If you’ve been following along, you probably know I’m the proud momma of 3 pint-sized monsters, otherwise known as my henchmen, or just dogs. Two Chihuahuas and a Pomeranian-Shih Tzu mix barely make up 1 whole regular sized dog in theory, but for 1 person living alone it’s quite the handful. These dogs dictate the majority of my days; they impact who I see, how I entertain, where I travel, for how long I’m away and even how much I sleep. I know every mother who reads this will scoff at me, but as someone who isn’t birthing another human, these dogs literally are my children and I treat them as such.
When I was a freshman in college, one of my courses required volunteerism in exchange for credits. So as an animal lover, I dedicated 10 hours a week of my time to scooping poop and slobbery snuggles at the Washington County Animal Shelter. My parents never let me have a dog growing up and it was something I always wanted, so it’s no surprise within a few weeks of my time there I brought my work home with me.
Mousey was this tiny little 4lb critter, scared and shaking in a big concrete cell. He looked like a fox, curled up on one sad blanket and I couldn’t fathom how someone could have abandoned something this small and helpless on skid row. Living alone in a 500 square foot apartment with no parents standing in my way to say no, I ran to the front desk and put down the money for adoption and neutering and within a couple of days he was recovering from surgery in his new home on the Tree Streets.
After about a year or so of living just the two of us, I was your typical busy college kid. I worked a couple of jobs, went to school full-time and socialized way too much. Little Mouse Man was spending a lot of time lonely at home, so I decided he needed a pal. Since he was so tiny and my living quarters were tight, I obviously had to get another toy breed dog. I personally prefer to adopt as opposed to buying from breeders, so when I stumbled across Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee (SBRET) it seemed like pretty serendipitous timing. There was my Skeletor, or as they had him named at the time ‘Wizard.’ Picked up running the mean streets of Kentucky, he was the right size and age for companionship and after a successful home visit from the agency, he moved in making us a family of 3.
For 10 years it was like that, until I saw this scraggly brown bundle of joy on my Facebook feed being given away by a former schoolmate. By that time it was 2015, I was married and living in a 3 bedroom house with a yard and parents just 5 minutes away. Three dogs didn’t seem overwhelming and I had a bit of puppy fever. I asked the girl to bring him over to see how he interacted with the other two, but once she showed up without so much as a leash and told me he hadn’t even been taken to a vet nor given a name, I knew we were keeping him regardless. And so came Sherman, my lovable little teddy monster with nonstop energy and an underbite no one can resist.
It is now 2021 and my life has done a complete 180 from anything I could have imagined when I signed those adoption papers for Mousey back in 2005. I’ve been a dog mom for almost half my life now. These guys have been with me through every major moment, from college graduation, breakups, a wedding, 3 moves and career changes. Although Mousey and Skeletor are the same age, they’re aging at different rates. Aside from some cataracts, Skelly still acts like a dog in his prime, but Mousey is advancing pretty rapidly, especially over the last year or two. His vision and hearing are halfway gone, he has doggy alzheimers and arthritis and is more susceptible to allergies. I have to give him oral medication daily, as well as medicated baths multiple times a week. He gets confused and anxious and he can’t hold his bladder, but every time we come back from a walk he’s the first one to bound up the stairs and do the zoomies for his treat so he’s still got a lot of life left in him.
Through all these stages of life, I’ve never once considered getting rid of my dogs. As stupid as I was at 19, I knew I was signing on for a lifetime commitment and there was basically no circumstance that would require me disposing of these animals. This time of year, people get the urge to gift their loved ones with living, breathing presents. With so many animals out there in need I obviously love to see pets go to loving homes, but unfortunately many people don’t fully comprehend the scale of what they’re signing on for. Animals are not something you try on to see if it fits your lifestyle then decide to keep or discard. You should do your homework far in advance before you ever bring a pet home, regardless if it’s a dog, a cat, a bird or lizard or even a fish tank. Depending on the breed or species, some animals will outlive you! Are you prepared for the unexpected financial burden of vet bills, food, proper grooming and repair of destructed property? Are you committed to constant cleaning of hair or potty accidents? How about going outside in the freezing cold or oppressive heat multiple times a day for walks, even when you’re busy or sick? These are the factors no one considers when they’re blinded by puppy dog eyes and wet noses.
You also must be prepared for losing your pets. With the exception of some birds and reptiles who can live up to 50 years, most animals with loving care are only here for 10-20 years. While Mousey still has his spunk, I know every day he’s getting a little older, a little slower and having more health issues. When the time comes, I’m going to probably have to make a humane life and death decision and it weighs on me to the point of sickness. Then I realize I’m going to have to do that 3 times in my life and it’s crippling.
I love my little dogs like children and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but it’s not easy. If you’re planning on giving the gift of unconditional love in animal form this Christmas, be aware of what a major commitment it actually is. There is no greater bond than that between a human and animal when loved properly, but if you’re not fully prepared to take on everything that goes with it, it’s cruel and irresponsible to have them. Do your research and if you’re in a good place to house another mouth to feed, go forth and prosper. I only ask that you consider adoption over breeders. There are millions of animals filling shelters and rescues in this country. Save a life if you can. You never know, they could be the thing saving yours. I know my dogs sure have.