When Life Gets Crazy: Overcoming Dog Owner Guilt
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Here in our part of Illinois we are less than a week away from wrapping up the school year. With a son graduating high school, along with school trips, band concerts, choir concerts, end of year AP exams, end of year celebrations for all of their clubs for the two girls, our lives have been crazier than normal. Of course, having just written about the fact that having fun with your dog is the whole point of having a dog, we ended up with an unusually busy weekend that was completely un-fun for Jackson and Tinkerbell.
Saturday we were up and out of the house by 9 a.m. and did not arrive home until almost 4 p.m.. Our high school has graduation at a college that is forty-five minutes away to allow all graduates to have more than just two tickets per family. With a blended family we definitely appreciate that we received ten tickets, but it made for a longer day than usual for our dogs. Of course most dogs are alone for that amount of time while their humans work, but with our particular work schedules and nuances of our careers, our dogs are with us for more time than the average American dog with two working humans caring for them. As a result, to have them in their crates for seven hours and to miss their noon Puppy Lunch filled me with extreme guilt.
Of course upon our arrival home they greeted us with their normal excitement and sniffed me all over to try to figure out where we had been. “There were no other puppies, I promise you,” I told them, “Not a single one! I was only around humans today!” We went outside immediately, they ran around and frolicked in the grass, I fed them their lunch even though dinner would be in two more hours, gave them plenty of kisses and tummy rubs, and all was right in their world.
On Sunday we were up and out the door by 6 am for a 5K/10K to raise funds for Run Fur Shelter, a not-for-profit organization that raises money for food, medicine and shelter for the dogs of humans with financial needs. Although the race was to help dogs, I remembered from past years that the actual race was for humans only, and so Jackson and Tinkerbell had to stay behind.
By the time we finished the races (I walked the 5K while my husband ran the 10K), visited the various vendors who had sponsored the event, picked up our free bananas and granola bars and headed home, and admired some puppies who were up for adoption, we did not arrive home until just before noon. Although that resulted in only six hours in their crates, I felt guilty because my husband was going to spend the afternoon tearing down the wooden swing set that nobody used anymore and I had aggravated the tendonitis in my ankle, taking away any walks or adventures for them that day. Plus I had come home from this event smelling like multiple other dogs.
Of course a seven hour day and a six-hour day safely in their climate controlled crates is perfectly humane and reasonable. Most dogs do this every day while their humans are at work. Jackson and Tinkerbell are just very lucky that I work for myself in our own home and have me with them twenty-four hours a day, sometimes for several days in a row! In fact I have been out of the corporate world and without a commute for all of Tink’s life, having left my old job a month before she was born.
I think dog owner guilt is the same as mom-guilt. We see the lives that other dogs are having, with seemingly endless adventures and fun destinations, and we feel like awful pet owners for sometimes just giving the basics like love, shelter, physical affection, food, treats and water. It’s similar to knowing those Pinterest Moms who do incredible craft projects with their teens or take them on grand adventures each weekend into the city and to plays and shows, and I’m here with mine saying “Hey, we can watch a movie, run through Starbucks, and walk the dogs together!” In reality what matters the most with our kids is that we are together, and that’s really the same thing with our dogs.
I always have to remind myself that my dogs have amazing lives, and sometimes I have to go and do things that are only open to humans, like business meetings, professional events, graduations or band concerts. They are safe, they are loved, they are treated well, and they are happy. Sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that spending the day sniffing every inch of the grass in their big fenced yard, getting tummy rubs, and playing a game of fetch with the free frisbee I picked up at the 5K is a perfectly reasonable and fun way to spend the day as a dog, particularly since they are just happy to be having fun and hanging with their humans or sleeping across our laps as we ice our ankles from that early morning 5K.