How I Became a “Mom”

I grew up assuming I’d have children one day. I think every girl does. My parents were married at 19 and parents of two by 25, so I naturally assumed my life would go the exact same way. It was all I knew. When my life didn’t follow that same path…well, it wasn’t easy. But the lesson I learned at 19 when I realized I wasn’t getting married like my parents did is that life absolutely never, ever, ever, goes how you think it will. EVER. And you know what? That’s almost always a good thing. And a God thing.

Immediately after college, my friends started getting married. I was actually in FIVE weddings in NINE months in 2008. Yowza! They bought houses together, rented apartments, moved out of state, and the clock started ticking for when they’d all have babies.

Right around that time, I was overcome by a desire that I couldn’t ignore. It was everyday, all day, constant. As I grew up, one of my biggest dreams was to have my own dog. I grew up with a black poodle named Buddy, but he was always my mom’s dog. In high school, we got a black lab/border collie mix named Buster. He was sweet, but also my mom’s dog.  I dreamed of having that special relationship with a dog. One morning in 2009, I got up really early, went to Petco and loaded up my car, then drove to Elk River to meet my new friend.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was becoming a kind of parent.

I had no idea how bringing Louis into my life would completely change it in the best way.

I swore to friends that I wasn’t going to turn into one of those ladies that treats their dog like a human child…but little did I know how naturally that would just HAPPEN. 🙂

I watched him and his brothers roll around together, playing in the grass, no more than 1 or 2 lbs each at 10 weeks old. I wrote a big check and Louis was placed into my care. As I shut my car door with little Louis in my lap, I started crying. I was so happy, so ecstatic to finally have my own dog. He started climbing up my torso, his tiny body unable to stretch high enough to lick my face. I picked him up and promised him, out loud, that I was going to give him a good life.

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I spent the weekend introducing him to my friends. At the time, none of them had children. I remember getting the sense that friends and family were surprised that I chose to get a dog as a single, 23-year-old with a full time job. They worried that my fun and freedom would be limited by caring for Louis. I knew that was a possibility, but I didn’t care. I just knew he was meant to be with me.

My dog-mom training began right away. Louis was barely 2 lbs and had to be given a little dab of this corn syrup liquid from a tube three times a day to keep his blood sugar up. This went on for the first three months of his life, until he’d gained enough weight to sustain himself between meals. I’d give it to him before work, I’d rush home after work to give him his second dab and he’d get his third dab before bed.

Louis’ first night was spent crying in his kennel. I aimed it toward me where he could see me from the inside, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t like the kennel, he missed snuggling his brothers and sisters at night, and he cried all night long. I had to go to work in the morning and needless to say, it was a LONG night. I took him out of his kennel finally around 4 am and let him sleep with me in my bed. The struggle with sleeping in the kennel went on for several months. I got VERY LITTLE sleep, spending most nights snuggling him patiently, offering him little bits of food, letting him spend a couple of hours running around my bedroom flinging toys and bones around (he did NOT have a normal sleep schedule), then reaching the end of my patience and shouting, “Louis go to sleep!” repeatedly, sleepily, for hours on end.

While I was at work, Louis stayed in his kennel. He’d bark all day, pee several times, and my heart felt broken whenever I had to leave him in that tiny box to go to work. I’d run home as fast as I could after work, let him out, wash his kennel blankets, and play fetch with him, take walks with him, just to make up for all those hours he’d spent locked away. On Wednesday nights I served at my church youth group, so that meant that on Wednesdays Louis had to go back into the kennel in the evening, too! I felt terrible, so I made a rule that it was ok for Louis to sleep in my bed–on Wednesdays only. Well, you can guess what happened there. Louis now sleeps in my bed every single night. 🙂

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The night Louis learned to climb up the stairs in my townhouse was one of the funnest moments of my life. For weeks, he’d been climbing just a few stairs at a time, then he’d cry for me to pick him up and bring him to the top. One night, I heard him scampering up the stairs. Slowly, one at a time, when he reached the middle, he cried out to me. I stood at the top, clapping my hands saying, “You can do it! Keep going! You can do it! Come here, Louis!” And wouldn’t you know it, he ran excitedly to the top of the stairs. When he did, my heart leaped and I started jumping around clapping, “You did it! You did it!” He got so excited, jumping up and down with me, wagging his tail. I picked him up and hugged him and he licked my face like crazy.

A few weeks later, Louis had gotten pretty brave about the stairs. I was in my upstairs bedroom folding laundry when I heard a dreadful sound–Louis rolling down the stairs. He cried out when he reached the bottom. I shot out of my room and leaped down the stairs. My little 4-lb sweetheart was crouched under the dining room table trembling. I picked him up, kissed him, checked his bones and joints to make sure nothing was really hurt, then sat down with him on the couch. He immediately conked out on my chest, but still trembled while he slept. I called the vet and they recommended I bring him in to check for concussion or broken bones. They gave me some pain medicine to give him with an eye-dropper and I was told to keep an eye on him. I felt terrible that I hadn’t kept a closer eye on him that day. I was hard on myself about it. Only weeks earlier, I’d accidentally let him jump out of my arms onto my parents’ hardwood floor, where he fell directly onto his head and screamed out like I’d never heard a dog scream before. My eyes spewed tears and I felt so ashamed that I hadn’t caught him, hadn’t realized he was going to try to jump. I was learning what level of attention and care is required of caring for a tiny little creature.

As time went on–I got better. 🙂 One of my favorite memories of raising up Louis in his puppy days was him waking me up in the middle of the night. This was a typical occurrence until he was about 3 years old. He had to go outside around 3 am. I rolled out of bed, put him on his leash and let him out the patio door. I immediately got excited, I mean ENERGIZED, when I realized it was SNOWING! It was the first snow of the winter and it was BEAUTIFUL. I love the first snow of the year, and in the silence of 3 am, it was captivating. I immediately got in the Christmas spirit and was filled with joy. (Any of you that know me know exactly what I’m talking about!) I pulled Louis inside, brushed snowflakes off his back, and held him tightly. He was shivering from the cold. We went back to bed, but I was too excited to go back to sleep. I turned on the TV and a Christmas episode of Friends was on TV. How perfect! Louis and I snuggled up and fell asleep watching Friends, excited about Christmas. 🙂 Since then, watching Friends every night has become our tradition. And yes–he actually watches. 🙂

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As the years went on, my love for Louis grew deeper and deeper. My friends started having babies. While I was full of excitement for them, I really couldn’t help but feel like I was behind in life and missing out on something important. As I watched them learn the ropes, their babies teaching them what level of care and creativity they required of them, I found that instead of feeling left out–I had stories of my own to share. Raising a puppy isn’t as hard as raising an infant, but there are some parallels. I’m grateful that God gave me Louis a few years before any of my friends had kids. I knew what it was like to be repeatedly woken up in the night, to operate on very little sleep, to potty train with mind tricks and rewards, and the joy that comes from teaching your kid something and watching them grow up.

Last year, Louis got pancreatitis and almost died. He was very, very ill. He’d been throwing up and acting very disengaged. He wouldn’t give me kisses and seemed very uncomfortable when lying down. He had to have emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his swollen pancreas. Afterward, the vet called me and told me that if I wanted to come down to see him I could, because he wasn’t doing well at all. My brother drove me to the vet where I sobbed on Louis’ fur. There wasn’t much life behind his eyes, he had a heated down blanket draped over him, a pain medicine patch wrapped around his ankle, an IV attached to his front paw, and he was trembling in pain. I stuck my head in the metal kennel, and he turned his head away from me. I’m not sure he even knew who I was. I put my hands on his head and his back and prayed that God would heal him. I told God that I knew I’d be ok if Louis had to go now, but I begged God to let me have him a little bit longer. He had become my baby. My heart broke like I don’t think it ever had before, imagining my life without Louis. The tears wouldn’t stop.

Thankfully, Louis made it. And it was nothing short of a miracle. They wouldn’t let Louis come home from the vet hospital until he ate food. They tried to give him food around the clock but he consistently refused. Over my lunch break on Louis’ fourth day in the hospital, I brought him a cup of rice at the suggestion of the vet techs. He wanted nothing to do with it. But while he sat on my lap next to the metal kennels, still hooked up to pain medication and IV fluids, he saw a vet tech feed another dog a bowl of wet dog food. I saw him crane his neck to check out the food and I asked if he could have some of it. She handed me the food bowl and–Louis went to town! She said she couldn’t believe it. She had personally tried to feed him many times, but he refused. It turned out he ONLY wanted to be fed by me–His mom.

The life returned behind his eyes, he showered me with kisses, and we got to go home the next day! After that experience, my status as dog mom was cemented, I think. I never wanted to be one of those people–a dog parent. But it happened to me. I didn’t really choose it. So many of my life decisions revolve around him and I don’t care. I want to live close to his vet–it’s a good vet and he likes it there. I want to be able to get home quickly after work to give him dinner, because I don’t want him to feel hungry for too long. I want to make sure he’s played with often. I want to take him on trips in the car so he can have new adventures and have a good life–just like I promised him.

He’s my best pal, and I care for him much like a mother cares for a child. Louis sees me as his “person” and communicates love for me by frantically licking the tears from my face when I cry, by jumping up and down when I walk through the door, by licking my face when he wakes me up in the morning, by playing games and being silly with me, by snuggling in my arms like a human child (I don’t have pictures of this…but ask anyone…he absolutely does it!), choosing to sit with me and following me wherever I go.

So even though I haven’t birthed a child–I’m thankful God has given me a taste. I love my little guy and all he’s put me through. 🙂

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