Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Born

As you may or may not know, I gave birth to my first child about two weeks ago--a little girl named Jo. And she is precious and perfect and I love everything about her. But this post is not about her. Don't worry. I've got plenty of material already, and I'll get some stories up here soon. But for now, I wanted to talk about my first "daughter" guessed it: my dog Gert.

In 2006, I had landed my first job (with a salary!) out of college, and I thought, "It's time for me to take the next step into adulthood. I will get a dog." Here is a little glimpse into the weird workings of my mind, though: in preparation to get a dog, I didn't research breeds or bone up (heh) on house training  I didn't research rescues or trainers. Instead, I made a spreadsheet. I made a spreadsheet to estimate the cost of having a dog to see if I would actually be able to pay for its food, vet bills, potential boarding costs, etc. A spreadsheet. You can see my nurturing instinct kicking in already. Anyway, I looked for dogs for a month or two, visiting a few at the vet school, a couple of rescues, none of which were a good fit for me. And then, I heard that my aunt had bred a litter of Bichon Frises and that there was one female puppy. When I called, my aunt was so enthusiastic about me taking her that JT and I drove down the next weekend to pick her up. She was my 23rd birthday present to myself.
Gert on the night I brought her home.
She looks like a baby seal.

I named her Gert because my aunt and I called each other Gert, and the name wound up being a perfect fit. She was six weeks old when I brought her home, and she was cute! and snuggly! and cute! SO CUTE!

And then.

I'm not saying Gert was a bad puppy. But Gert was a stubborn puppy and was only six weeks old. You can only do so much in the realm of crate-training at six weeks old. So, suddenly, I had a little poo and pee machine running around my apartment, chewing on everything, keeping me up at night. I bought a puppy book and pored over it, trying to implement everything as best I could. Only none of it seemed to be working. She pooped, she peed, she didn't go to sleep at the right time, she cried all night, she wouldn't eat when I put out food for her, she destroyed everything. And what did I do? I cried. I cried every. single. day. for the first month that I had her. My poor mother fielded  weepy phone calls from me, lamenting my whole life and my whole decision to get a dog. When she would try to console me, I would just wail, "But the book says!" Eventually, and sagely, she told me to throw out the book.

Gert with her valedictorian prize.
And a horrible haircut.
At twelve weeks old, Gert and I enrolled in a training class. The first night, I stayed after with the trainer to talk over some points and involuntarily began to well up. Here I was, sitting on the rubber floor in a converted garage, trying to bribe the cutest puppy in the world with treats and failing miserably. Clearly, the world was going to end. The trainer was so sweet, and gave me some tips to work on at home through the next week. And if there's anything I'm excellent at, you guys, it is homework. And by the end of the 8-week training session, Gert could complete the training exercises faster than any of the other dogs, winning a prize at the end of the class. You have no idea what a proud moment that was for me.

But, not to make things too easy, Gert began to display some warning signs of food allergies. I would come home over lunch hour to walk her and find her bloody from scratching herself. She would develop hives around her eyes and mouth, and I would have to shove liquid Benadryl down her throat. It was frustrating, heart-breaking, and completely exhausting for me. And, of course, within a month, we had her on a food that didn't make her want to die.

When Gert turned a year old, I cannot tell you the sense of pride I had in the fact that I had succeeded in keeping her alive. It sounds silly, I know, but that year was full of all the worry, fear, and love that comes along with caring for another living being. For the first time, I knew I was solely in charge of this little creature, and I wanted to do everything in my power to make her life a good one. And in the process, she became my best friend.

I know it sounds dramatic, but after that first year, I have often told people that because of Gert, I knew I could be a mother someday. In case you weren't aware, I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. What Gert did was to teach me that there is no perfection when you are caring for another creature. There is just getting it done with as much love, patience, and care as you can muster. And what I learned with Gert is that I can muster a lot more of these things than I thought I was capable of.

In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to spend lots of snuggle time with Gert, knowing that my snuggles would mostly be for my new daughter for a while. And I just kept thinking about how glad I am that my daughter will grow up with a friend like Gert. Already, Gert won't leave her alone: she has to follow me into every room I go with Jo. She stands guard while Jo is being fed, laying at my feet until she's done. She immediately looks for Jo first thing in the morning. Jo is Gert's favorite thing.

Gert is not a perfect dog. She still likes to chew shoes, and she barks more than she should. But I'm so grateful that she is my dog. Without her in my life, I honestly think I would be a different person. Without her in my life, I wouldn't have known how to just roll with the insane combination of love and worry that comes with being a parent. And without her in my life, she wouldn't be a part of Jo's life. And that adventure is something I wouldn't trade for the world.

...and now I'd better go give Gert a treat.

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