Human InterestMental Health


“By 2018, almost 61% of U.S. households owned pets, with dogs and cats topping the popularity list.” I don’t know the actual percentage of families who have dogs, but judging from my neighborhood it’s over 50%. Dog-walkers can be seen out “plying their trade” any time of day or night. Having a family pet has successfully served a “societal need for self-happiness.” 

The decision to get a dog for the family is a big one because so much goes into deciding what kind, how big, and even how many, dog(s) to get. I remember when we decided to get our little peek-a-poo, Mitzi, it was after long deliberation and discussion. There were years of refusal on my part because the final choice had to be small (standing on its hind legs it couldn’t be as tall as me), couldn’t shed or bark, and wasn’t allowed to lick me in the face. Those are fairly limiting requirements that in many ways were unrealistic but were overcome.

We saw an ad in the classified section of the newspaper (yes, this was long ago when newspapers still had ads) selling peek-a-poo puppies. Peek-a-poos don’t get too big and were well-behaved so so we drove to a kennel in Mooresville to check them out. Out in the country, in a rickety old building, we saw a new a litter of peek-a-poo puppies wiggling around in the bottom of a cage. Like all puppies (and babies), they were cute as could be and suddenly, all doubts about getting a dog disappeared. 

But how do we choose the right one? There were five or six of these cute little guys squirming for attention, but when one of them finally started moving in my direction, I knew she was the one. I picked her up, hugged her, kissed her tiny head, and fell in love. Remember, I’m the guy who resisted getting a dog for years, and I’m now the one deciding this is the one. 

Mitzi lived in our home for fifteen years, was the delight of our lives, and even slept in our bedroom in her later years. She had major health problems and ultimately had to be put to sleep. And who took her to the vet to be euthanized? Me. With tears in my eyes, this denier and skeptic handed off my favorite pet of all time to the doctor to end her suffering.

That story brings me to the reason for this blog. Getting a pet for the family is a good thing, but quickly family members fall into roles that define their relationship with the dog. Members of every dog-owning family find themselves in one of three categories: the caregiver, the lover, and the indifferent observer. These are broad categories, but often at least one family member will qualify for each. If yours is a family of two or three, someone is going to fall into two categories. To be fair, though, some families are all in on the committment to their canine member.

There is always someone in the family who is the caregiver. This is the person responsible for training and daily care of the puppy. Mom usually fills that role and does the “potty training,” makes sure she’s fed, cleans up any messes, and takes her to the vet. If our puppy needs grooming, the caregiver (mom) takes her and picks her up. Caring for our puppy is a full-time job. She occasionally gets frustrated and mildly resentful, but she loves the puppy almost as much as her own children and doesn’t let it bother her. It’s like raising another child, but instead of in a diaper, she wets on the floor. She could get angry, go on strike and refuse to do the job, but what mother does that? She is instinctively motivated by love and a sense of responsibility and willingly does her duty. Cruelty and selfishness are not part of her makeup so caring for the puppy is easy to do. 

Then, there’s the indifferent family member. This is the person who knows the caregiver will “take care of the puppy,” and he won’t have to do anything. He was lukewarm on the decision, in the first place, so why be involved. He tolerates the dog’s presence and makes an occasional snide remark about the puppy’s behavior. The family knows his attitude and ignores him, but wishes he would change his mind. Over time, though, the indifferent one develops a fondness for the dog that may convince him to take her for a walk or fill her bowl. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, progress is being made, and a heart has been changed. The indifferent one moves into a new category when, like me, he lets the dog take a nap on his chest.

The remaining members of the family are lovers. They love their puppy, play with her, walk her, and occasionally take her out to potty. On a good day they even fill her food bowl. Mainly, their role is to enjoy her presence. She exists in the family dynamic to provide enjoyment and companionship to everyone, but especially them. They rely completely on the caregiver to do most of the hard work. They will sometimes do that work, but would rather not, preferring to rub her tummy or play “fetch.” 

Having a family dog is a wonderful idea. It’s great for the kids to have another “sibling” to play with because this one won’t refuse to play, won’t have a temper tantrum, and will always do what you want. Having a family dog is great for the husband who comes home from a bad day at work. Being greeted by a happy, energetic, enthusiastic companion who is never in a bad mood, is certain to erase gloom and doom. Then there’s the caregiver, the selfless one who does everything for everyone else and little for herself. The puppy becomes her daily companion when the rest of the family is gone. She always listens, watches what she does, and is thankful for everything. The caregiver’s reward is a constant companion who loves unconditionally. It doesn’t get any better.

References: https://www.the

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  1. Well gee, I wonder who each category was in our family. 😉 I remember Mitzi fondly, she was a big sweetheart. Wonderful article.

    1. Meggles, I think you know who’s who in ours. Poor Mitzi suffered her last several years. Bob and Amy were out of the house, Sandy worked full-time in my office, and poor Mitzi was cooped up inside the house 12-14 hours five days a week. It was very hard on her. Thanks for your nice comments. Dr. G

  2. In the past 2 decades, I have always had 1 or more large unruly high-energy dogs. They are all gone now, and I miss them all. They were all strays or dogs in need that I took in.
    One thing I miss is the 5 – 7 trips a week I took to Ellenberger Park for long walks with them. Good exercise for all of us. I don’t get there much anymore and the extra 10# I’m carrying are the result!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Eric. Growing up we had a cat I brought home from a Boy Scout camp-out. We never had dogs. Do you remember Leane’s dog, Terry. The scrawniest, ugliest dog in the neighborhood. You could see him/her anywhere at any time. “Oh, there’s Terry! What’s he/she doing here?”
      Our cat, Tige, used to jump onto the front door screen when she wanted in. Drove my mom nuts. She also clawed at the fabric over the speakers on the front of our TV set. That drove mom nuts, too.

      1. I remember Terry well. Manchester Terrier I believe. Black in color. Kind of like a miniature Doberman. My mother and Mrs Leane were close friends, and on several occasions, when Mrs Leane would be gone, Terry would scratch on our door, and we would let him in and he would go to sleep and nap in our house. When she got home we’d let him out and he would run right home. He was a friendly little guy!
        Right now we have 3 cats, 2 older Maine Coon Cats who used to belong to a neighbor who passed away, and a yr old stray calico we took in last Christmas on a very cold night. Sure is a change from my wild dogs. Cats bring whole new meaning to to relaxing and napping! I do find their chasing, stalking, and good natured wrestling amusing too.

        1. Our daughter has a dog and two cats. The dog is always right in the midst of activity, and the cats rarely appear. I don’t know if it’s because of the dog or it’s just their nature. The dog loves people. The cats could care less.

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