When my husband Russ and I first started dating, we decided that we wanted to take on the responsibility of a dog. I always wanted a pudgy, wrinkly, loveable English Bulldog; Russell (my boyfriend at the time) always wanted a regal, well-trained, loveable German Shepherd. I let him win the battle of the breed, and the next thing I knew, we were taking home a German Shepherd pure-bred puppy who, at 4 months, weighed 27 lbs.
We named him Ellis and jumped into training classes. In a true “Marley and Me” experience, Ellis never took to any of the training sessions we went to. But despite his lack of listening skills, he was a wonderful, loving, loyal dog.
In fact when I became pregnant, he became my shadow. During my last trimester he wouldn’t let me go anywhere by myself. My husband and I had heard of the challenges one faces when bringing home a baby to a dog. Oh, he’ll pee on the baby or the crib to mark his territory, friends would say. He’ll exhibit dominance and lash out, others would say. But the thing we heard the most often was that we would no longer have time for the dog.
Nothing has been truer than that. Our baby boy Liam arrived one and a half years ago at 9 lbs, 8 oz.—barely the size of Ellis’s head. Between the lack of sleep and constant nursing I had little energy and even less patience for my four-legged baby. Our walks got shorter and playing ball with Ellis turned into playing peek-a-boo with Liam. My attention wasn’t evenly dispersed. I knew it, Russell knew it, but was worse—Ellis knew it.
Ellis became withdrawn; he started peeing all over the house for the attention he lacked. Like a rebel teenager, bad attention was still attention. The guilt, frustration, and resentment I was constantly feeling towards him weren’t doing my family any good. There were many late night conversations about giving Ellis up, but how do you turn your back on family? How do you walk away from an animal you raised? We couldn’t, we wouldn’t!
But as Liam grew from infant into toddler, Ellis and he formed a friendship—mostly over food that went over the side of the high chair “by accident.” Now toddler and dog are besties like only brothers can be. Liam comes home every day asking for “Elli” and gives him hugs and blows him kisses every night before bath/bed, and witnessing their relationship develop just warms my heart. Together they play ball, go for walks, and catch bubbles (both with open mouths). What I love most is when I catch them passing a ball to one another fingers to nose and back again. Every day, Ellis teaches Liam love, patience, and compassion.
I could tell you that things have gotten easier and that Ellis and I have the relationship we used to before Liam came around, but the truth is that it is much harder than I imagined. But I look at Liam’s love for Ellis and the joy he gets from having him in his life, and that’s all I need to stay grounded through the craziness that is our dog.