We love our canine friends. They are family members, quite often with “people” names. If you’ve read my dog biscuit post, you’ll know my husband and I adore our Charlotte. She is our third Labrador retriever. When I wrote the following story back in 2000, our circle of friends were all going through the dreaded “empty nest syndrome.” Many of them had never owned a dog. It tickled me to see how quickly we all fell in love with a puppy (our substitute child…).
(This story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000)
When the gang moves out, there’s no remedy like a puppy. Filling up the empty nest
By Judy Harch
If you remember Paul Anka’s 1960s hit “Puppy Love,” you are probably old enough to relate to this story. I have firsthand knowledge of middle-age puppy love.
Just as teenage puppy love can turn your life upside down and inside out, so can the older version. It usually strikes when the last child leaves the nest. All those parental instincts are free-floating and need somewhere to go. Quite often, they go to find a puppy.
It happened to my husband and me, and it has happened to many of our friends. It defies logic. We have friends who didn’t even particularly like dogs, friends who thought a dog’s place was outside in a doghouse, and friends whose home used to be sterile enough to perform surgery. But we’ve all fallen under the spell of those warm, fuzzy creatures who need us.
There seems to be a ritual. First, the children leave. You rejoice. “Freedom,” you cheer. Free to come and go as you please without considering scheduled mealtimes, scheduled school events, scheduled lives. But before long, just when you think you have it made, you start singing that line from the Janis Joplin hit “Me and Bobby McGee”: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
I promise you, a puppy will bring back that loss of freedom pretty quickly. But it just feels so good to be needed again.
On the positive side, you can lock the dog in the basement when you go out. Otherwise, a dog is almost as much work as a child. But I guarantee that won’t stop you from bringing one into your life when the kids leave.
It first happened to us after our eldest daughter got married and our youngest daughter was away in college. That was 10 years ago. Everything was just too perfect, so we got a yellow Lab puppy. We named her Savannah.
For the uninitiated (as we were at the time), Labrador retrievers are wonderful adult dogs. But they are the puppies from hell. They are overly exuberant, highly intelligent, and incredibly ornery. That is not just my opinion.
We came to love that crazy dog exactly the same way that parents love an errant child. When we lost Savannah to Lyme disease two years ago, we mourned her passing much more deeply than we had ever expected.
Suddenly the house was silent again. No lumbering, yellow giant knocking us over when we came through the door after work. No hot, dog-breath kisses against our faces, no chaos – no fun.
After a few months, we realized that life really was much simpler without a dog. No hurrying home for feedings, no worrying about letting her out before she had an accident, no fretting over who would care for her when vacation time arrived.
Life was getting to be near-perfect again, so we got another dog.
This time we thought we’d be smarter. No 10-week-old puppy for us. We found a 7-month-old yellow Lab (I know, we’re slow learners). She was already a brute in size, 83 pounds, but the day we met her she ran over to us as if we were her long lost mommy and daddy.
We’re back to being a family of three. Maggie, now 2 years old, is a little mellower than Savannah. But she’s still a quirky, goofy Lab.
Don’t be too hasty to scoff at us. Your turn will come. There’s a sad-eyed little pup out there just waiting to get you.
UPDATE: Our sweet, gentle Maggie lived to be 13 years old. She aged along with us. When we lost her, we didn’t last very long without a dog. This time, we turned to a dog rescue website. Our adorable Charlotte was, unfortunately, a puppy mill breeder. When we adopted her, she was 4-years-old but seemed much older. Charlotte had many of the problems puppy mill dogs bring with them. We’ve had her for 3 years now. She’s adjusted well but it has taken a great deal of patience on our part – and hers. It has been well worth the time and patience. She has become the neighborhood favorite. How can you not love that face!
If you’d like to make your pooch some homemade dog cookies, see Doggie Treats For Our Canine Buddies in this blog.
(Illustration courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net)