by Darrah Le Montre
When the stork arrives, our furry friends get relegated to “pet” rather than “first born”
In 2008, I adopted a furry friend. An animal shelter employee and her girlfriend discovered him on a hike while he was on the prowl for food in a Burbank park. Folklore now has it that he ran away from an abusive home, and possibly survived on dead birds and trash for a few months. Nobody knows for certain.
I named him Oscar Wilde because I had just seen the movie Wilde with Jude Law. It had less to do with the actual author (I’ve read only famed bon mots) and more to do with the flair and panache I designated my new 1 ½ year-old poodle-terrier roommate had. He turned out to be a gender-indiscriminate leg-humper and so this bisexual tendency seemed fitting for his moniker.
At first, I was hesitant to adopt the boy. I was a lone-wolf writer/babysitter, struggling to make ends meet. Would he comply with my schedule? Would he bark while I was on a roll, writing my dating column? Would he need walks when I was at work and then piss on my beige carpet? I told my friend Angela (who introduced us) that I’d keep him for a weekend and see. The minute she left my apartment, I sat down at my card table desk and pretended to write. I wanted to see what he would do. He laid down at my feet and fell asleep. A partnership was born.
Ozzie is now seven. He’s seen me move four times, date unavailable men, vomit on the bathroom floor after a particularly bad hang-over, cut my long hair off, meet my fiancé and finally, give birth to the love of my life: my daughter.
When it was just the two of us, we went everywhere together. I even took babysitting jobs discriminately, based upon who would allow him at their house. He had a permanent spot on my lap on car rides. The metallic smell of his breath comforted me. When he savagely devoured my spicy Thai food and subsequently bled from his butt, I followed him around with a rag and could care less about the carpet. When he had trouble sleeping, I had trouble sleeping. I once declined a trip to Australia because he would need to be boarded.
We made silly YouTube videos together.
We were inseparable.
At night before bed, I professed my love for him and begged him to sleep with me. He tolerated brief bouts of snuggling, and then settled on the floor by my feet.
In early 2013, I got pregnant. While I was expecting, he was still my bud, but my focus was on my health and wellness and that of my fetus. Daisy was a great little fetus, but nevertheless, I had work to do.
Still, up until the minute my fiancé Richard dropped Oscar off for a six-day boarding stint while I was recovering at the hospital, I was obsessed with my hypoallergenic B.F.F. Walking him was my main source of exercise while pregnant and we shared water glasses whenever Richard was out of the room.
Everything changed after I had my daughter.
We picked Oscar up on our way home from the hospital. He did his usual leap into my arms. This time, they were not outstretched. I was strategically placed in the backseat beside the car seat, to shield my tiny new 5 pound 11 ounce baby from his enthusiasm. Whereas, Oscar would usually occupy a space in my lap, and be adored from head to toe, instead, I pushed him away with a scowl.
At home, when Oscar would casually walk into the baby’s nursery, I would nag him to leave. I was paranoid about germs, and despite his innate gentleness with babies, which I’ve seen time and again, postpartum protectiveness was off the charts. Motherly instincts betrayed my “first born” son and his spot at #1 was instantly usurped by my little human. (Who looked so much like Richard, I was having “maternity issues”. I kept looking down at my C-section scar, joking to company, “I think I had her.”)
After awhile, Oscar learned to slink under Daisy’s crib and would stay there for hours while I rocked her or breastfed. He even slept there sometimes. He grew protective of her. He would nap at the foot of any chair where she and I were and stink-eye potential intruders that visited the nursery.
My family and friends teased me about how Oscar had been demoted. I felt awful. Here I was, trying to be a super mom, and somehow I felt like a failure. Having grown up with a brother that got lots of attention, Richard identified with Oscar and picked up the slack. I asked my babysitters to walk Ozzie while I was recovering from surgery. He dragged them back to the front door more often than not in the beginning. Once, while I was laying down, he jumped on my stomach (ouch!) so I began kicking him off the bed. Things had changed and I felt a pang of guilt every time I saw him moping around the house.
I asked around, and it seems, this is pretty commonplace with new parents of humans.
By now, things have settled into place a bit more. It’s been almost three years since reading the YES on the urine stick (about which Richard asked, “what was the question again?!”) Many of the puzzling and exhausting aspects of the first year are behind me. Daisy is two-years-old and enjoys Oscar. He’s also older now. I’m learning who he is in this incarnation. His spry days are behind him. His gait is slow. He has arthritis in his legs. He developed Addison’s disease, which is fairly common in aging dogs. He takes corticosteroids. His beautiful, marble-like brown eyes are now slightly cloudy with cataracts. The stories about him jumping up and knocking down my dinner tray and eating it real fast while I washed up for dinner are moot. He now lumbers up to the bed using a bench as a stool.
My doggie companion, who has seen me grow from a confused single girl in her twenties to an engaged mother in her thirties, has taught me so much. And I’ve submitted to his many lessons; to the love he’s given me; and to the changes in him that will no doubt break my heart one day. In the meantime, we adopted a terror of a redheaded girl terrier, who is one-year-old, and hyper as all get out. Menchies and Oscar bicker and hump and chase each other all day.
I was always hesitant to get another dog because Oscar and I were the Dynamic Duo. He is so human-like. When I say, “excuse me,” he moves out of the way. When I cry, he puts his paw on my arm. When I’m sick, he gets sick. (I’m serious. It’s weird.) But, now that I’ve got more distractions and commitments, this gift of a little manic canine Lucille Ball to his Desi Arnaz seems appropriate.
To be clear, Menchies drives us batshit crazy, but Oscar seems to like her. She makes him feel youthful. And since he holds the keys to my youth… I figure it’s the least I can do.
Dedicated to my loyal Oscar. I hope I never take you for granted.
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Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and nudie blog SuicideGirls.