To dog or not to dog?

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Puppy pet

because-I-said-so-blueWhen I was 9 years old, my dad took all five of us kids to “look” at some puppies for sale in a small town nearby. Before we left, my mom cautioned my dad: “Don’t come home with a puppy.”

We came home with a black lab we named Holly. My mom cried.

Holly started as an outside dog … a resolution that lasted about five minutes. We got her in December. Watching her shiver outside the sliding doors in the cold Canadian snow summoned enough sympathy that she quickly became an inside dog. And by inside I mean that she slept on my parent’s bed until she grew too large. Then she slept on the ground next by my mom, lovingly tripping her any time she got out of bed and forgot about the dog.

Each one of us kids tried our hardest to get Holly to sleep with us. But mostly, she stuck close to my mom because she knew at the end of the day my mom was the one who’d take care of her — which is exactly why my mom resisted getting a dog in the first place.

Now my kids are the ones begging for a pet. I could do something low-maintenance, like a fish or turtle, but I have a feeling that wouldn’t really satisfy my kids. They want something to play with.

Getting a dog isn’t as simple as making a pro-con list. Dogs are a ridiculous amount of work, but there are intangible benefits to having a four-legged friend in the family. It’s a great way to teach kids responsibility and compassion. Kids can feed, walk, brush and bathe a dog, like my mom had us do. Dogs seem to know when you’re down; I remember Holly coming into my room and putting her head on my lap on days when I was feeling blue.

Dogs make excellent companions. As my sisters and I grew up and moved out of the house, my parents and younger brother enjoyed having Holly around to keep things from getting too quiet.

Dogs are also highly entertaining. Our dog Holly used to run through the sprinklers, biting at the water. On our command of “dig, dig, dig” she’d tunnel holes in the field behind our house. She liked to play pig in the middle when my brother and dad threw a baseball around.

Holly came on most of our family vacations with us. On road trips, she’d sit on someone’s lap and ride with her head out the window of our Suburban, her silky black ears flapping in the wind.

I have fantastic childhood memories with Holly, who lived with our family for more than 14 years before it was time to put her down. Part of me would love to get a dog right now, the part that remembers being a kid and tugging on a rope with her, goading her into chasing gofers and teaching her how to jump off the diving board. Then there is the other part of me that remembers taking her on walks in the frigid cold where my hair would freeze and picking up dog poop with a plastic bag (gag!). There is also the fact that she shed everywhere, and when she was a puppy Holly destroyed nearly everything she came in contact with.

Let’s not forget that my youngest is not yet 2 years old. Do I really want to potty train a toddler and a puppy? Or push a stroller holding a leash? I don’t see either of those scenarios ending well.

Someday, we’ll get a dog. For now, my kids will have to be satisfied with harassing the neighbor’s playful Shih Tzu and chasing down dogs at the park. But just to be sure, I’ll keep my husband away from the pet store.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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