Her First Friend

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Their friendship is sometimes a one-sided affair. Our sweet girl smothers her with affection, climbs on her and uses her as a pillow. Meanwhile, her first friend looks at me with those big dark brown eyes pleading, “Please make this stop.” My daughter’s friend is, of course, our black Labrador retriever named Reagan. Like many pets before her, when a new baby arrived in the house life changed—for the good and the bad.

I often hear stories of dogs that sense a baby is growing in their owner’s stomach becoming more protective of the mama and the new little life. While I know Reagan loves me, that wasn’t the case with her. My growing belly was just another great spot to rest her head. Our daily morning walks continued even though it really was more of a waddle on my part. When the instructor in our childbirth preparation class had us close our eyes and visualize the day of our baby’s birth, mine started on one of those very walks. Just Reagan and I and the warm spring sun. Little did I know that is exactly how the day of our precious Madeline’s birth would begin.

Once Madeline arrived my husband and I followed all the advice on how to introduce your new bundle of joy to your fur child. My husband smuggled one of Madeline’s baby blankets out of the hospital. It felt criminal, but we were on a mission! My husband reported back that Reagan sniffed the blanket in mild interest. Then she walked away to deal with more pressing matters like chewing on her Nyla bone. Okaaayyy. The first dog-baby meeting gave us a little more hope. I entered the house first and greeted Reagan with lots of pats. She gave me the usual wet kisses in return. A few moments later my husband walked through the door with the baby carrier in hand. He lowered it so Reagan could peer inside and, more importantly, sniff Madeline. Reagan stuck her snout in Madeline’s face and gave her one good lick. Then Reagan turned and walked off very matter of factly. We dared to cheer knowing that Reagan didn’t know what she was in for.

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It didn’t take long for Reagan to realize Madeline didn’t do much but cry. Reagan didn’t hide her feelings on those middle of the night episodes. We were like the Waltons all sleeping in one room. Mom, Dad, baby and dog. Reagan would harrumph (it was actually audible) and lumber out to the living room as the wailing got louder and louder. Eventually we all got some sleep. Madeline was a happy baby and soon was reacting to the world around her, including her furry new friend. While the giggles and smiles enchanted me, they did little to win Reagan’s heart—at first. It wasn’t until Madeline was mobile with snack cup in hand that true friendship blossomed. I still love watching their silly game. Madeline shrieking with delight as all 70-plus pounds (and counting) of Reagan follow her. Now Madeline exclaims from her high chair, “For Reagan!” as she tosses food over the side. Reagan snatches it up before it ever hits the ground. That’s what our veterinarian likes to call Reagan’s “supplemental diet.” Hence her new low-cal dog food.

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There was one moment when I thought Reagan dared to growl at Madeline, but I’m still not entirely sure. Could have been a hair ball. Tolerance is Reagan’s greatest virtue. There lies our challenge. We’re trying to teach Madeline that all dogs are not friendly. Some are mean. Some could hurt you. (As I write this I realize I could easily be talking about all the strangers in the world, too.) I will continue to worry long into Madeline’s middle age (God willing): Did we do enough to teach her about other dogs?? And other people??

I still find time to take Reagan on walks, though not as frequently. I have figured out a way to push a stroller while simultaneously holding a dog leash. (The neighbors must think I’m crazy.) But those walks are not as long as they used to be. Reagan is getting older and she’s feeling the aching joints of old age. My husband gets misty-eyed (already) when he sees the white hairs on Reagan’s face. That sweet cold nose that sniffs out Madeline and her snacks and covers her in doggie kisses even when she doesn’t have Cheerios. The special bond is there and, no doubt, will grow as they age. Saying goodbye, of course, will be the hardest part. (Okay, I’m the one who’s crying now.) But I’m so thankful Madeline’s very first friend is a dog that is teaching her about sharing, playing and loving—the unconditional way.

What is the relationship like between your kid(s) and your pet(s)?

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