In the weeks following Claire’s birth, I felt a little overwhelmed. This was to be expected, of course – I’ve never had a baby before – but it’s worth mentioning on the blog that one of the major contributing factors to my responsibility overload (and serious guilt-feelings) was – and is – our golden retriever, Ivy.
Andrew and I got Ivy when she was eight weeks old. At a gas station on the Georgia/Alabama line, we met her breeder, Zegie, a woman with a strong country accent and a sweet disposition, and traded cash for lop-eared puppy. Ivy rode in my lap, trembling, all the way home. She was the softest, sweetest thing, all pounding heart and over-sized paws.
Ivy’s grandmother was a seeing-eye dog and her mother had the sleek, muscular build of an American Golden – more akin to an Irish Setter’s bodacious bod than that of the bulkier British Retriever’s. But it was Ivy, not her good looks or family line, with whom we fell in love. The puppy was all heart; she was feisty and mischievous; irresistibly snuggly; nearly human.
As Ivy grew (and grew … and grew) her heart grew even bigger than her paws, her loyalty stronger than the thump of her ever-swinging, golden-flocked tail. In the worst of times, she has catered to us with a sort of divine sensitivity: when I found out my father had died, Ivy leapt to my side, warming the shock out of my system, nuzzling me, as if expressing some sort of shared grief and deep understanding.
In the best of times, she has only added to our joy.
We talk to Ivy as if she is a human. She has only seen the inside of a kennel once in her life. For a dog, she has an astounding vocabulary, including (but not limited to) “Be patient!”, “Find your collar,” and six to ten names of friends and family members. Ivy knows to expect presents (and a chunk or two of real meat) on her birthday, February 1. In short, we have coddled her into human-hood.
Had Andrew and I decided never to have children, this human-treatment of pet would, though odd, pose little problem. But Claire’s arrival has complicated things. Friends, after congratulating us on Claire’s birth, would often ask – with serious gravity – “How’s Ivy doing?”. And the truth is, she’s done just fine, but we have had our hands full.
To feel loved, Ivy needs two walks a day. If we miss one, she gives us dirty looks. Every now and then, when I am in rapt “conversation” with Claire, I will glance over to see Ivy looking seriously despondent. This breaks my heart. When the baby cries, Ivy will often look away from her and sigh, and I worry about canine depression.
In reality, I know she’s just transitioning to a more sustainable place in the family pack, but the transition is hard. Ivy feels superior to Claire, and in many ways, she certainly is better domesticated, less wild, more considerate. I do like to remind her that she was much less trouble than Claire when she was a puppy, but this does little to placate her.
Going forward, Andrew and I are hopeful that Claire and Ivy will become good friends, eager playmates, sharers of little secrets. If our girl is anything like us, she’ll fall easily in love with Ivy, and Ivy, sensing that deep affection, will love her back. My only fear is that I will be the jealous one then, forced to cede the warm, lovey lump at the end of my side of the bed to Claire – a younger, more fun, less distracted version of myself.