Guest blogger Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Danielle also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on her blog, Some Puppy To Love, Twitter, or Facebook.
We are a multi-pet family. We have two dogs, three cats, two turtles, a frog and some goldfish. Like our human children, our furry children sometimes have trouble getting along. I have to admit that it is easiest to soothe arguments between my human children because we can talk things through. However, when my geriatric cat, Lily, struts across the living room, a place that my three-year-old Labrador claimed as her private territory, there is no time to talk before Django springs up and runs after the little old lady. Sometimes, I see the potential conflict before it happens and say, “Django, be good.” This nearly never works. Of course, my husband just has to say, “Hey,” and she will stop in her tracks.
In all other ways, Django is the sweetest and most loving dog I have ever had—she just will not relent in her pursuit of our cats. She doesn’t bite them or act in a vicious way, but simply runs after them. Hayley, our aging Chihuahua, used to do the same. In fact, it was she who indoctrinated Django at just eight-weeks-old to treat the cats as nothing more than an eternal game of tag partners. But now as Hayley has slowed down, she doesn’t run after the cats anymore. Perhaps she believes she has taught Django well and doesn’t have to do more than supervise.
The only time my cats and dogs truly get along is when I am preparing their meals. They smell the engaging aroma, and soon enough, everyone inches toward the kitchen while meowing, sniffing and begging at my feet. At dinnertime, there is no dog versus cat game, no frenzied runs across the dining room, no feline swats and no canine growls. Ours is a happy family at mealtime—until last licks take place, and then it’s game-on!
Mother’s Day is just a few days away, and here at the ASPCA, we plan to celebrate moms of all types of kids, furry and otherwise. We appreciate those moms who spend countless hours packing school lunches, coordinating the carpool, helping out with math homework and still find the time to take Fido for a brisk neighborhood stroll every evening.
If you’re still looking for the perfect way to salute the moms in your life this Sunday, May 11, look no further: Please consider making a Mother’s Day Honor Gift to the ASPCA. This Honor Gift is a meaningful way to celebrate moms who love animals. Your donation comes with the customizable e-card pictured above for your recipient, and the e-card is sent immediately after your donation is processed.
We’d like to thank all of the moms who make a difference for animals each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day from the ASPCA!
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
Moose is my seven-year old chocolate Labrador and we are partners. While I hold one end of the leash, he goes to work: he leans in, patiently, delighting in the ear scratches and hugs that follow. It is not uncommon to watch him dissolve onto the floor for full-out belly rubs. We are a pet therapy team and this is how he comforts our clients, psychiatric patients at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York.
Before we began working there as volunteers, we were trained and certified by Pet Partners, a non-profit organization that has long promoted the health benefits of the “human-animal bond.” (You can learn more about Pet Partners on the ASPCA website. Our first class was a refresher obedience course and helped me gain better control over my then, still puppy-like, two-year-old dog. The second taught me about the professional protocol expected of a therapy team.
Every Monday we visit men and women whose health challenges include schizophrenia, depression, addiction and other mental illnesses. Those who call his name are delighted when he trots over, greeting them with a friendly, tail-wagging response. The broad smiles on every face in the community room reveal a general sense of contentment as I take a moment and stop to let each person stroke Moose’s back and velvet-like ears.
Enthusiastic greetings and smiles are outward signs that Moose’s visits are a source of happiness, if only momentarily. What is not visible but, perhaps, even more compelling are the deeper benefits that can come from animal therapy.
In an article published by CNN Health Hal Herzog, professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, says evidence suggests that for some people, interacting with pets produces biochemical changes in the brain. Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman notes in the article that caring for a pet helps people become less frightened, more self-sufficient and secure.
When we adopted Matilda in 2008, I emphasized that we wanted a dog that could handle the chaos of three young boys. When we brought Matilda home, we saw that she had the most even temperament. Even my three rowdy sons couldn’t break her calm and loving demeanor.
When Matilda was three, I knew she was ready to be a therapy dog. After we became a certified pet therapy team, we visited residents in a nursing home every week for a year. The following year, we visited a children’s day care center. I hoped to visit patients in a hospital setting, and I even considered entering her into a study in which dogs visited chemotherapy patients.
In June 2013, I had to put our therapy visits on hold. We received news that is every parent’s worst nightmare: My 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare type of pediatric cancer. He would require nearly a year of chemotherapy treatments plus a 6-week round of radiation.
The first few months were rough. After each cycle, my son experienced terrible nausea and lost a considerable amount of weight. He’d lie on the couch and sometimes became increasingly anxious about not feeling well. I’d call Matilda over to him so he could pet her. His face would instantly relax.
In those early days after my son’s diagnosis, my husband and I were in a constant state of stress. Sleep did not come easily to either of us. When we finally did fall asleep, inevitably one or both of us would wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M., tossing and turning.
Matilda has faithfully slept next to our bed since she was a puppy. Maybe this was canine intuition, but as soon as my husband or I began our early morning stress-induced toss and turn, Matilda would jump up on our bed. She’d lay right next to me and I’d rub her belly a few times. Having her cuddling next to me, I’d fall asleep within minutes.
One of Matilda’s routines is to jump up on to my son’s bed and “tuck him in.” She lies on his bed until I say goodnight, and she follows me out the door. Lately, before my son goes to sleep, he cuddles for a few extra minutes with Matilda. He puts his arm around her neck and gently rests his head on top of her shoulders. She patiently lies there and waits for him to have his fill.
My son recently finished his last round of chemotherapy. It’s been a very long year, filled with lots of anxiety for our whole family. Through it all, Matilda was our therapy dog, giving us licks and letting us hug her whenever we needed it, which was quite often. She has brought our family laughs, joy and a whole lot of love—just when we needed it the most.
Emily Cappo is a writer and blogger at Oh Boy Mom. She is a mom to three boys and one girl dog named Matilda, a sweet and cuddly Labradoodle. Matilda and Emily are also a certified pet therapy team.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
I love listening to family stories, especially when the protagonist is the family pet. Friends talk about cuddling kittens or welcoming kisses from new puppies when they were children. Their stories are vivid, filled with multi-sensory details.
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, author Bruce Feiler reveals that a commonality of happy families is in storytelling. He writes of the value to children who learn about ethical behavior and resiliency from parents who share family history. In my opinion, stories including pets should also be treasured as oral heirlooms, passed down through generations.
When I was little, twice a year, we drove eight hours to visit my grandparents who lived in far west Texas. I have vivid memories of my grandmother’s stories about “Kitty Boo,” the cat our mom dressed in doll clothes and strolled around the neighborhood. She told us about my uncle who rode horses and who once befriended an angora goat by sneaking him into the house.
Long ago, our children learned about Blackie, my husband’s dog who daily walked all six kids to school and returned home to await the end of classes. They heard about Pierre, the silver grey poodle my parents chose as a companion for their two little girls.
Our kids are already telling stories of growing up with Choco, Argus, Moose and Gus—our four chocolate labs. These pups have generated plenty of material—most of it humorous, some occasionally smelly, and much that is heart-in-your-throat poignant. Interwoven into each story is an ethic of responsible pet ownership that is one of our family’s core values. When I hear them begin a tale about their dogs, regardless of the details, what is most memorable is the loving regard in which the dogs have been held. That seems perfect to me.
Do you have a story to share about your family pet?Email your story to email@example.com and we might feature it on the ASPCA Blog!