often surrounded by sadness, strangers, change and uncertainty – and the person who knew everything about what each look on their face meant is suddenly not there to be their friend, caregiver…their advocate.
A client of mine was killed in a fluke accident. He was dad to two very old, very sweet pups, both with special needs. We were pet sitting for them at the time, and were called by his ex-girlfriend to inform us of the tragedy and to let us know the girls were safe with her, with whom they had once lived. Thank God.
But what if the ex had no further contact with the dad? What if no one knew Josh had died?
I love my ex. I really do. Jordan and I aren’t in love anymore but we are still each other’s family. Though our break up wasn’t without paralyzing pain, the foundation of mutual love and respect still exists and we still share our greatest joys and sorrows with one another.
And we share our dog.
You hear nightmare stories of doggie-parents breaking up and suing one another for custody. Even worse – dogs being abandoned to shelters because no amicable agreement can be made with regard to their care. I became so aware of the need for shared-custody arrangements for former couples that my company offers pet taxi-ing services for exes who share custody but prefer to not to interact with one another.
But Jordan and I knew that a shared custody arrangement had to happen – for our sakes and for Governor Monkey. So that he still got in all of his hikes, road trips, and farmer-direct specialty food pick-ups. It meant that, in spite of our love mistakes, our innocent pup could go on with his life without too much stressful interruption.
Nonetheless, the day I smelled a woman’s perfume as I bent down to kiss my dog’s head, I had no idea how to react. While we are both aware of one another’s dating lives being in existence, it was still jarring. Right there, literally in my face, was proof.
My dog might have a step-mom.
Now, for those of you with human children, you might think this entire line of thinking is ridiculous. You might wonder why someone else in my dog’s life would even matter. But my pets are my babies. I spend heaps of time training my animals, worrying about them, making their food, understanding what every single facial twitch means. So when I allow for the human emotions of jealousy and fear to enter the picture, my mind goes wild – I imagine Governor Monkey unmonitored around his new step-mom’s children and biting them when they touch is displastic hips. I picture her feeding him from the table. Or him curling up at night in her bed and it makes me just feel, well, icky. I create scenarios and stories in my mind of everything she is doing to un-do all of my hard work for my baby boy.
When sharing human children, it is perfectly logical and acceptable to have rules you about what your kids are and are not allowed to do whilst with your ex and their potential new beau. Said list might not seem obsessive and crazy. Yet, if I typed out a list of all of the vocab Gov knows, the differences between “leave it” and “drop it,” and the fact that I never say “no” to him (only “oops”) in my ardent commitment to positive-reinforcement training. . . Am I even going to be taken seriously?
I used to feel guilty when my ex-boyfriend would walk Governor. That, in some way, it was unfair to Jordan. Or worse, that Jordan would see our dog out with him, and feel that same pang I felt when I smelled that unfamiliar perfume . But then I realized – anyone who is going to be a part of my life is going to have Gov in it – and the same simply had to be true for Jordan if our custody arrangement was to remain fair. Who am I to worry about Governor Monkey having a step-mom when he’s happily cavorting on vacation with me and my boyfriend?
Ultimately, I’ve learned that I cannot control everything. And that that isn’t always a bad thing. I support Jordan and her right to move on and find love again. I want that for her. That necessarily includes accepting that Gov is going to someday, have a step-mom. And that woman will play a role in Gov’s life over which I will have little-to-no say. Just like parents of human children, Jordan and I must hope that the priorities and commitments we have set for our dog’s health, behaviors and overall well-being will carry over even when one of us is not present. I can spend my time wringing my hands and being controlling, or I could even not allow Gov to go with Jordan on her weekend trips to see the “other woman.” However, I’m well aware that when he does, he gets to run around on the beach and be doted upon by the woman’s young son, all of which thrills him. My other option is to be open to my dog giving to others the amazing gifts of “love” and to him receiving the same from those around him . Including from a step-parent.
No one else will ever be Gov’s mom (two is plenty). But if he is likely to have a step-dad, then it’s only fair that he’s also allowed to have a step-mom, too.
Now I just need for the other woman to wear a less floral perfume.
The OKCupid notification came through telling me I had an email from Sam* while I was out on a date with Josh. Frankly, Josh wasn’t anything to write home about, so Sam’s email, telling me he lived just one neighborhood over from me and was available the very next night, seemed perfect. We met that Sunday, on what turned into an almost seven-hour date. Conversation flowed, flirting was mutual, and I could put a check mark next to nearly every box I have in my mind for what I want in a new partner. We talked about our professions – his as an acupuncturist, mine as the owner of a professional pet care company – and about travels, family, funny quirks – all of the makings of a great first date and a clear connection.
Date two came only two days later – brunch and window-shopping…Hello!? Could this guy be perfect? Should I tell my mom about him? Date three, and he asked what I wanted to do. It was a crisp, fall day, so I suggested a hike in the Wissahickon. I told him I’d pick him up, as I work in the woods every day and know all of the best trail heads. When I stopped in front of Sam’s apartment, Governor Monkey, my 5 ½ year old Border Collie mix, popped his smiling face between the front seats as Sam got in the car. Sam smiled politely and said, “Oh – you brought your dog…”
Who goes hiking without a dog? It would never occur to me to do anything but. What is the point of a hike if you don’t have a dog? How boring to just put one foot in front of the other – no stick throwing? No watching your dog zoom up and down the embankments, chasing his Rottweiler-mutt brother? No one to whistle to to hurry up and stop rolling in the deer carcass?
The hike was lovely, but conversation wasn’t as flow-y as the previous two dates. The laughter was a little less frequent. When Sam asked whether I “wash my hands after each time [I] pet a dog,” I was worried. I excused it away in my mind as just a doctor having germ concerns – after all, he washes his hands between each client, so why wouldn’t he assume the same of me? I wanted it to be ok so that this dream guy could remain just that. I found myself conscious of not smooshing my face into Gov’s face as many million times as I normally would, fretting that Sam might not want to kiss me if I’d just kissed my dog. I could kiss Gov a few hundred fewer times a day to make this work, couldn’t I?
As the date continued, I was still feeling connected to Sam, trying to pretend this red flag hadn’t been thrown. I was still sure I was going to have to tell my former partner about the new potential step-dad for our furry son. Sam and I headed back to my house. Gov sat quietly on the floor next to us, sleepy from our hike. Sam and I hung out for a while longer, chatting as he awkwardly had one hand on Gov’s head and one hand on my knee. When it was time for him to go, we set up plans for our next date.
But the next day, no call…no text. Another day more and still no word. Though I’d avoided admitting it to myself until then, I knew: he doesn’t like dogs. By Sunday, I figured my dream fella was no longer that, but my heart had already known. I emailed him to confirm my suspicion and he responded saying, “I realized I like animals – but I don’t like pets.”
At first, I was sad. He fit almost the whole checklist. Heck, he was even Jewish – that never happens. Then I started to think, ‘why did this guy ever even write to me?’ My profile mentions dogs no less than five times. It states that I am a pet professional. In my “six things I could never live without,” I name Governor Monkey specifically, at the top of my list. For all of the check boxes Sam filled, the one left blank was the most important one after the Big Three of kind, caring and open-minded. I could never be with someone who doesn’t love dogs. Truthfully, I could never be with someone who doesn’t want dogs as an absolute constant in his life.
And suddenly I realized – that one red flag was the Red Flag: the flag that cannot be forgiven, excused or ignored. It’s the pet flag. And that is the biggest, most beautiful flag I fly in my life. It blankets everything else I do and weaves into the fabric of all of who I am personally, professionally and spiritually.
Side note: Mr. Dog-Loving Perfect, if you’re reading this, you have to love cats, too. I’ve got two of those as well.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the non-dog lovers.