My mom told me that when I had my first child, I would realize my dog, Bertie, was just a dog.
She was right. My husband and I stopped taking Bertie to see Santa. We stopped fawning over her every accomplishment, and turned our attention to our newborn son. Of course we did.
But when Bertie died on Sunday, we lost something precious. And if we’re supposed to go through life trying to learn what lessons others and our experiences have to teach us, here’s what I learned from Bertie:
1. I have to grow up. Bertie was the first time I was responsible for someone else. I had to plan for her and around her—trips to Pet Smart, vaccinations, walks, feedings, puppy-proofing, finding a sitter for vacations—versions of all the things you have to do with children.
2. Trust their instincts. My husband and I worried over Bertie as a puppy because she often wouldn’t eat. Our vet told us, “Don’t force it. She runs on instinct. She won’t starve herself.” I love this lesson because it carries over well to children. Picky eaters will not starve.
3. The more I cater to craziness, the more “crazy” I will have. When I responded to every whine—usually with a terse, “Hush, Bertie, I’ll let you outside in a second”–I got more whining. When we realized Bertie didn’t like walking on wet grass, we walked her down the street to the apparently drier boulevard in front of a neighbor’s house. This did nothing for our stress levels.
4. You have to cater to some craziness. In other words, you have to allow others to have idiosyncrasies. Forcing Bertie to walk on wet grass didn’t do anyone any good, either.
5. You get what you get. When my husband and I decided to get a dog, we pictured a long-term relationship with a family dog who would roll around on the floor with our future children, fetch sticks, and live to please us. This did not happen. Bertie had a mind of her own and she lived for herself. But she greeted us with love every time we came home, followed me around as I performed chores, checked each room in the house before going to bed at night, alerted me every time she heard a noise outside (this could be frightening), and loved to cuddle (on her terms).
Bertie’s favorite things, probably in this order, were: lying in the sun, running at full speed with leash trailing, hotdogs, and eye scratches. Then us. But I wouldn’t have changed that. Anyone can have a Lab. We had Bertie.
Nothing could have fully prepared me for motherhood, but Bertie took me a good ways. So, thank you, Bertie.