The One Thing I’m Telling You Before You Have a Kid

There are few situations I dread more than a young couple with a new pet they refer to as “our child”. I’m not talking every young couple with a pet, mind you, but specifically those that refer to him or her as a kid. Though you might expect these to be the most involved and conscientious owners, and oftentimes they are, just as often you see them about a year or two later with a stroller and a decidedly changed attitude. And then you don’t see them at all.

Note to Allison: You Personally Shouldn’t Get a Dog. Don’t Speak for Me.

Case in point: Allison Benedikt, the author of the recent Slate piece “The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids: Don’t Get a Dog“, her  story of dog ownership gone awry that unsurprisingly begins with her boyfriend surprising her with a border collie/American Eskimo mix she hadn’t asked for. And it went OK, until she got pregnant and suddenly realized her dog was not a child, it was a dog, and she didn’t really want one after all.

I have no problem with people who refer to their pets as children/furkids/what have you, as long as they do so with the understanding that their pet is, in fact, not a human child surrogate but an actual animal. Loving your pet like a kid: fine. Expecting your pet to act in proxy for a human until an actual human comes along, then resenting them for not being a human: not ok. And therein lies the difference.

The problem I have with pieces like Allison’s is that it dismisses her pet with a shrug and an “oh well, this is what happens when you have kids, amiritelol?” And the answer to that is, it doesn’t have to.


The Truth About Dog Ownership After Kids

When you bring a new baby home, the dog slips down a notch and experiences neglect the likes of which you promised wouldn’t happen but happens anyway. This neglect applies equally well to your spouse, yourself, other children in the house, your career, everything. This is not a unique phenomenon. But guess what? Your dog forgives you.

Your dog is not a human. I repeat, your dog is NOT A HUMAN. This means several things:

1. Yes, Allison, they will continue to do things like shed and lick themselves and all the other things they did before. On the plus side, no diapers.

2. If you pressured yourself to participate in doggy weekly playgroups and aromatherapy sessions and are feeling guilty that you no longer want to do that, that’s on you. Your dog doesn’t care. Because he’s a dog and doesn’t get guilt. Give him a brushing (see 1) and a bone and you’re all good.

Parenthood Isn’t The End of the World for you Or your Pet

Seriously. People have been doing it for thousands of years; yes, things change afterwards, but you deal and get through it. If you have an epiphany afterwards that what you really wanted was a human, not a dog/cat/whatever, that’s on you, not the pet.

If you truly are in a situation where it can’t work; severe allergies or safety issues or the like, do the right thing and find a good home yourself instead of placing the burden on a shelter (in which case it might be the end of the world for your pet).

If there is one thing I could tell anyone before they have kids, it’s actually very simple: Don’t get a dog unless you want a dog. Because surprisingly enough, they’re going to stay one long past the time you bring home baby.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Mother of the Year Tagged: ,
  • Annette Frey

    She went wrong – well, in so many ways… but it’s not about dogs and having kids. Some people shouldn’t have dogs OR children. She may recognize that when it’s too late too.

    What editor would allow an article where drowning pets are mentioned as a solution to a minor issue? Letter to the Editor.

  • I was thinking the exact same things when I read that article! So many people seem to get a dog as a “test” for having a baby and then when the actual baby comes along the pet is now a superfluous burden 🙁

  • JW

    Wow, that woman is a disgusting piece of human trash, second only to the vile man who joked about drowning his cats so his child could nap. If she quit loving her dog and quit treating him humanely when she had a kid, i,e, what she considered “better” came along, then she should have done the responsible thing and found her dog the loving home he deserved. People like this make me ashamed to be a human.

  • Pamela | Something Wagging

    This piece certainly got a lot of attention. Slate must be thrilled.

    But your comments are among the most thoughtful. I like the reminder that we’re not always going to be perfect, in our careers, parenthood, or caring for pets. And it’s ok. Do your best and move on.

    • I’m sure they knew it would be comment bait; were it not such an uncommonly pervasive attitude I would have been able to hold my tongue, but UGH! And thank you.

  • Wendy

    I’m sitting here clapping. Well said.

  • Have some thoughts on this over on my blog, Scratchings and Sniffings, too. But, the big issue for me is the way too many people do not take into account the dog’s emotions and intelligence. Do they know they are now the sad step-child (for wont of a better description) – yes! Do they desperately still want attention? Yes! Are they able to figure out what went wrong – No! If they misbehave, it’s a cry for help and attention. Folks like this woman don’t get it – to her, it’s just a dog misbehaving.

    I get so angry thinking about this article that I have to remind myself that while I had a dog when I had small children at home, I never imagined life differently. I mean, the dog was part of the family. She was as important, in DIFFERENT ways, as the kids. We used to joke, “Hey, Mom, who would you run in the house to save if it was on fire – us or the dog?” My answer was, “The dog. She wouldn’t know how to get out. You do.” But, of course, my first thought in a case like that would be for the human family members…even as I also would want desperately to save the dog and cat. Never would I even have a fleeting moment of, “Wow, I wish I didn’t have the dog. She’s so much work.”

    I find this woman’s whining so outrageous, it pains me that she is allowed to have a dog at all. And yet, what will happen to this 13 year old dog, should she decide to give it up?

  • Catherine

    Her story brings tears to my eyes for the dog (who’s a cutie) – some people should not have pets or children if they don’t realize the importance of loving both. Granted, I just found out my 11 year old dog (around before my kids, but I still love him even though he gets a little less attention now than pre-kid) has liver enzymes. This totally has me freaked out and worried that my furry best friend may not have as much time left as I’ve been hoping.

    • Tabitha Wt

      Catherine – Sending your dog lots of healing thoughts. I hope everything turns out for the best. xo

  • JaneK

    Amen! I got so tired of people asking me what we were going to do with our dog when the baby was born. I would look at them like they were stupid and say the same thing we are doing now. Whatever….. He didn’t get put outside and left all alone and didn’t get given away. He remained as much a part of our family and part of many photo ops. He didn’t get quite as many ear scratches and walks at first but that was on me an exhausted first time mom. He was still very much a part as he always was. Unlike a coworker of mine who completely ignored her dog, felt guilty, then decided she would send to pound. Fortunately, I was able to find the dog a loving home. Anyway, good message as always Dr. V!

    • That’s what bothers me about this piece, the idea that “oh well, can’t do what I did before therefore the dog goes.” Life changes, and it’s OK!

  • Chris

    Bravo. Not only are dogs (or cats) not children, they’re also not disposable.

  • Tabitha W

    How you treat your pets during stressful times is a predictor on how you are going to handle your children’s “teen years”. I feel sorry for the children.

  • Cleopawtra

    Well said Dr. V., you always get to the point. It’s a pet not a child. Even though my husband and I call our 2 cats furkids, we can’t have any children we know they are animals not humans. I wish when someone can no longer care for a pet that they try to find a home for it and not dump the animal at a kill animal shelter. Keep up the good work you do and hope your trip was a good one.

  • Sarah Whitfield

    Her article horrified me. I don’t have kids but I have a golden retriever and 2 felines who are all rescues. I grew up with my collie and my parents loved him just as much as they did me. No one ever got rid of him once I came around. People that throw the pets away once the kids come are irresponsible and selfish in my opinion. She should have never gotten the dog! Good article, Dr. V!

  • Cathey

    Truer words were never said!! The sad part if that most people who you try to tell this to don’t get it until it’s too late. And the part of the equation that most of them REALLY don’t get is what Chris said below, pets are not disposable!! We lived with a Sheltie for 9 years after we figured out she was a bad choice (came from a weird home, was a Sheltie, etc., etc.). That didn’t make us heroes – it just made us responsible people who were NOT willing to teach our son that pets are disposable. And even at 31, he is not getting a pet yet, though he would REALLY love one, because we taught him that. “I’d love one, Mom, but there will be plenty of time for my golden when I get settled in one place.”
    I’m not a perfect mother, but that response is one of the things I am most proud of!

    • Aw, I love that your son is so thoughtful. And it’s true, sometimes not getting a pet is the most loving thing to do.

  • carolinegolon

    I really disliked that she presented her feelings as a “universal” sentiment because her friends (seriously, are they all @#$holes?) all agreed with her. She’s certainly not speaking for me either, Dr. V.! Coincidentally I just did a survey of families with human kids and pets and 98% of the respondents agreed that their lives were crazy, busy, messy, hectic but that their pets were wonderful, amazing members of the family.

    • “I really disliked that she presented her feelings as a “universal” sentiment” So true. And then implies anyone who disagrees is some sort of crazy animal person, like being a compassionate pet lover disappears once you give birth.

  • MelF

    I sometimes call my dogs “the kids”, but i don’t mistake them for real kids. i recognize that it sometimes it doesn’t work when you have kids and dogs, but I have also seen many circumstances where a dog was surrendered because they had become an inconvenience and not because of behavior issues.
    You put into words what I have been trying to say. Thank you.

  • sportykitty

    The Slate piece was disturbing. When I did rescue (90% cats), one of the top reasons for returning the animal was the addition of a tiny human into the household. (As a vet you will appreciate one of the other top reasons: returning cats with UTIs because they were too stupid to take the cat to the vet).

  • Megan Taliaferro

    Well said, Dr. V! I always cringe when I see those young married couples with a new puppy that they call their ‘practice kid’. Invariably, I see these same folks a few years later when they stop by my practice (with a stroller this time) to get the names of our local rescue groups. On the other hand, I have some delightful clients with multiple kids and pets who usually all crowd into one exam room – it’s chaotic, but you can tell there’s a lot of love there.

  • Jack Lucas

    Your dog is not a human. I repeat, your dog is NOT A HUMAN. – great statement

    Great article and I have always found it a bit baffling that
    people substitute a non-human for a human. The difference should be clear in
    your mind whether you want a child or pet and act accordingly regarding what is
    best for your pet, not just you.

    Dogs and other animals have feelings and attachments that are similar to humans, and after all are another living species.


  • Pup Fan

    Dr. V, thanks for such a fantastic post. I wrote about this article too last week (I couldn’t resist, even though it was such blatant link bait), and I’m really enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts on it (and realizing that most people aren’t buying the “universal truth” that the author is trying so hard to sell). Your perspective is a welcome one.

  • WKHG

    I just lost my beloved dog yesterday. My favorite memory of my late pup is how he kept me company in my early days of motherhood, when I had postpartum depression. In the middle of the night, he’d come into the nursery, tail wagging, all cheerful. I loved him every day of his life, pre- and post-human child, and he was a family member. This Slate article tore into me like you would not believe. Thanks, Allison, for pouring salt into the wound and letting me know I’m an outlier freak who actually managed to love her pets and her child.

    • kgseymour

      So sorry for your loss, and let me just say that if that makes you an outlier freak, it also makes you TOTALLY my kind of people. Hang in there.

  • kgseymour

    Yes, yes, YES YES YES. I have so many more things to add, but that pretty much sums it up and keeps me from saying something that I might regret writing publicly. So, basically, thank you. And YES.