When my tween daughter needs a reason to resent us (and trust me, this happens rather frequently), she meditates on the fact that she is — and always will be — an only child. Or, as she put it when she was little, a "lonely child." This isn't entirely true unless you want to indulge in speciesism. My daughter has an older, smaller, significantly furrier brother.
Like many young couples, my husband and I started our family not with a human child but with a canine one. He was a five-pound bouncing bundle of joy, a black-and-tan miniature long-haired dachshund. We named him Boogalie, which is Cajun for either "little darling" or "swamp monster." (In truth, he is both, often simultaneously.) We call him Boo or Boogs or Booja or Dr. B or myriad other permutations.
When we brought my daughter home from the hospital, Boogs was about 18 months old. He was curious — we have a darling picture of him eyeing her suspiciously in her infant carrier. But, once he got through a couple of welcome sniffs, he pretty much ignored her. Of course, when she started eating semi-solid food out of a high chair, Boogalie realized that there was a benefit to hanging out nearby. You never knew what delectable treats might fall from the heavens. Grapes and Cheerios and macaroni. Oh my!
No matter how much my daughter grew to love Boogs, he was never a cuddly-wuddly lapdog. Nor was he an always loyal, always friendly tail-wagger. Full-grown, Boogalie weighs in at just eleven pounds, but he's always had a big personality. Big, as in, ornery at best and full-blown psychotic most of the time. His vet, in her politically correct doctor-to-patient language told us that he's "mentally ill." And, with her advice we've had him on puppy Prozac most of his life. (Now, before you think we're the ones who need medication, please understand that Prozac was actually invented for pets before it became the chi-chi anti-anxiety med we humans know and love.)
At an early age, my daughter recognized that Boogalie wasn't a very sociable pooch. One morning, when she was about three, my husband woke her up with the following tall tale:
"You'll never guess what happened last night! Boogalie stole the keys to the Miata and drove all over town with his dog friends."
My daughter, who was never anybody's sucker, rejected this. "That's not true, Daddy," she said.
She rolled her preschool eyes; wasn't it obvious? "Boogalie doesn't have any friends."
But antisocial behavior aside, Boogalie was always the canine apple of my daughter's eye. She bought him tiny doggy baseball caps, bandanas, sweaters, tee shirts and Halloween costumes. (Needless to say, he wouldn't be caught dead in any of them!) She hosted an 11th birthday party for him with a bunch of her (human) friends, complete with a bone-shaped cake and donations for the local animal shelter in lieu of gifts. She trained him to "sit," "stay," and "get it," which would not be such a big deal unless you understood how terribly thick and stubborn the Boo can be. And, she has played endless — and I do mean, endless — games of ball with him over the years.
Now, at fifteen and a half, Boogalie no longer plays ball. He's become a very picky eater and spends most of his time lying down on the rug, lying down on the couch, or lying down in his crate. He has cataracts and hearing loss and sore teeth and stiffness in his joints. And, none of that is really a surprise, I guess. If you do the math, he's about 108 years old now. He's no spring puppy!
A younger girl might be disappointed that her playmate (albeit a playmate who was pretty perpetually in a bad mood) was no longer available for walks or belly rubs or ball-playing. But, my daughter has been extremely sweet and compassionate with her geriatric pet. She's adapted as he's aged, moving slower, speaking softer. Meanwhile, knowing that this will probably be her first big loss, I've tried to prepare her for the foreseeable day when the crazy mutt is no longer with us. We both know it's coming. And, no matter how heartsick we'll be, we both agree that he has had a long, long, happy (if neurotic) life. And that we would rather have him at peace than in pain.
These are tough concepts, but my daughter gets it. And, when the time does come, we'll get through it ... together.