My Husband Lied to Me on Our Wedding Day (and I Love Him For It)

It occurred to me that I was standing there in a poofy dress in front of everyone we loved about to marry a man I didn’t trust enough to feed my cat.

Nick was waiting for me when I walked up.

I grabbed both of his hands, leaned in close, and whispered, “Did you remember to feed the cat?”

The cat had been the first thing I got for my first apartment on the first day I moved in, even before I bought a bed or a set of dishes or any food for the fridge. “It’s official,” I thought that night, curled up with the cat I’d named Zeke on the bedroom floor in the space where a bed would be. “I’m growing up.”

I loved Zeke in that annoying way that people who don’t have kids love their pets, and the night before my wedding had been the first night I’d spent away from him. Nick looked away and I thought I saw a glimmer of something flash across his face, but my veil obstructed my view. I couldn’t be sure.

The cathedral felt cavernous and, despite the chill in the February air, sweat pooled on the inside of my dress. It occurred to me that I was standing there in a poofy dress in front of everyone we loved about to marry a man I didn’t trust enough to feed my cat.

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But then the priest cleared his throat and I pushed the thought away as Nick and I turned together to face him. “We have gathered here together today to bring Elizabeth and Richard together in holy matrimony,” he started in his thick accent, and my stomach flipped a little. The champagne I had downed in the limo despite my mother’s look of stern disapproval (and the fact that it was technically still morning) threatened to make a reappearance.

“Nicholas,” I whispered. “His name is Nicholas. Not Richard.”

But the priest didn’t hear me or didn’t care, and I silently offered up the only prayer I prayed that day, “God, please show us that we know what we’re doing.”

By “us” I meant Nick and me, but I suppose I should have included the priest as well since he went on to call Nick the wrong name the whole time. He wasn’t our priest, not the one we’d wanted to marry us, the one with the kind face who wrote inspirational books and gave homilies that always made me cry. No, that priest had broken the news a few weeks earlier (and after months of planning) that he was going to be vacationing in the Bahamas on our wedding day, a pronouncement that had also made me cry.

But when this one pronounced Richard and I husband and wife, the relief that I had survived the ceremony was so palpable that my hand involuntarily shot out towards the congregation in a thumbs-up sign during our first married kiss. We made it, my thumb signaled, and all those people who loved us laughed a little too hard because they had seen how my nervousness was shining off me in hot waves of champagne and perspiration.

We made it.

The morning after the wedding I woke up to see Nick watching me. I rolled over to face him, my head, still pounding from the revelry of the reception, protested the sudden movement. “Hey babe, do you think we’re even legally married? Or maybe I’m married to someone named Richard?”

That look flashed again across Nick’s face. “I have to tell you something.”

“I hope it’s that he’s wildly rich,” I said, dragging myself up in search of coffee. “Get it? Rich?”

But he didn’t laugh. “Liz, Zeke died.”

“Wait, WHAT? When?” All sorts of things flashed through my head, but mostly I remembered how Nick had been waiting for me yesterday at the end of what felt like the longest church aisle in the world and when I reached him, finally, the only thing I was able to think of to say had been, “did you feed the cat?”

Then I thought of how they say you should be able to keep a plant alive before you have a pet, and you should keep a pet alive before you even think about having a relationship, and here I had a shiny new marriage but no pet anymore and maybe everything was doomed.

“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”

“It was our wedding day, Liz. I wanted you to be happy.”

I fell back onto the bed.

The next day we left for our honeymoon on a plane so small it looked like something you could buy in the toy aisle at Target. We hit some turbulence and Nick grabbed my hand. I kept holding onto him long after the plane settled. I thought about how while I was doing my makeup and downing champagne, he had spent the morning of our wedding running around trying to find a veterinarian’s office open on a Saturday to cremate a cat he didn’t even particularly like, and then held onto the secret to protect me while I danced and drank many more glasses of champagne.

Maybe we weren’t doomed after all.

An elderly man shuffled past us on his way to the bathroom and stopped when he recognized us. It was our priest – the one we had wanted to marry us – on his way to the tropics.

“Elizabeth. Nicholas. Congratulations and God bless you,” he said, touching each of us on the shoulder before he made his way back down the aisle.

“Now it’s official,” I said to Nick after he was gone. “I hope we can break the news to Richard gently.”

Nick leaned in close. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why did everyone laugh when we were pronounced husband and wife? Did I do something wrong?” He hadn’t seen my thumbs up.

“Oh no,” I said, squeezing his hand. “You did EVERYTHING right.”

I turned back towards the window to watch as we floated over the clouds, wondering if I could spot Zeke fly by on his way to cat heaven.

Uh oh. Did I Kill My Son’s Hamster?

“Mom, come quick! There’s something wrong with Champion!” We had just returned home late at night from an overnight visit with out-of-town friends when I heard my 12-year-old son, Tanner, call from upstairs.
We had acquired Champion, a friendly, Teddy Bear Hamster, three months ago. I’ve never fully understood the attraction to having a rodent as a pet, but it was the only thing Tanner wanted for his birthday. So we purchased the little brown and white ball of fur, and the “hamster starter kit”, and Champion became Tanner’s nocturnal roommate.
That night there was indeed something wrong with Champion. He looked like he’d been into the hamster hooch. His little eyes were rolling back in his little head. He was off balance and bumped into the sides of his cage. Then he did a full Looney Tunes spin on the back of one heel and rolled down his little hamster stairs from his little hamster loft.
His breathing was laboured and, while I’m not entirely sure what the normal heart rate is for a hamster, I thought his seemed rapid. So, after promising to take Champion to the vet if he lasted the night, I sent Tanner off to sleep in my bed and set out to figure out what was wrong with our disoriented patient.
Admittedly, I did not want to take him to the vet in the morning, but, being a mom, I had made the Hippocratic oath to treat my child, and any of his wards, whether living or of the stuffy variety, to the best of my ability. I was in for a long night.
So began the saga of The Champ. With the shivering creature wrapped in a face cloth in one hand, I typed his symptoms into Google with the other. Could be a respiratory illness? Many websites offered naturopathic remedies for that. But what showed up on the next few sites stopped me in my tracks.
“NEVER USE CEDAR CHIPS TO LINE THE CAGE,” said all of them. Apparently, the oils within them are toxic and absorbed by the rodent, eventually causing organ shut down. Had I bought cedar chips? Away up the staircase I flew like a flash, tore open the cupboard, and brought out the package.
Cedar chips. Ah, yes. They were on sale a few weeks ago. There was a picture of what looked like a hamster on the front, so I assumed…
In denial, I went back to the respiratory treatments, and, with Champion still in my palm, I boiled some water to prepare the recommended cardamom tea treatment. At 2:00 a.m., with a weary head, I used an eyedropper to pry open his mouth and push a few drops of tea in behind his two, long front teeth.
Suddenly, Champion’s limp body came alive! His four legs splayed out, as if a puppeteer had let all tension go from the strings at the same time, and his eyes opened wide! He seemed to take a deep breath! I took a deep breath! The tea had revived him! What a wonder drug and Hallelujah!
Then, just as quickly, he went completely limp. His eyes squeezed shut, and he exhaled – for the last time. A few seconds later, he peed onto my hand and his body went stiff.
Holy Hamster Wheels! What a bizarre turn of events! A few seconds ago, I had a miracle in my hand. Now, I had a dead hamster. I gave him a little poke, just in case, but his body was creepily hard, like he had already been taxidermied and was ready for mounting.
I carefully placed him and his facecloth in a shoebox, and put him in a cupboard, away from the cats. In the morning, I told Tanner the bad news, without divulging the likely cause of death. He took it well, but still stayed home from school. We dug a hole in the garden, placed him in, said good-bye, and built a rock cairn on top. We spent the morning solemnly tossing a baseball, baking cookies, being quiet.
Tanner was so uncharacteristically quiet that, at last, I caved and risked offending him by asking if, perhaps, he wanted to go back to the pet store and look at other hamsters. I didn’t know what the moratorium was on replacing a fallen hamster, and there was no reference material on the matter. But for us, it seemed to be about five hours.
Before we left, the guilt overtook me, and I told Tanner about the cedar chips. He was thoughtful for a moment, but understood it was an accident and let me off the hook – easier perhaps than I deserved. And so, an hour later, Tanner gazed down into the box on his lap, filled with a new hamster, as we drove home from the pet store.
“What will you call him?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet,” he said, sizing up his new friend.
“How about…Runner Up?” I offered, in a lighthearted way, but which came out in an insensitive, cheap humor kind of way.
“That’s so mean, Mom.”
“Sorry.”
While the new hamster has been with us for a year, I suppose Champion could never really be replaced, because this new, skittish fellah, perhaps out of reverence for Champion, or out of defiance of my distasteful joke, is still unnamed.
Our neighbor’s children call him “Cookies.” Our other son calls him “Kobe” after the basketball player because he seems to think they have something in common. We generically call him “The Rat,” who, by the way, has reclaimed paper fibers lining his cage.
This article was previously published in The Globe and Mail.

Are Puppies the Original Creators of Chaos?

In the event having a baby wasn’t enough stress and chaos, it may be high time you adopt a puppy.

According to Jewish mystical lore, God never completed the finishing touches of the universe’s creation because sacred vessels bearing sparks of primordial light shattered. When human beings gather shards of this holy light through acts of goodness, they repair the world.

In Native American folk tradition, the creator of the earth is a grandmother named “Kohkumthena.” Her attempts at completing the creating of the world are also undermined. Each night, as she weaves a magical basket, her mischievous dog unravels it. For the Shawnee, the world remains incomplete due to the playful and chaotic nature of a dog.

Last May, our family adopted a three-month-old puppy, and chaos has infiltrated our home. After living with our furry companion for a few months, I have not been able to sleep through the night, fold laundry in her presence, prepare meals without interruption, pay bills, or even tutor students in my home in my regular fashion.

An adorable 10-pound, cream-colored canine is now unraveling every metaphorical and literal basket she encounters. She jumps on our couches, tries to ingest the leaves and gnaw on the bark of a decades-old plant that my husband’s late grandmother gave to him, and sneaks into the bathrooms and unfurls the toilet paper.

She harasses the clarinet teacher by repetitively squeezing her squeaky toys during the children’s lessons, steals my son’s favorite stuffed animals, and does not always communicate with us when she needs to relieve herself. When we take her outside for walks, she chews, goat-like, on every item, including cigarette butts, bottle caps, and the corpses of squashed squirrels and deceased birds.

Grapes, raisins, and chocolate are deadly poisonous to her system, and these are three foods that are frequently in the mouths of our children. I’m glad I haven’t had my blood pressure tested lately, as my anxiety level has escalated from its baseline of cautionary yellow to a deeply worried red zone.

In an attempt to follow the rabbinic teaching of the Talmud (Bava Kama 15b) that owning a dog is permissible as long as the dog is not “evil,” I hired an expert to give her and us a strong start. With two decades of experience training canines for New York’s finest, this highly sought out trainer would surely give me all of the answers.

One-and-a-half hours after meeting with this gentleman, I learned that I was making several crucial mistakes. “Don’t talk to her so much,” he instructed me. “Only speak to her if it’s meaningful.” That hurt my feelings a bit. Wasn’t everything I said meaningful? “Why are you telling her she’s ‘a good girl’ over and over? She hasn’t done anything to deserve it,” he chided me.

“I guess I’m building her self-esteem,” I responded softly.

He told me that my husband and I need to be the leaders of the pack, and the dog will feel more comfortable knowing her status in the world. No napping for her unless it’s in the crate, I was advised, and leave her leash on in the house for now, as that is the method for re-directing her to a more desirable activity.

“Isn’t it a choking hazard for her to drag a leash around?” I asked timidly. “Why can’t she sleep placidly in a spot that’s mutually acceptable that doesn’t resemble a jail cell?”

As our puppy barked boldly, the trainer’s docile 130-pound German shepherd eyed me skeptically. Clearly, I will never have a second career as a dog trainer for bomb sniffing police dogs.

One weekend, my mother-in-law visited and brought me a different kind of book about dog training. In Warren Eckstein’s 1994, “How to Get Your Dog to Do What You Want: A Loving Approach to Unleashing Your Dog’s Astonishing Potential,” this expert focused on creating a confident dog by spending “more time focusing on the things the dog does right than correcting those he does wrong… Dogs that feel good about themselves will behave better for you… If they think they’re a failure at life, then what’s the sense of trying?”

His advice made sense for children, but what about puppies? I searched for diamonds among the puppy chow. Go ahead and chat with your puppy at will, he cheerfully recommends. But never badmouth a dog in its presence in case the dog understands the negative words.

Other trainers on the internet recommended walking your dog around Bloomingdale’s for socialization or keeping the puppy in the crate for up to six hours a day. I started having flashbacks to those early days of parenthood when I spent so much energy worrying about my children’s sleep habits. Should I Ferberize them, let them cry it out, or co-sleep? What enduring ramifications would I set in motion if I did something wrong? As parents of humans, we had to figure out what worked for our family.

Ultimately, no single dog trainer could whisper every correct answer in my ear for our specific puppy. If happiness were to return to our home, I would have to find confidence as a puppy parent.

As I sat glassy-eyed at my son’s little league baseball game on a Sunday morning, another mom and I began to chat. “This is the most relaxed I’ve been in weeks,” I confided. Then I told her about our puppy – the whimpering in the crate at night, the visits to the vet, the worry over her ingestion of toxic foods.

She nodded knowingly. “After we got a puppy, I cried every day for a month. My life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t leave the house for more than a short time, and the dog was always chewing up the furniture. The kids weren’t even that interested in him. But, it gets better,” she reassured me. “Really.”

Although we’re all very attached to our sweet puppy, I don’t think I’ll be decorating the bumper of our minivan with a magnetized bone declaring my love for Golden Doodles. We’re still working on taming our playful creature. She reminds us that nature is unpredictable, and that love is powerful.

Oh, and I think I know who broke those original vessels in Rabbi Isaac Luria’s story of creation. And my bet is that it wasn’t a cat.

5 Reasons Why Having a Dog is Not Just Like Having a Kid

Responsibly owning a dog obviously requires a fair amount of work and dedication. However, let’s get real. It’s in no way the same as having a kid.

I hear people say it all the time when the subject of children comes up: “Oh, I totally get it. Our dog is just like a kid… It’s so much responsibility, you know?”

Actually, no I don’t know. Your dog is nothing like a kid.

First of all, I completely understand why some people decide not to have kids. It’s incredibly hard to make it work with our already complicated lives. Not to mention that watching parenting in action doesn’t really sell its benefits.

Parents get covered in poop, can never really hang out, are constantly worried about their kids doing something dangerous, and it’s hard for them to talk about anything else but their little bundle of joy – which must be so annoying to non-parents.

Also, I know there are many who would love to have kids, but haven’t for some reason (or can’t) and they turn to their pets to fill a very special place in their hearts. I empathize and understand how your dog can feel like they’re your kids.

That said, I’ve owned a few dogs and I know there’s some responsibility and certainly a ton of love there, but it’s time to wake up and realize that canine ownership in no way compares to the onslaught of responsibility that comes with raising a child.

1 | You can’t lock a kid in a crate for eight hours.

Want to be featured on the next episode of “Dateline?” Try putting an actual child in a crate for a day with a bowl of water and some kibble while you head off to work. With an actual real child, you have to find someone very responsible and expensive to take care of them for you while you’re out making the bacon.

2 | Anyone can teach their dog to poop on some newspaper.

Potty training with an actual human is approximately one billion times harder than teaching your schnauzer to crap on the New York Times. You’ll spend thousands of dollars on diapers, invest heavily in aloe-laden wipes, and there’s no way you’ll get through it without getting an inordinate amount of feces on your hands. Try rubbing a kid’s nose in some poop and you can say goodbye to parenthood and hello to child protective services.

3 | Pouring kibble in a bowl is not the same as feeding a human.

Owning a dog requires you to make sure it’s fed. For most, this means scooping some kibble from a large container into a smaller (often dirty) bowl, maybe twice a day. I know this can be stressful when you’re rushing to make your dinner reservation.

Having a human child requires you to make sure what you’re putting in them is nourishing, wholesome, and tasty. Not only that, but the amount of time that goes into prepping a simple bowl of mac and cheese while answering endless questions and trying to keep them from swallowing a spoon requires real effort.

4 | Teaching a kid to be a good person is more important than teaching Fido to sit.

Teaching your dog to sit, stay, roll over, and do tricks isn’t easy. It requires patience, persistence, and – in many cases – food for bribery. The difference is that if your dog can’t do tricks, it’s probably not going to impact his life at all. If your kid is a dick who lacks manner and treats people poorly, they might end up in prison or worse. The stakes are a million times higher when it comes to training your little human.

5 | Kids last a lifetime. Dogs…not so much.

Caring for your bundle of joy will last your entire lifetime. Sure, they’ll get older, move out of the house, and they might even continue to pump you for money, but you can’t just decide one day that they don’t fit your lifestyle anymore and drop them at the shelter. Thank God for the work being done at the Humane Society.

When you’re a parent, you’re in it for the long haul and you’re invested. Having a child brings out a love from deep inside you that you have never experienced before. Ever. It is the deepest love that can ever be felt. I’ve put dogs down in the past for medical reasons or due to old age, and I know it’s really tough, but it cannot compare in any way to losing a child which would be by far and away the hardest thing any human could possibly endure.

I get it. You love your dog. I loved my dogs, too, and at times they can feel like your children. But it’s just not the same thing, so please stop referring to them as your kids and stick to calling them what they are: Pets.

 

4 Lessons My Incorrigible Dog Taught Me About Parenting

What I learned from Diego, a willful Rhodesian ridgeback mix, laid the foundation for my next 12 years of parenting.

The summer before I got married, I adopted a dog.

I say “I’’ and not “we” because my soon-to-be-husband, Adam, was not keen on the idea. He didn’t really understand why we would want to saddle ourselves with the responsibility of a pet when we were just beginning our lives together and loved to travel to far-flung places.

I was insistent about it. I had fallen in love with my roommate’s dog when I was in graduate school. While my roommate was at work, I would be the one to walk the dog and keep her company while her owner was away all day.

My knowledge of dogs was nil and frankly, I was a bit afraid of them after a bad experience as a six-year-old. Our neighbor’s Alsatian jumped on me one Halloween, his nails scratching angry red lines down my thighs.

I didn’t trust any dogs after that. I thought I was a cat person. But this lovely mutt, a Doberman mix named Sasha, won my heart, day after day, month after month with her sensitivity, playfulness, and intelligence. Before I knew it, I had been converted into a dog person.

Growing up, I had always wanted a pet. As the youngest of four children I didn’t have a baby sister or brother to take care of and I desperately wanted something, anything, to care for and to be in charge of. We did have a cat for a couple of years (she met an early demise), then, for a briefer period, a pet skunk (yes a real skunk, but that’s another story), and never had a pet after that.

As I walked through the humane society on a chilly day in May 14 years ago, I had no idea what I was in for, or that this dog would precede many moves to different cities and would be the constant as we brought one, then two, then three, and finally four children back from the hospital into our home to join our family.

What I learned from Diego, a Rhodesian ridgeback mix, in those three years before we had our first child, laid the foundation for my next 12 years of parenting.

How?

First of all, being the diligent and conscientious learner that I am, I got as many books about dogs and dog training as I could from my local library. Then I got to work training my dog.

I was sure that if I knew as much as I could know about the subject of dogs, I would most certainly rein in his wild destructive behavior. It was a matter of education and will.

Wrong.

1 | You can’t mold your child into something you want

Your child comes out of the womb with a personality and you have to learn how to understand who they are and then do your best to guide them into the world. Apparently, I was a slow learner.

I would take Diego out for walks – three times a day since I worked from home and I needed to get out, too – we ventured into wooded trails for long walks. I tried out my newfound training techniques. Nothing made me angrier than when that dog ran away and ignored my commands.

I raged at him, screaming myself hoarse. Why wouldn’t this being let himself be sculpted like wet clay? To be molded to my needs and ideas of the kind of dog I wanted him to be?

This was extremely handy when our first baby came along. She would not be easily calmed, she would not stay asleep no matter what we did, she would not adapt to the schedule I wanted her on. No, she was her own being with her own way of doing things.

All I had to do was look at Diego and be reminded that this was not a battle I would win. I had to surrender to her needs and accept her for the strong-willed, stubborn, high maintenance, incredibly smart being she was (and still is at almost 12).

2 | Different ways of discipline

Discipline is necessary, but just what kind works is different for each dog, as it is for each child.

After further reading , I discovered that some dogs respond to “harsh corrections” while others are indifferent to your yelling and still others react in fear and run away.

My dog was the latter.   I didn’t realize this until months had gone by and I had worked myself up into a frothy lather of anger and frustration. Adam would look at me with alarm, wondering just who he was about to marry, this thunderously angry person locked in a battle of wills with her young dog.

This lesson of dogs needing different correction techniques was helpful when we had our second child and my assumptions that I just had to do the same with the second as I did with the first child proved completely inaccurate (and useless).

While our first daughter would stick close by me and never leave my side in a grocery store, for example, our second child would get distracted by almost anything. I would turn around and she’d be gone. My second daughter wasn’t afraid of losing sight of me the way my first child was, she wasn’t interested in approval the same way the first child was.

When I remembered through my sleep-deprived and addled brain that different dogs needed different kinds of discipline and basically were driven by different desires, it was much easier to be calm and rational about this. Try something different. With Diego I had to stop yelling and scaring him and instead gently but firmly correct him.

If I let my daughter pick out a treat while shopping, promising it at the end if she stayed by my side down each aisle perhaps it will work.  It did.

I later caught on quicker with potty training and incentivized her with M&M’s rather than say, telling her I was disappointed in her (which actually did work for the first child). I knew what motivated her and I ran with it. Now that they are older, bad behavior for my first daughter results in losing out on activities with friends, where taking away my second daughter’s iPod works best.

3 | The Mess

Everyone has his or her weak spot and for Diego it was his stomach. When I first set eyes on him in his cage at the humane society in Montreal, he was sitting in his own diarrhea. Adam said, “You want that dog? But he’s covered in shit!”

I replied, “So what? He’s so adorable!” Those amber eyes and huge floppy ears were irresistible.  We were given permission to take him out for a walk and he promptly jumped up on Adam, smearing his blue sweater with excrement.

From that day forward, I spent many, many hours cleaning up poop. In his crate, on our floors, our rugs, all over our home and of course on walks in the park and later, when we bought a house in New Jersey, our yard. I also spent many hours cleaning up vomit on the floor of our Brooklyn apartment and other strange substances that leaked out of the dog.

What better way to prepare you for the onslaught of mess that happens when you have a baby?  The spit-ups and the explosive poops up the back and all over, the projectile vomiting and the sick days of diarrhea-filled diapers or soaked-through toddler pants. Let’s face it, babies and toddlers are a mess. Young dogs are too.

It really does help to have experienced it somewhat beforehand. You get the gross factor out of the way pretty quickly and realize that bodily fluids are normal and get over it.

5 | Acceptance

Having a dog allowed me to try being a parent without the high stakes of a real kid. I remember leaving the house tentatively in those first few days of getting him, going to a yoga class and thinking, “There is a life I am responsible for now.” I felt both exhilarated and terrified that another being depended on me completely for its life.

I spent the first couple years of his life comparing him to the previous dog I had lived with and kept finding fault with him. Why couldn’t he be more like Sasha? Why wasn’t he as smart as her? Why is he so anxious? Why did he have to pick a fight with that other dog at the park? I could train him not to jump up on people and to sit or lie down, but that was about it. As much as I tried, I couldn’t control him fully.

Then when my first child came along I realized, wow, it’s not about trying to control your dog or your kid, or about comparing them to anyone else’s kid. It’s about appreciating them for who they are.

And the next realization was, man, Diego is so much easier to care for than this baby.

Rest In Peace: Saying Goodbye to an Old Semi-beloved Pet

The last holdout of a menagerie of pets has been peeing on our things for years. With fading health and fading patience it may be time to say goodbye.

It is 2am, no 3, no 2 when my bleary eyes blink at the clock. He stands at my bedside. “Mama.” he says softly. “Mama” he repeats when he sees I am awake. “I can’t sleep” I lift the blanket in an invitation and he climbs in. Within 30 seconds his long lashes are resting on his cheek and his fingers curl at his face. I, however, am up.

Between my shoulder pain, my miniature bed hog, and one and a half cats, my portion of the bed is crowded. My husband sleeps through. The one upside to being deaf in his left ear is that he can put his good ear on the pillow and stay blissfully unaware of the goings-on in our bedroom in the small hours of the morning.

I know that sleep will come slowly, so I lie in my slim slice of bed and try to make use of my extra hours of awake time. I think about what Steve and I were discussing right before we turned out the lights, whether or not to put our cat to sleep.

When my husband and I met we each had 2 cats and a dog. Mine were all boys. His were all girls. It was the furry Brady bunch minus Alice to cook and clean. Fourteen years later we have one last cat left from the original bunch. For 2 years we have been taking her to the vet twice a month to get an antibiotic and steroid shot to ease some sort of sinus situation that she can’t fight off.

Tonight I listen. She is about in the middle of her sinus cycle. I can hear her breathe as she pulls in and out with extra effort, but she doesn’t have her choking sounds that mark the worst of it. When she really needs the shot she is a mucous spewing Darth Vader who I can hear from half a house away.

She was the bottom of the barrel in our menagerie. Everyone but the Saint Bernard and the peaceful cat with dreadlocks picked on her. Her defense was to flatten herself and stay completely still while she was under attack. Her big move was making no move. I would intervene on her behalf then stay and watch her slowly rise to her feet and slink away in distrust.

For the past six months she has been dropping weight. Recently my husband and I took her into the vet together, thinking we would be getting the final answer on her health. The vet came into the room puzzled. “All of her blood work is good.” He told us. “Her kidney function is perfect, I think we just continue to treat her sinus condition and keep things going.” He went on, “as long as she continues eating and eliminating we can assume she is doing relatively well.” Steve and I looked at each other in strangled silence, her regular elimination may be a sign of health, but it is also a problem.

For years she has been peeing on our stuff. Bags, beds, towels, rugs, couches, sweatshirts, the bare floor were all regular targets. In fact anything less than 4 feet off of the floor was fair game. Three years ago we had taken her in for a medical work up that showed this was behavioral not medical. To address the situation we switched litter, added litterboxes, changed litterbox location. In case it was emotional we separated her from her worst enemy. Still she peed. Sometimes it would be weeks between incidents, sometimes hours. If you have dealt with pervasive cat pee you know our struggle.

Tonight as I think about arranging her death I go through the same calculations I have in the past. What proportion of her life is positive? She doesn’t care that her hair is greasy. She doesn’t care that half of her tail has been amputated leaving a long, strong, unattractive stump. She probably does care about her breathing difficulties. Because of treatment she only deals with them half the time, so is that enough? Is half the time not being able to breathe well enough of a reason to hasten her death? How much are we factoring in the misery of misplaced cat pee into this irreversible decision. I don’t think she is at death’s door. Maybe just on his front path. How close does she need to be to the end for this to be an act of mercy, rather than one of convenience.

Lying in my bed with my too thin blanket I look longingly across the room towards my regular quilt. It is in the wicker basket waiting to be washed. She had wet my bed just this afternoon. Steve and I stripped it together, half laughing half crying. Before we did it we lifted her so, so, gently off of the bed and placed her on the floor where she stood at a slight uneasy angle before walking slowly to the water bowl. Presumably re-loading.

As she wakes up beside me I pet her and hear her purr rise to the noise level of her breathing. She navigates over my son and makes it to my water glass. I’ve chosen the widest one so she can fit her head in it. I look at her ears nicked with years of bullying and want to take them between my fingers. I know it will make her twitch so I don’t do it. As much as her peeing makes me miserable I still want to take care of her. I don’t know whether taking care is to help her fight or to let go. I know how she would handle it if she could choose. She has never participated in a fight in her life. If death were a visible beast barreling towards her she would lie down low and wait for it to be over.

She travels from bedside table to blanket stumbling twice in her journey. As I examine her skeletal form and her crusted eyes meet mine. I wonder if she has anything to tell me. She is really just trying to find a spot to rest. I stroke her as she settles down so slowly. I can see the speed of her heartbeat in her fur. She is alive, and then she won’t be.

After we wake up I call the boys in to say goodbye. I explain that she might not be here when they get home from school. The boy that snuggled her last night meets my eyes as he reaches towards his cat.

“Rest in Peace” he tells her, kissing her bony head.

7 Human Values Kids Learn by Caring For a Family Dog

A dog is an invaluable friend – and, in some cases, a surprising teacher.

Before my wife and I had our son, we adopted Tiki. Tiki is a Pit/Lab mix who we brought in just a month after we bought our house. He’s a good dog: it’s clear that he loves us deeply, and he mopes around the house when I leave. Plus, he’s energetic and excited, even as we work on to train him to listen a bit better.

When our son arrived, we found that there wasn’t some magical bonding that occurred. It’s been as much a learning experience as anything else.

1 – New relationships can take time to grow.

When we brought Bram home, I was half expecting this sort of moment where Tiki understood exactly what Bram was and that he’d immediately take to him. The exact opposite happened: the first moment we introduced the pair (with Bram sleeping), Tiki fled up the stairs, where he proceeded to mope for a couple of days. He got over that, but there was something that we learned: dogs can get jealous or worried about the intense attention that another member of the household, especially a baby, gets.

The two are firm friends now: Bram crawls all over Tiki, who doesn’t seem to care, or enjoys the attention from a third person. Once Bram learned to hand over food that Tiki liked, he came around a bit more.

2 – Taking care of a dog teaches responsibility.

Want a practical lesson in responsibility? A dog needs human interaction: otherwise, they can’t eat, go outside or take care of themselves. We’ve started teaching Bram how to feed the dog, with the idea that it’s a way to drive home the importance of this one particular chore. Once he’s big enough, he’ll learn how to walk the dog.

3 – Generosity is surprisingly rewarding.

More than just responsibility, though, there’s good things to teach one’s child when it comes to sharing and being generous: with your time to play, attention, or just a treat when he’s good.

4 – It’s ok to take your time in new situations.

Recently, while playing at a local dog park with a friend, Bram got to meet another dog who was much smaller than Tiki. What surprised me was how nervous Bram was around the newcomer. While he was smaller, she was faster, and fairly interested in him. It’s good to remember that even when children are familiar with animals, their relative sizes are intimidating: these are animals that move quickly, can be loud and can come up to a child before one’s ready. It’s good to let both animal and child come to terms with one another on their own time, rather than forcing the point.

5 – Getting knocked down isn’t a catastrophe.

He’s a 30 lbs kid, and Tiki weighs twice that. When the dog is rocketing around the kid, playing with a ball, some collisions are inevitable, and they’re not catastrophes. Slowly, Bram has begun to learn that Tiki is bigger than he is and that he tends to play rough with me. At the same time, Tiki has learned to be a bit more careful with Bram.

Children are durable, and there’s a bit of a learning experience here: Bram’s not afraid of a larger animal, especially one that he’s known since birth.

6 – There’s value to consistent companionship.

Tiki is more than a family pet to Bram: he’s a constant companion, a constant element of his life who is just there for him. That’s a bond that will grow for years to come.

7 – A dog is an invaluable friend.

Bram is two, and he’s known Tiki for his entire life, along with our two cats, Arthur and Merlin. He knows each by name, and can list off a whole slew of characteristics for each. What gets me every time though is catching Bram talking to Tiki. He’ll ask Tiki questions, pet him, and tell him that he’s a good dog; he’ll throw a ball or stick, or will light up when we come home after a long day.