My Dog Forgives Me

Like many people, we started off married life with a four-legged “first-born.” We adopted Pali in our first year of marriage when we were living on the island of Kauai. We’d gone to the Humane Society looking for a black lab and came out with this adorable mutt who had stolen our hearts with her big brown eyes and her propensity for staring deeply in our eyes with them.Pali accepts Lily as part of the pack now.

We’ve always been the couple “with the dog.” When I taught college English, Pali became the department mascot, and students were known to make a special trip just to get some unconditional dog loving. Many more students on campus knew me as “Pali’s mom” than by any other name. She just always came with us—work, dinner, walks, Paris. Yes, even Paris. When we did a home exchange with a French couple two years ago, Pali came along while I blogged about the experience for a local dog newspaper. She was a great traveling companion and pushed us to explore parts of Paris we never would have as regular tourists. She also helped break the ice as we met Parisians—how could we be regular Americans if we came avec dog?

All this is build-up to say that we were very worried about how her life (and ours) would change once Lily arrived. I was never worried about Lily’s safety, although I did keep a close eye at first, but I just knew this would be a huge change after almost ten years of first-born status for Pali.

At the beginning things were quite rough. Pali was just truly depressed. One of the reasons why I had wanted a home birth was so Pali could be a part of the pack changing, but, as you all probably know by now, our double footling breech baby decided she wanted to be a belly birth. Maybe not surprisingly, Pali seemed to know precisely what had happened to me when I came home from the hospital. We had heard about letting your dog “meet” the baby outside of the house first, so I went in ahead of Stephen and laid down (actually in a great deal of pain—getting in and out of bed turned out to be a huge problem for the first 10 days). Pali came over to the bed, excited to see me after four days away. She put her paws up next to me and instantly her nose went to my belly where she sniffed my incision. Then she went directly to my chest and sniffed my breasts—she actually licked them through my sweatshirt. Clearly she knew these were places on her mama’s body that weren’t the same.

The stress of a new baby showed quickly. We were all used to a solid eight hours of sleep at night, and life with a newborn is exhausting for everyone, canines included. She chewed a big hot spot on her tail, something she’d never done before, and generally just pretended as if Lily didn’t exist. Every now and then I’d catch her staring at me with this mournful expression as if to say, “Wasn’t I a good dog?”

I kept telling Stephen how I wished I could explain to Pali that I still loved her, that she was still our best dog, but I was just so exhausted (and in a lot of pain still). I hadn’t wanted to be one of those dog owners who ignored her dog once the baby came along—and we didn’t—but there was no denying that the hierarchy had shifted.

Gradually, Pali started to notice Lily. A lick here or there, a sniff, even a willingness to cuddle up with me on the bed while nursing.

Then Lily started noticing Pali. Her first real belly laugh came at four months while she was watching Stephen play with Pali one night, and it was truly a delightful moment. I also started to notice her tracking Pali’s moves around the apartment. Now she loves to go over and pet “our dog.” (She obviously still needs help to do this.)

Pali accepts Lily’s attempts to love her quite generously now. She’ll roll over and expose her belly for pats, and the kisses come quickly now. I even think she's getting to be a bit protective of Lily. Several times she's come over to get me when Lily starts to fuss, and I noticed that she was herding my mom's dog away from Lily the last time we visited.

I’ve tried to imagine if there is anyway I’d be so adaptable and forgiving if my life changed so dramatically without my consent. (Granted having Lily has totally changed my life, but it was a thoughtful, intention choice.) Pali has taught me much about unconditional love in the past in the way that she accepts everyone, including me on my bad days, without judgment. There is true power in that sort of love. And now that circle of Pali love is plus one.

Just wait until she realizes that babies can also be a food source. We might see love on a whole new level!