MUM SAYS Having dogs has taught my kids empathy

Growing up with a family dog not only boosts her sons’ emotional well-being, they benefit in other ways, too.

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“On my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to become a mum ― not to a child just yet, but more a ‘fur kid’. Initially, I had wanted to buy a puppy, but a friend of mine who works at the SPCA told me it was better to adopt.

So, off I went to the SPCA with my husband, in search of a new addition to our family. It was there that I first met Tarzan, a 1-year-old Labrador who ended up at the SPCA because he had been neglected by his previous owners. He was already grown to his full size by then, but he was still a puppy at heart ― constantly jumping on me and being playful. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so the second time we went to visit him, I decided he was ours.

It took a while for us to get used to Tarzan’s high-energy levels, but we loved him like a member of our family. Taking care of my new furry friend also made me more aware of the plight of the other dogs out there who had been abandoned or been mistreated by their owners.

Later, when we were fostering an abandoned dog and wanted to find a home for her,  we set up a Facebook page and found a lovely home for it through that. Not wanting the page to go to waste, we renamed it Adopt a Dog Singapore , where like-minded people can share news about abandoned dogs, so that we can match them with families who want to adopt a pet.

Through that page, we fostered a few dogs along the way and that’s how we met Zoey, a beautiful golden retriever, three years later. We found her wandering around a park near our condo.

As challenging as that time was for us, it was never an option to give up our on dogs. They were our first babies, they were family, so they were here to stay.

Everyone in my family, including Tarzan, got along very well with Zoey from the get-go. She seemed to just fit, so we kept her. My husband and I knew it was going to be additional work on our part to take care of two big dogs, but we decided we would figure it out as we went along.

Life was pretty sweet with two active dogs. We spent our days taking long walks with Tarzan and Zoey and every weekend, we would plan some kind of dog-friendly activity. We joined other “fur parents” for doggie birthday parties and play dates at dog-friendly parks.

A year and a half later, our little family of four grew even bigger. I was pregnant with our first baby, Joshua. We knew we had to ease our dogs into accepting our newborn’s arrival. So, before we brought Joshua home from the hospital, my husband took a blanket our bub had been wrapped in home to the dogs. He encouraged them to sniff it, so they would get used to the baby’s smell.

We were never worried about our dogs causing our baby harm because they are such gentle creatures. However, as first-time parents, we worried that our “fur kids” would not get on well with our newborn. Would there be any resentment or acting out?

Our fears were unfounded as the dogs were more than accommodating to the new family member. If anything, it was the new routine that freaked them out! Tarzan and Zoey were not used to a crying baby and frazzled first-time parents. They looked confused and puzzled in the midst of all the newborn chaos.

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Juggling a newborn and two dogs was not easy, I’ll admit. Tarzan and Zoey are very well behaved dogs, but they were used to taking two long walks early in the morning and in the evenings. Each walk would last 45 minutes to an hour. 

Suffering from new-parent exhaustion didn’t leave us much energy to follow through with the long walks. We also started doing less dog-friendly activities during the weekend as our days were filled with taking care of Joshua. As challenging as that time was for us, it was never an option to give up on our dogs. They were our first babies, they were family, so they were here to stay.

Instead, we decided to get a domestic helper, so that we would have an extra pair of hands around the house. My husband and I still took responsibility for taking care of our dogs, but my helper helped keep the house clean. Since the dogs shed so much, she vacuumed daily and wiped up the gigantic puddles of water Tarzan and Zoey would leave all over the apartment after their weekly baths.

We also decided to tweak our routine a bit. Instead of everyone joining in on the early morning walk with the dogs, my husband and I decided to take turns taking them out with Joshua strapped to a baby carrier. This meant one of us got to rest a bit more. Evening walks were still a family affair and a great way to wind down after dinner.

These tweaks helped us to juggle parenthood and our dogs better. And we were glad we got it figured out because two years later, our second baby, Isaac, joined our family. By now Zoey and Tarzan had also figured out babies, so they didn’t so much as raise a tail when we brought Isaac home.