Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is a blogger at Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
Our family is not very crafty, but each year on Valentine’s Day, I gathered doilies, feathers, and pink markers for our daughter (now a college freshman) who loved making her own straight-from-the-heart designs. I remember her as a little girl as she sat at the kitchen table, gluing red hearts and writing out “I Love You” in glitter while Choco, our big chocolate Lab, slept nearby. That special card for her special dog was one she often finished first.
Did Choco notice and fully appreciate the sweet Valentine from the youngest member of his family? What Choco seemed to crave the most were our daughter’s belly-rubs and ear-scratches—tactile reminders of her affection.
Cho was already six years old when our daughter was born. As she grew from a baby to a toddler, he was her gentle playmate. She tumbled over him while he slept and was patient as she dressed him in our family’s wardrobe of hats. While she played, Choco felt her tiny hand on his head and his back, every caress an expression of devotion.
Touch is a vital component to the relationship you have with your dog. This Valentine’s Day, if you are considering buying your pet a squeaky toy or a card, don’t forget to simply give him a hug. While handling is easy and natural for many pets, for others there can be some hesitancy. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section for tips if your dog resists touch.
Our little Hayley has had a rough couple of months. She was diagnosed with canine diabetes and then just a few weeks later, Cushing’s Disease. It has been a long and continued battle to get her blood sugar levels down to an acceptable number due to the fact that her Cushing’s Disease has her endocrine system going haywire.
After several weekly vet visits, I took her in to have yet another blood test performed to see if her cortisol levels and endocrine system were working any better since increasing her medication from once daily to twice daily.
I always feel bad before she gets bloodwork done because she usually has to stop eating and drinking at midnight, and for Hayley, this is no easy task. Due to her diabetes, she is constantly very hungry and thirsty. Two days before her last test, she slipped on her way down our porch steps, but since it had been snowing, I didn’t think much of her misstep. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt.
The next morning, I put her food down, but she seemed unable to find it. I motioned to her, and she heard me and came over. Just a week prior, she had been methodically watching my every move around mealtime, but now she seemed uninterested. Later that day, she ran into a kitchen cabinet and the foot of the couch and the wall. At first I wondered about her insulin levels, but noted that she wasn’t dumpy or sleepy; she wasn’t just lying around or listless—it seemed that she just could not see.
We received good news and bad news: The good news is that after months and months of fine-tuning her medication and insulin, she was responding to the medication for Cushing’s. The bad news: She was going blind from diabetic cataracts. A thick cataract is covering her eye, inhibiting her vision quite distinctly. For young, healthy dogs, a quick surgery can remedy this. But, due to Hayley’s heart murmur, advanced age and health conditions, our veterinarian and I both feel that it is not safe for her to undergo surgery.
This was something I never expected, and it happened so, so fast. We don’t think she can see anything, so we are learning how to care for a blind dog. The most important thing is to keep her safe. We accompany her outside multiple times a day to the yard, and we are vigilant about keeping all doors closed at all times. With the recent snowstorms in New York City, we have been extra protective of her.
I have read that there is a delicate balance between teaching her to remain independent and helping her when she needs it. My kids and I take turns caring for her every day. At night, we put her bed in her crate and make her sleep in there so she will not get hurt, and she doesn’t seem to mind it at all, even after years of sleeping out in the open wherever she wanted.
I have said this before: Hayley is still as spunky and free spirited and even happy as ever, despite her never-ending challenges. She’s the strongest lady I know, and she is quite the inspiration.
Access Hollywood Live Co-Host and Access Hollywood Correspondent Kit Hoover brings enthusiasm to every story and celebrity she covers—but her greatest passion is for her family and her rescue animals. Hoover and her husband Crowley Sullivan live in Los Angeles with their three children (daughters Campbell, 12, and Hayes, 11, and 7-year-old son Crowley) and four rescue pets: cats Prince Harry and Button, Pickles the bunny, and Dr. Disco Bubbles the guinea pig. Hoover’s dedication to rescue animals is life-long, starting during her childhood in Atlanta.
Oh my goodness, I was raised in home that you could almost call “the farm.” We had tons of animals, and we rescued all of them—particularly German shepherds, because there was a huge German shepherd rescue in our suburb. Max was our pet, but we would house all of them until they could find homes. Many of the dogs had dysplasia in their back legs, so people who loved them as puppies didn’t want them when they got older. We’d find great homes for them.
I have an amazing story about Max. For a week before he died, Max couldn't walk or move his back legs. Suddenly one morning he got up, walked over to my brother and me, and licked our faces. Then we got on the school bus and he passed away that day.
Of course, my mother has a whole bunch of other stories that may or may not be true, like how he grabbed me by the diaper and stopped me from walking into the fireplace—there’s plenty of Max folklore in our family!
We also had two rescue cats. Growing up, I didn’t even know that such a thing as pet stores or buying pets even existed.
What did you learn from having a pet as a child?
Living with Max was the first time I experienced the unconditional love, support and protection that you get from a rescue animal. I think when you rescue an animal, it’s as if they know what you did for them, and the loyalty, support and love they give you is overwhelming. It’s like they’re saying, “I know what you did, and thank you so much.”
If you’ve never had a pet, you don’t know what you’re missing. We just had Betty White on the show, she’s 92 years old, and we talked about Pontiac, her rescue golden retriever. He’s her life. It’s amazing the way animals make such a difference in your life.
Did you always know you’d have pets when you had a family of your own?
It was a no-brainer that we were going to have pets. We rent a home in California, and they said we couldn’t have dog—but they didn’t say anything about other animals! So we’ve rescued three kittens, a bunny and a guinea pig!
I love pets for children because it teaches them responsibility and kindness. They pick them up, cuddle them and worry about them. It’s the greatest thing to watch them care about a living, breathing creature. My girls were in charge of cleaning the bunny’s cage and making sure there’s enough food and water. Of course, now that they’re back in school, I’m stepping up my duties! Yes, there’s work involved, but the play and fun are the best part. My kids all have their own Instagram accounts, so Dr. Disco Bubbles is big on social media.
Why do you support the work of the ASPCA?
It’s such a wonderful organization that does great work raising awareness for all these animals. I can’t imagine the thought of buying an animal when there are so many great animals that need rescue. And don’t even get me started on animal cruelty! I love an organization that works on behalf of shelter animals and helps find them homes.
The best bumper sticker I ever saw about rescue animals said, “Who rescued whom?” I love that! It’s such a winning combination: You will come out so far ahead if you rescue an animal.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
As new parents, even during the first months of our sleep-deprived state, we knew we wanted another baby and dreamed about our tiny son having a little brother or sister. Years later, when our family included a son, a daughter and a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador named Choco, we welcomed a new Lab puppy. Our family now numbered six!
Most of the time, Choco seemed delighted with his new playmate, Argus. When they romped around the backyard together, our older dog resembled his younger self. Meanwhile, the puppy spent many happy afternoons alternating between chewing on and napping next to his big buddy.
Are you considering bringing home a second dog? Here are a few things to think about first:
1. Is your family ready? Are your children at an age where they can interact with a dog? Will they be able to help with feeding, walks for one or both dogs and simple lessons of sit-stay-down for the dog? Are you committed to housebreaking and/or training a new canine friend?
2. Is your resident dog ready? If your dog has mastered basic obedience training, it may be easier to introduce a second dog to your family. If you choose to bring home a puppy, he or she may benefit from learning from your older, resident dog.
3. Are you prepared for the additional cost? Covering the cost for twice the food, vet bills, medicine, insurance (if you choose to insure your dogs), toys and other pet care supplies adds up quickly.
4. Have you considered factors like age, size and temperament of your resident dog? When you are out walking your dog or, if you take him to a dog park, how does he react to other dogs? Does he tend to dominate or is he easy-going? Is he playful and good natured with all other dogs, or does he seems to do better with those who are similar in size?
5. Have you planned for the introduction? When we brought Argus home, we brought Choco out to meet him in a neutral place and had one adult supervise each dog. We made sure to praise both dogs during the introductions, and provided separate food dishes and water bowls for Choco and Argus. As the dogs became used to each other, we enjoyed doing fun things together such as playtime in the backyard and taking walks around the neighborhood.
We loved watching our children and dogs grow up together and, after Choco passed away, we eventually got a second dog to spend time with Argus. I cannot imagine our household without canine companionship. But the decision to bring home a second pet is a serious one, and should not be done on a whim. Carefully consider your second-dog readiness, plan for the inevitable adjustment period, and look forward to many happy days to come—both for your dogs and for the rest of your household.
Joel Schwartzberg is a father and cat-rescuer from Chatham, New Jersey. A nationally-published author and essayist, Joel works in executive communications for the ASPCA. Learn more about his personal writing at joelschwartzberg.net.
While I hope that trip influences their decisions and someday activates their personal interest in animal advocacy, I realized the experience was only half of the lesson. The other half happens at the animal shelter or adoption site itself.
All too often, when kids visit an animal shelter, they cuddle the purring cats and friendly dogs but leave with little education about the true and important realities that put these animals there in the first place.
My kids and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at the Verona, New Jersey PetCo, where a staff member from Pound Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) showed us some of the adoptable cats she showcases every week. We made sure to give equal time to both the kittens and the more veteran cats. Afterward, in the car, I threw out some new discussion topics.
We didn’t concern ourselves with questions like “How cute was that little cat, Billy?” (Answer: terribly cute). Instead, we openly pondered:
What happens to animals who don’t get rescued by local groups or shelters? What happens to animals who are rescued by a shelter but don’t get adopted? Why are there are so many homeless animals across America? How can we reduce this number?
Though my kids and I have visited shelters and adoption events before, their brains were clearly consuming these issues for the first time.
I told them that many animals become homeless when they’re abandoned or lost. Homeless cat populations are increasing in particular because so many aren’t spayed or neutered, which creates more and more litters. Homeless animal populations can be so large that local shelter and rescue groups have trouble adopting them out fast enough, which puts those animals in danger.
Even when animals are rescued and cared for at shelters, I explained, those facilities are not meant to be permanent homes; those animals desperately need to be adopted.
We also talked about euthanasia. My kids are old enough to understand that, in some cases, communities deem it necessary to put animals to sleep when there’s no other way to responsibly and humanely care for them. Nobody wants to kill animals, but it’s a reflection of how big this problem is.
“That’s why adopting save lives,” I said.
These can be difficult discussions to have with your children. It’s easy to talk about pets as if they’re all as happy and carefree as the beloved dogs and cats in our homes. However, kids as young as eight can not only process real news, but act on it. With more than 7.5 million companion animals entering shelters each year, our kids need to see adoptable dogs and cats not just as cuddly pets, but as desperate animals who need our help.
Once they do, maybe they’ll be moved to donate needed supplies –such as food, newspaper, kitty litter and towels—to their local shelters, host fundraisers at school, or go even further, like these creative kids did.
When they grow up, we hope they’ll be more likely to adopt their own animals; to sterilize, microchip, and put I.D. tags on them; to provide important socialization and enrichment; and even to volunteer at shelters and help care for feral cat colonies.
However families choose to help, it all starts with teaching kids to be aware—not just of the cute, yearning animals before us, but of the tragic peril that too often befalls them.