As a dedicated ECPR employee I have a lot of passion for writing about our precious adoptable animals, the events we create and participate in, our amazing staff and volunteers, and more. In addition to keeping everyone up to date with our adoptables and happenings I now bring you all a first-person editorial series about being a pet parent; the mistakes, the hiccups, the milestones, the joys and the day by day learning that goes along with caring for and loving furkids!
Growing up I considered myself to be a cat person. I still adored dogs but my cat-focused obsession stemmed from the fact that I adopted a kitten when I was eleven who became my best friend in the world, the one living being that was always there for me, never judged me, never betrayed me, never failed to cuddle when I needed a hug. Having such a trusting relationship with my precious feline was incredibly important to my emotional development, especially during those tough teenage years. Tinkerbelle was my best friend through and through.
I had always wanted a golden retriever but my mother didn’t want dogs in her house. When I was a teenager, my stepmom got a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and I adored Willie but he was her dog in the sense that she was his caretaker. I loved playing with Willie and spending time with him but it’s not the same type of relationship you have when you alone care for an animal full-time.
In the early 2000’s a movie blasted through the theaters called “Legally Blonde.” (I LOVE that movie by the way.) The main character Elle Woods played by Reese Witherspoon had a pet Chihuahua that she always carried in a purse.
Naturally, the popularity of Chihuahuas BLEW UP! Everyone realized how adorable it was to have a little purse dog you can dress up and carry around and suddenly an abundance of Chihuahua puppies had new homes, designer wardrobes and jewel-studded collars.
Years ago my beloved Tinkerbelle passed away after many medical complications. I was pet-less for a while, but losing the best friend I ever had left a hole in my heart that wasn’t getting any better. I knew I could never replace how special she was to me but when I felt ready I decided to adopt a new cat. I visited a rescue with the intention of bringing home a kitty but my eyes drifted instead toward a tiny little dog. The moment she noticed that my attention was on her, she raised her ears which seemed much too large for her head in the cutest way possible, locked her giant, sad eyes on me, and yawned. That was it. I knew instantly without a doubt that Lily was my dog. I could almost hear her saying, “You’ll be my new mommy, right?” Yes. Yes I will.
Lily, now a 5lb Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, was ten months old when I brought her home. She was a few months past that especially young puppy stage but she still had a lot of growing and learning to do. At ten months she was still a puppy. As a first time dog owner that had no prior experience raising a puppy, especially a small-breed, I went only with what I saw on “Legally Blonde”. I instantly bought Lily a jewel-studded collar, tons of dresses and doggie shirts, and yes, the dog purse. Lily instantly became my best buddy. Although she could never replace Tinkerbelle in my heart, she found a place all her own and we became inseparable.
As all first-time parents do, I made a few mistakes with Lily. As much as I love bringing Lily with me everywhere, she gets very anxious when left alone, so much so that it triggers her anxiety to a concerning level. I let her sleep in bed with me right away upon adopting her. I brought her shopping. I rarely walked her on a leash other than to take her outside to potty. I allowed her to become so dependent on me that if I so much as leave a room we are both in, she starts crying her little heart out.
In spite of my mistakes with Lily, I feel very fortunate that she is patient, loving, and a near-perfect dog in reference to her disposition. She couldn’t be sweeter if she tried. Little kids can tug on her ears and tail, and carry her around awkwardly and she allows them to. Handicapped people can hug and kiss on her and she is quiet as a mouse and endlessly accommodating. She doesn’t growl or nip. She handles new situations with nonchalance and isn’t fazed by much.
Working in rescue has really shined a light on just how lucky I truly am because I don’t feel like I can take credit for Lily’s amazing disposition. I coddled her a lot when I first brought her home. I took her a lot of places, but I didn’t pass her around from person to person or expose her to playtime with other dogs. She spent our early travel and errand days looking out at the world from a dog purse.
Pay attention everyone because I’m about to write the most important sentence of this editorial. Small dogs are still dogs. There it is, right there! One more time : Small dogs are still dogs.
Would you exclusively carry a German shepherd in a purse? Would you exclusively carry a Saint Bernard in a purse? Would you assume your Akita is too delicate to go on walks in the big bad scary outdoors? I’m guessing most of you said no in your head.
Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Pomeranians, terriers etc; they may be small but they are still dogs. They still have all the same desires, instincts and needs that large breed dogs have, for the most part. (You probably don’t need to take your Chihuahua on runs twice a day to give them enough exercise, but you get the point!) Eventually, I started putting the leash on Lily and taking her on walks. She LOVES it! She loves running up to people and other dogs and saying Hello. She loves sniffing all of the glorious outdoor smells, peeing on bushes, and digging in the dirt. She is a dog. Here at the rescue, she enjoys going into our playroom and playing with the other dogs. She has a habit of picking a “favorite” dog and following them around for as long as I’ll let her (hours if she had the opportunity!). Since I have learned and grown as a dog-mommy, I’ve been able to let Lily be the dog that she is and I know she is happier and more enriched because of it.
Again though, I don’t consider my experience, nor my dog, the “norm.” As we are a rescue that currently focuses on rescuing small breed dogs, I see a LOT of dogs come through here that, for all I know, may have very well come from inexperienced pet-parents who let their tiny pooch’s behavior slide just a bit too far. “Oh look my four-pound dog is growling, how cute! Let’s encourage her, isn’t it funny!?” But it’s not so funny when that dog starts biting you, or others. This is not their fault. They are not bad dogs. They have simply not been taught boundaries, manners, or been given the security of a dependable, loving home and caregiver.
Lily could have easily become a problem dog beyond just her separation anxiety. There are many behavioral issues she could have developed simply because I was too inexperienced at the time to understand that sometimes with puppies, you need to show them tough love. Sometimes you need to let them cry in their kennels so they learn that it’s okay to be alone once in a while. Put peanut butter in a kong toy. Make their crate a fun experience and not a traumatic one. If they growl or nip, you need to correct them. Say “no” to nipping, but also understand that as puppies, they are teething. If you say “no” to your fingers, give them a toy that they are allowed and encouraged to chew on instead, instantly. Say “no” to something, but immediately say “yes” to something else. If they display inappropriate behavior or if they are not listening, put them in a time-out or refuse to pay attention to them until they adjust their behavior. For example, if a dog is jumping on you, ignore them until they calm down or sit nicely, THEN love on them and tell them what a good dog they are.) As soon as they do what you’d like them to do (stop trying to nip your fingers, quiet down from crying in a crate, etc) reward them. Let them know how good they are being.
Take your dog on walks. Yes, even if they are a 3 pound Chihuahua. Let them smell and explore in the outdoors. Let them play with other dogs. Let them meet new people. Give them as many positive and new experiences as you can, as often as you can and you will have a wonderful, well-adjusted dog.
Lily is amazingly forgiving with me for my early mistakes with her. She is a tiny, precious little chorkie, but she is still a dog and still needs to do doggie things. I love her so much for so many reasons, but what I find most incredible about her is that despite the mistakes I made with her, she knows that I love her and she loves me back unconditionally.
I recently added a new puppy into my family. She is even smaller than Lily at only 2lbs right now, charting maybe 4lbs as a fully grown Chihuahua. I know I will make mistakes with her, too. I’ll sometimes cave in and cuddle her when she’s crying because it breaks my heart, but I’ll try to be strong and wait until she’s quiet before I let her out of her crate so she will learn it’s not a punishment being in there, and that she will be okay. I’ll remember to be firm when she nips at me and say NO, but I’ll immediately present her with a toy or a chewy and praise her when she starts chewing on that. Lily, my best friend, my guardian angel, my faithful, understanding, patient, forgiving companion, helped me learn a lot. I can’t wait to see what kind of dog my puppy will grow into. I hope she’s half as loving and forgiving as my precious Lily. I hope she realizes what an amazing big sister she has and I hope she looks up to her. I hope I can be a good enough pet-mommy to never let either of them feel like they are second best, I want them to both feel equally loved and cared for. I will try not to coddle her for her small size and let her get “down and dirty” sometimes. I will pass her to strangers and not hover. I will let her play with other dogs so she learns to interact with them in healthy ways. I will still make mistakes, but I love them enough to try and learn every day and ultimately that’s what being a mommy is all about.
You don’t have to be perfect to be a good dog-parent. No one can know everything, or always make the perfect choices when it comes to their pet. Just love them the way they love you. Do what you can for them. Be willing to learn what you don’t know. Be willing to help them learn. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Pay attention to your dog, they will tell you what they need but don’t let them walk all over you, either. Find a balance. Realize that what you have with your dog is a relationship.
As John Grogan, the author of “Marley and Me” says, “A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.”