Today is Mother’s Day. Some vehemently insist that having a dog, being a “dog mom,” is not the same as being a “real” mother. Where this need to compare and assign value to relationships that don’t concern you comes from, I’ll never know.
Here’s what I do know:
My own mother, a woman who brightened the lives of all who encountered her, who made me believe I could do anything if I tried (and also let me learn for myself that some goals might not be as realistic than others), who found fun everywhere, who made all who were near her feel important, left this earth far too soon.
And in that void, I’ve gone through life drawn to “mothers.” Some not actual mothers, but they were mothers to me, they gave me that mother thing. I’m middle aged now, and I still am drawn to these strong women who embody life, joy, wisdom, and love.
Back to dogs.
I cannot imagine I would love Picard more, feel more of a bond with him if I’d given birth to him. I could be wrong – but those people who insist that I am wrong need to accept that they may be wrong as well. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. They don’t know what Picard has brought to my life, how he has healed my heart, how he has changed the course of my life.
Here, I’ll attempt to explain.
When I first adopted Picard nearly eight years ago, one of the first things I noticed on our San Francisco walks was peoples’ reactions to him. People were truly drawn to him, and melted a little as they engaged with him. But the old man in a wheelchair who struggled to pet him — (I eventually picked Picard up to enable this), and who seemed lost in the minutes he stroked Picard — he was the catalyst that lead us to become an Animal Assisted Therapy volunteer team, visiting vulnerable populations (hospital psych and subacute wards, hospice centers, Alzheimer’s homes; helping children improve their reading skills, etc. Watching him provide comfort to others is a gift I cannot describe.
Picard reignited the nature lover in me and I began to hike again, and seek more and more outdoor activities (I even bike with him). I love observing him interact with his environment, stopping to engage here, avoid there… I began to wonder more and more about other animals. If Picard can be so aware of his environment, be so capable of having relationships with me and other animals (human and non-human), what about other animals? Surely they can (and do) as well.
After my mother died my sophomore year of college, I shelved my plans of academia (I’d planned on a PhD, as I was fascinated with forensic psychology), settling on a BS in Business, as it was all I could handle at the time. I’d long been disappointed in myself that I never resumed my education. My mother was very proud of the fact that I was a smart kid, and all these years I’ve felt in the back of my mind that I let her (and my father) down, by not doing more with that gift.
It was Picard, with his curiosity in life, which reminded me of my own curiosity, that made me realize that I wanted to go back to school — and what exactly I needed to study.
Animals. Animal welfare. Not just dogs and other companion animals, but all the animals I’ve so willingly accepted as commodity all of my life. Picard made me see the value in all life, regardless of species.
When I adopted Picard nearly eight years ago, I had no idea what a game changer he would be. As much as any human child, I would imagine. He is still going strong, only now with a trés distingué white goatee. I’m 1/3 the way through my MA Anthrozoölogy program. In the time it took me to be accepted into this program (3rd attempt was a charm), I also became a Certified Human-Animal Intervention Specialist, as well as a Pet Loss Grief Recovery Specialist; goals and achievements I would not have had had Picard not entered my life.
Some mothers feel that having a child, raising a child, is the ultimate achievement for them, regardless of how that child turns out. There is nothing wrong with that. Just as there is nothing wrong with the fact that the individual who inspired me to be a more compassionate, educated, humane, loving, accepting, patient person, happens to be a dog.
So please, do not tell me or any other “dog mothers” that, “it’s not like having a real child.” I wouldn’t be who I am now if it weren’t for Picard. I could not be more proud of who he is, how he – like my mother, when she was here — brightens the lives of all who encounter him.
How many moms get to say that?
Dogs have special powers to make us better people. Just by walking down the street, they turn strangers into friends. A quick cuddle from a canine companion can help you feel less alone. They can teach you everything you need to know about how to enjoy life. When they say they will love you forever, they mean it. How does your dog bring out the best in you?
The SF SPCA has been saving and caring for San Francisco’s animals since 1868. We’ve come a long way since then—founding the No-Kill movement, building the first cage-less adoption center and advocating on behalf of all animals—to become a global leader in animal welfare and helping to establish San Francisco as one of the most progressively humane cities in the world.
We couldn’t have done it without the help of all the people who have adopted an animal, volunteered their time or provided financial support. Together, we’ve been able to bring pets and people together, celebrating the merriment, magic and meaning that animals bring to all of our lives. Thank you for your generosity—the animals we save, the lives we change, and the communities we touch are all made possible because of you!
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