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Stop Trying To Convince Me My Family “Needs” A Dog

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My dear child-free dog people, I know what you're thinking. "Oh great, here comes another smug, judgmental mom." But I want to open by saying that I think you get a lot of unnecessary, mean-spirited flack for two perfectly reasonable decisions — not having children and lavishing affection on your dog(s). I don't why people do this to you. But I've had a few encounters with some of you lately and, well, I'd like to talk about it. You need to stop trying to convince me my family needs a dog.

Right out of the gate, I want to assert something important: I. Love. Dogs. Like, it's the "if I see one that's particularly cute I will start crying" kind of love. I love playing with them. I love petting them. I love cuddling with them. I love telling my friends who have dogs: "Oh bring them over! No, really! I need some doggy in my life right now!" I love and generally prefer dogs to all other household pets, despite coming from a family of cat people. And yet I have never personally owned a dog. Up until recently, that's mainly had to do with the fact that most of my adult life has been spent in a state that wasn't well-suited for a dog-sized commitment for one reason or another (small apartment, little money, new baby, etc.)

What's not to love about dogs, right?! Dogs are adorable and silly and are generally tolerant when you grab them by their squishy little faces and pretend they're talking to you in a hilarious dog voice. Not that I do that... all the time. Very tiny dogs, like a Bichon Frise, are happy little puff-puffs. Very big dogs, like Great Danes, are basically 185 pounds of dopey love. Medium dogs, like pit bulls, are amazing playmates. Even the snobby dogs are cool. I once saw Whippets described as "not a good choice for people with low self-esteem" which, I think, is hysterical. Because the idea of a dog that makes you feel bad about yourself is, like, the antithesis of what a dog is, so the novelty alone is awesome.

But you know who loves dogs even more than I do? My 3-year-old daughter, Gigi.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

Gigi loves all animals and, fortunately for her, we kinda live in the woods so get to see a lot of them, including deer, groundhogs, fox, rabbits, and innumerable species of birds and rodents. One day, in preschool, her teacher read her a story about a baby bear and, because we do see them around here, had to have a serious, tearful discussion about why she is not allowed to hug bears she might see in the wild. She once flew into a rage because I would not let her go outside to hold a baby deer.

But of all the animals, dogs are her favorite. She has a million toy dogs. She pretends to be a dog. She likes for me to pretend to be a dog. She is never happier than when a friend brings a dog to our house to come and play. I find her love of these four-legged, furry friends sweet, and I love to to see her bonding with them.

Every holiday or birthday, whenever I ask her what she wants, the answer is 'doggy.'

But here's where it gets tricky: Gigi wants a dog. A real one. To live with her. Full time. Desperately. And no one else in our house — her father, brother, or me — is inclined to agree with her. She does not let this deter her in the slightest.

She's been talking about this dream of hers for over a year now which, when you're 3, is a third of your life and half the amount of time you can talk. Every holiday or birthday, whenever I ask her what she wants, the answer is "doggy." I guess she caught on to the fact that I kept saying "no," so right before her last birthday our conversation went like this, instead:

Me: What do you want for your birthday, sweetie.
Gigi: A bone!
Me: A bone?
Gigi: For my doggy.
Me: You don't have a doggy, silly!
Gigi: WHY?!?!?!

The child is too clever. So, needless to say, this conversation has been challenging.

Gigi is also one of those super charismatic kids. Everyone loves her. So even in her obstinate wheedling she is ridiculously charming. And do you know what that charm does to other people? The people who don't have to raise her and ensure she doesn't turn into an entitled, spoiled garbage person? They are putty in the child's hands and they would just give her everything she ever asked for.

Jay Wennington/Unsplash

As a result, there's been a mostly-joking-but-also-kind-of-serious campaign to get this child a dog, and it's gotten worse since we bought a home on an acre of property and "no longer have the 'apartment excuse'."

It is spearheaded by both sets of grandparents (to be fair, getting grandchildren what they want is sort of their raison d'être) and a cadre of child-free dog people of varying degrees of acquaintance. The grandparents are mostly teasing. The child-free dog people are mostly not.

These are the exact same arguments people are using against you for not having children. It's bullsh*t when they do it to you, and you really need to chill out on people like me.

"Every kid needs a dog!" they assure me.

"How can you say your family is complete without a dog?"

"You have no idea how much joy a dog can bring into your life!"

"There are so many dogs who need your love: it's selfish not to get one!"

"You don't want a dog? OK. We'll see how long that lasts; you'll definitely change your mind."

"What kind of a monster doesn't want a dog?"

And I just want to be, like, "Really guys? You're not sensing the least bit of hypocrisy here?"

Because these are the exact same arguments people are using against you for not having children. It's bullsh*t when they do it to you, and you really need to chill out on people like me.

My reasons for not having a dog are not an indictment of your choice to have one, just like my having children isn't some sort of quiet protest against your not wanting to become a parent. Like you deciding not to have kids, I have chosen to live a dog-free life for perfectly valid reasons. I know what a tremendous responsibility having a dog is and I'm just not up for it. I don't believe I could give a dog all the attention it deserves with everything going on in my life right now. Because as big a dog-lover as my child is, she is first and foremost a child. That means not only am I thoroughly and almost completely occupied in the care and raising of her (and her brother), but she is developmentally incapable of taking a significant role in caring for this hypothetical dog she wants so badly. Physically, practically, and financially, the lion's share of dog-care would fall to me, and I'm already more or less at capacity with the whole "caring for other living creatures" thing.

Mike Burke/Unsplash

But you know what my main reason is at the moment? I just don't feel a calling from the depths of my soul to get one. That's a legitimate-ass reason that I shouldn't have to justify, just like you should never have to justify not wanting (or choosing not to have) children. I am no more an unfeeling monster for not wanting a dog than you are for not wanting a kid. As you've probably said to countless assholes who question your choices over the years, "I like them, but they're just not for me."

And hey, to be clear: I don't think you're an asshole, because I get it. I understand what it is to love something so much that you get really enthusiastic when you talk about them. You're not trying to be pushy or make anyone feel bad, you just want them to feel as happy a you do.

My reasons for not having a dog are not an indictment of your choice to have one, just like my having children isn't some sort of quiet protest against your not wanting to become a parent.

But that doesn't always mean making the same choices.

Might I change my mind someday? Definitely. I'm one of those "never say never" kinda folks. And like I said, I adore dogs, so it's not like I don't see the appeal or think about how nice it would be to have a dog loping around the house from time to time. But right now I'm very happy with my life as it is, sans dogs but for the happy little parade of pooches that I gleefully and regularly welcome into my home (and lap) for temporary periods of time.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

So, I'm sorry, Gigi.

Maybe when you're older we can talk about a Chia Pet or something.

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