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Pressure Points


Can we please get a dog?: Our children’s determination
to get a dog has grown since our friends had a gorgeous
litter of cocker spaniel puppies.

Lately, our children have launched a full-scale offensive against us. They have pulled out all the stops, and at times, have aimed some below-the-belt strikes. In a nutshell, they want us to get a family dog. Their determination has been escalating since our good friends had a gorgeous litter of cocker spaniel puppies in the fall.

Here’s an example of what we’ve been facing. While in church, our children are allowed to draw quietly during the sacrament service. Two weeks ago, our 5-year-old drew a picture of himself praying, with Jesus listening above. I complimented him on his work and asked about the little figure next to him.

“Oh, that’s my pretend dog that I’m asking Jesus for,” he said matter-of-factly. Ouch! How does any God-fearing parent respond to such a sweet, simple manifestation of faith as that?

Or how about the time last winter when we asked our 7-year-old what she wanted Santa to bring her since the holidays were rapidly approaching, and Santa’s helpers needed some inspiration quick.

“Oh, I only want one thing from Santa this year: a puppy,” she replied. Dead silence followed as we tried to respond creatively to that little revelation.

See what we mean about hitting you in your tender spots? The touching thing is that there was no vice or avarice involved in either of their pleas for a pooch. It would have been easier to say no if there had been.

All of our children love animals, and our current pets, two Siamese fighting fish, just aren’t cutting it anymore. “They don’t do anything,” our 12-year-old frequently points out. “They eat, swim and make bubbles,” we answer, realizing how lame we sound as the words slip out of our mouths.

“I swear, I’ll clean up after the dog, and take him for a walk every day. I promise,” vows our middle-schooler. We struggle not to smile at such a declaration from the boy who habitually dumps his shoes by the front door and has to be nagged daily to make his bed and put his dirty clothes in the laundry hamper.

However, our children’s persistence regarding a dog has paid off in one way. It has prompted us to have some heartfelt discussions about if and when we will be ready to comply with their requests.

Our standard answer to our children’s pleas has always been, “We will consider getting a dog when all the kids are potty-trained.” It has worked like a charm for years since we’ve had children in diapers for virtually the last decade, but the end is drawing near. With our baby nearly 2½, her potty-training experience is on the horizon, and so is our discussion about getting a dog.

Kelly’s big issue with a dog is size. Our children want a golden retriever. While Kelly agrees they are beautiful animals, she cringes when her mind conjures up a picture of a large dog romping around the house with five active children. Adding a big canine to the mix would be bringing our household chaos to a whole new level.

Alan, on the other hand, can’t stand the hair. Kelly’s mother has three dogs, and while she’s vigilant about vacuuming the dog hair, Alan insists he can still see it all over the couches and floors. Excessive dog hair is a nightmare for him.

And we both agree a dog would limit our freedom. We travel as a family several times a year, either camping or to see relatives, and having dog care to consider feels restrictive. Al has a sister with two miniature poodles. She loves them like children but routinely puts them in a doggy boarding house when she travels. That is an option, if you are willing to fork over as much on pet accommodations as you are on your own hotel room. The place her pooches stay is like puppy paradise—no wonder they consider it a second home. We’re still working on solutions to this dilemma.

Both of us grew up with dogs as members of our household from time to time. The feeling of having another member of the family who loves you unconditionally and will play with you any time is appealing.

After hours of discussion, we have agreed that for the sake of our children, particularly our 10-year-old son with autism, a pet dog is in our family’s near future (a small one, mind you, with very little fur). Anna Colliton, a writer for the Columbia News Service, reports that many autistic children relate better to animals than to people. She writes, “Autistic children typically have trouble making verbal exchanges and understanding complex social cues, neither of which is necessary to become a dog’s best friend.”

Like many children with autism, Holden wishes for friends but doesn’t have the skills to make or keep them very easily. He loves animals, and we feel he would thrive with a dog in the house to love. We also believe it would help him developmentally to have something to nurture and to have some responsibility for.

For Holden’s sake, and for all our children, the debate has been decided. However, we have chosen to stick with our initial milestone of not buying a dog until all the people in the house are potty-trained. Why do double duty?

With that decision behind us, we have already moved on to a new, related issue: what to name our new puppy when we finally get her?

Alan and Kelly Taylor live in Liverpool with their five children. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan is an assistant professor in Syracuse University’s Department of Child and Family Studies. To comment on this article, send e-mail to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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