Morning walks with the dogs are one of my favorite times of the day. I love the quiet of the park, the smell of wet grass, and the joy in my dogs’ eyes as we amble across the fields. I’m not a morning person, but Dottie is—she’s always excited for her walk. How can I look at that enthusiastic eighteen year old bouncing in front of our harness and leash station and say, “Not today, I’m too tired”? I can’t, so we walk.
At the end of one morning’s walk, a woman aged about seventy-five pulled into the parking space beside me. I was trying to load three dogs into my car without getting tangled in ten-foot leashes and wheelchair tires. She was driving an old Buick. I could see a brindled wiry pit mix in the front seat, eager to see why this person was getting out of the car.
The woman was fit, hip, and spry. She wore a sporty infantry-style cap with a subtle flower logo. I didn’t see or hear her car approach the parking space and was annoyed that she’d chosen THAT spot—of the eighty or so available—to maneuver her ancient sedan. Head down, I did my best to ignore her, cleaning Half Moon, applying a skin protectant and a clean bellyband (male diaper).
But I could feel her looking, so I glanced up and smiled as she got out of her car.
“Hi! I’ve been watching you walk your dogs for weeks now, and I’ve always wanted to talk you about the little one, but I could never catch you,” she said. “So glad I saw you when I drove in! May I ask, is it a lot of work to care for him?”
I was stunned. I’d never fielded that question before, especially from someone who was genuinely interested in the answer. My response was swift and sure. “I don’t think of it as work. I think of it as love.” She agreed that we can do a lot of things when love is the motivation. Then she told me she was thinking about adopting a special needs dog but wasn’t sure she could do the work to care for one. I said, “If you think of it as work, it will always be work.”
When Kathy and I discussed adopting Half Moon, we knew we would be changing wraps and picking up poop multiple times a day. (Due to a presumed disc rupture, he is urinary/fecal incontinent.) We knew he couldn’t use his rear limbs and might never fully recover their use. We knew we’d be washing bellybands for more than ten years, taking him in and out of his cart many times a day, carrying a diaper bag, and protecting the car seats from surprise poops. We knew we’d have to keep his back paws clean and protected because scooting across the floor once or twice could tear skin away from his toes and nail beds. And we knew he’d panic every time he was the last one out of the car or the house for fear of being left behind.
We don’t think of all that as work, but it does take a certain mindset—one that allows us to be constantly aware of his needs and limitations. Sometimes it’s small things like a boost to the back of the cart as he crosses a five-inch threshold into the house and onto the slick kitchen floor. Other times it’s holding up his rear end as he gobbles his dinner so he doesn’t have to hold a handstand to eat. If we considered expressing his bladder three to four times a day while keeping his man parts clean and safe from urine scalding “a job,” then we’d be working overtime. But for us, it’s not work. It’s love. It’s responsibility. It’s caring and nurturing.
Many pet parents don’t have the luxury of deciding if they want to take on the extra work of caring for a special needs dog. It just happens. But if you’re that parent, it’s the love that gets you through. Be assured that those moments of extra “work” are when you love him most.