Nursing, balancing on one leg, bopping and petting my dog with the other foot: I definitely did not expect this when I was expecting.
Our dog, Finn, has been sick. After holding him in a bear hug to prevent him from scratching and biting himself all night, we took him to the vet. The catch is he gets anxious and aggressive at the vet to the point that he needs to be fully sedated in order for anyone to treat him.
The doctor thought he has a food allergy (probably to beef or chicken, which she said is more common than allergies to corn and wheat—who knew?) mixed with canine anxiety. A course of steroids, antibiotics and sedatives later, I picked up our pup.
He was locked in a kennel when I stepped into the back of the office. The moment he saw me, he wagged his whole body and scratched to be let out. I couldn’t get the damn door open and grew frantic trying to unlock it. Finally the vet tech helped me. I fell to my knees, holding and petting a whimpering Finn. “It’s ok,” I told him and tried—then failed—to not cry.
Finn clumsily stumbled up the steps to our apartment. At home, the sedative wore off, and he was back to what bothered him. His face was so scraped from incessant scratching that it looked as if he had gotten into a dog fight. A patch at the base of his tail the size of a deck of cards had been gnawed raw. He had hairless patches on his paws and legs from compulsive licking.
Thankfully my mom was in town helping with Edie. I couldn’t comfort my dog while taking the best care of Edie at the same time. My heart felt as if it were being squeezed in a corset every time Finn whimpered or cried. He lay on his bed, panting with his head lowered, the rest of the day.
Finn is our first child. Plenty of people roll their eyes when we animal owners refer to our pets as children, but for me it rings true.
We adopted Finn, then called Aaron, from a non-profit in California that rescued dogs on the euthanasia list at surrounding shelters. Eric had knee surgery a few weeks after that, so I was in charge of caring for a puppy who gnawed through library books and pulled baked goods off the counter. Caring for my first dog was frustrating but immeasurably rewarding. Finn slobbered and nuzzled his way into our hearts.
We had some challenges once Edie came. I no longer snuggled and pet him whenever he asked. For a few weeks, Finn would sneak a scrap of paper from the coffee table and eat it in front of me, just out of reach, when I nursed Edie. Or he snatched muffins from my bedside table and left only crumbs, not even the paper wrapping, to show for his crime.
Since then the whole family has adjusted. He lies half-on my lap while I nurse Edie now, and she’s paying attention to him. Finn jumps a little when Edith grabs a fistful of his fur, but he always sniffs her in her carseat whenever we return home. He licks her face and ears when she does tummy time.
As I type this, Finn is out at the park with Eric. He has been more of himself in the last 24 hours. I’m still hand-feeding him water (ask me about the difficulty of this sometime) but last night he ate for the first time in two days. He’s sleeping again and his face doesn’t have the drawn, harrowed look it did before.
Finn now doesn’t need to be stroked and held every minute of the day. But the episode left me feeling as torn up as his face looked. I felt I needed to give all my attention to both my baby and my dog at the same time. Doing both—like nursing, bopping and petting all at once—could last only so long.
I don’t have some lesson I’ve drawn for this. The next time it happens—and it surely will—we’ll be in the same impossibility of doing everything for everyone. And it feels like shit.
Until then, though, I’m excited to get back to our usual family dynamic, once Finn is feeling up to it. Edie misses her Finn kisses.