Learning From The Pets

20 Mar Learning From The Pets

We have two pets in our household. Being the warm-fuzzy doting types, we refer to them as our babies, and have taken our leave from many a dinner party with the explanation: “It’s time to go home and feed the babies.” Now that there’s a human baby in the house, everyone’s status has shifted a little bit, and Our (Other) Babies have responded in some interesting ways.

The cat clearly appreciates all the new furniture we have brought into the nursery– Wow, a changing table, a bassinet, and a crib for me to nap on? Thanks Mom!– but her startled, wondering and disapproving facial expressions indicate that she does not understand why that THING over there is making THAT NOISE nor why we continue to tolerate it. She and the dog would most certainly be chastised for making such a racket, particularly during dark hours, so why does HE get away with it?

The baby monitor has been particularly confusing: Ugh, he’s making noise again. I’ll just go to the other room then. ACK! The noise is in here too! Where is it coming from? How do I get away from the wailing when it’s being broadcast in stereo?!?

But we suspect the cat suffers most from the change in our normal play pattern. She has taken to jumping at the spot on the wall where the laser mouse used to make an appearance, then turning around and looking at us intently, then leaping and scrabbling at the wall again as if to say, “Remember when we used to do THIS? I wanna do THIS again!”

Meanwhile, the dog has turned into quite the Loving Protector. When the baby is in a room with an open door, the dog parks herself across the doorway. She scans the living room, carefully monitoring the windows, and obviously debates long and hard about whether to sleep on the couch (her preferred spot) or on the floor between the baby and the front door. She has always been and still is a completely mellow and sociable dog, but no one gets to LAD without going through her first.

One evening, LAD was in the baby swing and the dog was asleep on the couch. Suddenly the dog startled and leapt off the couch, ears up, tail on alert, whimpering frantically, looking back and forth in distress between us and LAD. There was clearly something wrong, but at the time we could not discern what it was, so we soothed the dog as best we could and moved on. A few hours later, though, we heard gurgles coming from LAD’s mid-section and spent the rest of the night trying to comfort one fussy, gassy, miserable little guy with multiple watery stools. Ever since, when the dog alerts to something related to LAD, we take it very seriously. Start the caffeine drip and put on the lullabies, the dog says it’s going to be a long night!

One of the reasons why we have animals at all is because they remind us to take care of ourselves and to be more loving towards others. On any given day I might see good reason to put off a mealtime until a terribly late hour, but the animals generally do not. I can find plenty of excuses to avoid the gym or the heavy duty yard work, but the dog really and truly needs a walk in order to be healthy and happy– and she does not speak the language of rationalization as fluently as I do. In fact, the happy dance she does at the prospect of spending time with me outdoors has taught me that having something to look forward to and someone to share it with is not so much a luxury but an essential vitamin that should be taken daily.

Likewise, the cat’s sense of frustration and loss as well as her desperate attempts to rectify the situation remind me that changing or taking away a routine can be devastating. Where did that relationship go? Why are you so different now? What do I have to do to make things different?Communicating across our particular divide is as much of a challenge as compensating appropriately for the deficit, but that is as true for human-human relations as for human-animal interaction.

As LAD grows and his case progresses, I must stay mindful of these things. Do I know what gives him joy? Am I providing him with daily opportunities for happiness and good health? What about the rest of the team? What gives me or Beloved Spouse or Bio-Mom or our various Social Workers joy and fulfillment, and what can any of us do to make a contribution in that direction? Have I been paying too much attention to one member of the family over another? How do I make up for that without making things worse? What routines have we established now that might at any moment be missed or thrown off? Might such a change explain X or Y crazy-looking behavior? And what is a healthy thing to do in response?

Turns out it’s always time to go home and feed the babies.

Angels Foster
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