New York Magazine recently published an article condemning pet owners for calling themselves parents. Instead of sharing the piece, which deserves no further attention, we have chosen to share why the word ‘family’ is a fluid adjective open to interpretation, making the words ‘parent’ and ‘child’ equally boundless to one singular definition.
Our animal welfare nonprofit is the living legacy of Mr. Bones, a pit bull estimated to be 10 years old, rescued the day he was scheduled to be euthanized by New York City Animal Care & Control.
In the 4 1/2 years he has been in my life, I have seen him through five surgeries, with the latest procedure occurring today in the excellent hands of Dr. Martel and Dr. Carmichael at The Animal Medical Center. This was his fourth oral surgery, part of a continuous effort begun by Dr. Mary Buelow in 2012 to correct the damage that began years earlier from trauma to his mouth, suspected to have been caused by human mistreatment, abuse and neglect.
I have nursed Mr. Bones through each surgery, taking time off work to ensure his meds were delivered, his pain was at bay, he was kept clean and his recovery was completed. I have hand fed him, carried 75lbs. of solid weight up and down apartment stairs, and cleaned up accidents while soothing embarrassment.
I have spent hours grocery shopping and cooking, experimenting with cream cheese, lunch meat, raw turkey to boil, canned soup, cans of tuna and even a rotisserie chicken, just to make sure he would find something tantalizing enough to eat so I could slip him his meds. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, this is a challenge, but I do this because I love him. This is not about me.
Mr. Bones will recover over the next 7-10 days, thanks almost exclusively to the rotisserie chicken. He will grow acclimated to life with only a handful of teeth left in his battered mouth. His jowls will eventually stop oozing half coagulated bloody drool and he will come out of his drug-induced haze ready to offer his vets, trainers and everyone in his life totally inappropriate sloppy kisses that equal parts affection and anxiety have made an almost uncontrollable reaction.
These will be received with sincere flattery by those on the receiving end of his tongue as they understand how far his journey has taken him. In no time at all this pit-bull-in-a-china-shop will be up for fostering again and will rock his 48th foster puppy’s world.
I will chase him in circles to get him to settle and stop teasing his sister and he will eventually acquiesce for no reason other than because he loves and respects me.
But tonight, for the umpteenth time, my heart will break as I once again wrestle with the ghosts of his past, pray for the ability to forgive just as he has and fight to make this dog whole again.
I’ll watch as his sister, Charlotte, adopted from Animal Haven almost seven years ago, waits stoically by his side, unsure of what to do other than to just be a presence for him. It will be yet another reminder of how strong our family is.
Between these two dogs I have spent thousands of dollars and months of time on training, behavior therapy and physical and mental rehabilitation. They have kept me up at night worrying and created incredible joy for me with each new triumph.
They have introduced me to an entirely new social circle of friends, changed my life, altered my vacation plans and uprooted me three times to move to a neighborhood better suited to their needs. I have celebrated each new class they graduated from at their school, Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC and put their ‘report cards’ on my refrigerator.
Their grandparents have asked about them over phone calls from 700 miles away and they have let me know in no uncertain words what they thought of any potential new dads I’ve introduced them to.
For better or for worse, these are my children and they have created such an intense bond with me that I have dedicated my life to the welfare of those just like them. Tell me again how I am not a parent?
My story is not unique. Every person involved in Mr. Bones & Co. has a similar relationship with their pets. If you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet that you do as well.
When people like us are judged, condemned for the adjectives we chose to describe our loved ones and told we don’t meet their standards of ‘family’, it baffles me, but it no longer bothers me.
I am too busy being a parent to do more than roll my eyes and continue raising my children as the best mother I know how to be.