I know my dog isn’t a real child…but just humor me a moment.

I made plans with a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in way too long.  Our plans entailed a morning walk with a stop at a café for breakfast.  I realized with my afternoon plans later that day– the only time I would be able to exercise my 3-year old Vizsla, Alpine was the morning – and so, he joined us on our adult hangout.  Little did I know my friend does not care for dogs!  She wasn’t entertained by his puppy dog eyes, his sweet demeanor or his charming manners.   She wasn’t even swayed to care when several people we passed on the street took the time to pet him, tell me how amazing Vizsla’s are and one even wanted a picture of him to show her boyfriend her future pet.  During breakfast, Apline put his head on my friends lap under the table and she finally said, “now that’s cute” – but her hands never actually made physical contact with him.

When we were saying goodbye, I thanked her for allowing Alpine to join us and made a comment about how he is literally like my 3rd child.  “Well, no, he’s a dog” she replied.

So, of course he’s a dog.

He’s fur from head to toe, pees on his own feet, sniffs the butts of other animals, eats out of a dog bowl and isn’t allowed on the couch.  He can be left alone for hours at a time and doesn’t go on every family vacation with us.  I will never have to save money for college or his wedding.  I will never have to worry about his reading level, if he’s getting bullied in school and certainly won’t ever have to navigate the crazy world of middle school, listen to his drama with his friends or console him during breakups and heartache.

The truth is, I also wasn’t aware of the intense bond humans and animals could create until I actually became a “doggy mom”.   He is another being living in our home and he matters.   In his three years with us, he has brought us daily laughs, blood pressure lowering cuddles, unconditional love, miles and miles of walks, new friends and a completeness to our family I never could imagine existed.  He lightens the mood and I appreciate and love him for the simple being he is in a complicated and over stressed world.  But just like the real kids, he requires medication, baths, nail trims, doctor visits, food, attention and an advanced degree in time management trying to fit in his exercise needs with the rest of our busy lives. 

Another friend said to me once “my kids are my world, but my dogs are my therapy”.  I couldn’t agree more.  I look forward to my morning runs with my guy.  I smile when I see his head out the car window – jowls and ears blowing in the wind and I relax at the end of the day cuddling with him on the floor. 

Nothing will ever equal the level of love and commitment I have for my human kids, but the feelings and emotions I have for the “dog” have taken me by surprise.  And when my kids are out of my house (which will happen, sadly in a blink of an eye), my furry baby will still need me to love on him and nurture him.

In less than 15 years, his loss will be unbearable.  Research has found that a loss of a pet can be greater than a loss of some family members or a friend because family members and friends aren’t intertwined in your day to day life and don’t require you to rearrange your daily schedule to accommodate them like a pet.  The sorrow over the loss of a pet triggers the same grief because it all comes from the same place. 

So yes, the dog that looks like “just a dog” to you is part of my family gets treated like “one of the kids”.  Like I said, he’s like my 3rd child.