Dirty Work: Why I Clean Up Poop For A Dog I Don’t Love

Animals of the non-human variety skeeve me out.  I know that you’re not supposed to be weirded out by animals, but I am.  I enjoy a nature documentary as much as the next person, but I have no desire to snuggle a cat, play with a puppy, or milk a cow.  Animals make me nervous and just holding them often gives me the heebie jeebies.  Everything about nature, in fact, makes me a little nervous.  I like short forays into nature, where I can be duly awed without coming in contact with anything squiggly, wet or unpredictable.  Then I’m ready to head back to the city.

A city, with its jumble of concrete and mechanical noises and gritty people, where most of nature is confined to leashed pets and window boxes, is the place for me.  Which is why my friends were stunned when I conceded to my children’s pleas for a dog.  The three of them ganged up on Jeff and me with sad faces, the promise to do all of the work, and hundreds of dollars of cash they had raised to buy the one thing that would “make our lives complete” – none of which was convincing.

Regular readers may know that Jeff and I worked hard to develop a Rule of Life, with disciplines to help our family follow Jesus in healthy, life-affirming rhythms.  Much of the Rule involves simplifying and slowing down.  Dogs do not help with that enterprise.

Jeff is reading Courage and Calling, by Gordon Smith, who writes that when deciding whether to add complexity to your life, you need to decide if the pursuit is “on mission.”  And that’s where my desire to keep things simple and to avoid be licked by anything that also licks its own feces lost out to my desire to love on my kids.  Raising and loving a dog has been shown to help improve confidence and social skills in children with social difficulties.  Playing hard with a dog and sitting calmly with a dog have both been shown to be helpful to kids with ADHD and anxiety disorders.  Stress hormones in grieving and traumatized children decrease when they spend time with a dog.  We’ve got all of those issues and more going on in our house, so a dog was certainly on mission.

Knowing that, however, does nothing to make my heebie jeebies disappear.

We brought Hazel Mae home last Thursday.  Since then, I’ve been walking around with a lump in my throat.  On Monday, I went to bed with a sense of dread that I have only experienced two other times.  The first was after my first husband and baby died, and the second was after we started homeschooling.

The kids are doing all of the work they promised to do, but there is work we didn’t anticipate. Like making rice and boiled chicken and pumpkin concoctions to deal with her diarrhea, and washing a dozen towels because she pees and poops all over the house, and spending hours online trying to figure out how to best crate train her.  I know it will get better, but right now that’s hard to believe and I spend a lot of time crying.   When I look ahead to having this dog for fifteen years, my chest tightens and I get knots in my stomach.

My ray of hope comes from something I read years ago in Michael Lewis’ book, Home Game.  In his memoir about fatherhood, he describes how he eventually fell in love with his children: he took care of them.  Changing diapers and staying up with a croupy baby is what moves us from fond admiration to real love.

This must by why God told Adam to keep and till the garden.  Tilling the garden teaches you to love the garden in a way that having asparagus fall from the sky would not.  So I will get on the floor and play tug-of-war with a dog I don’t love, and I will get up before the sun to take her to the dog park.  I will trust that the knot in my throat will go away, and that I will one day love her.  And for now, that will have to have to be enough.

About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Nancy Mc

    Does it help at all that she looks so totally adorable?

    • Tara Edelschick

      Nancy, It does help actually. I’ve been wondering if that makes me a shallow person?

  • Tim Dalrynple

    Great post, Tara. Great post.

  • janis henning

    Love seeing those smiles on the faces of all your children!!
    You don’t like anything squiggly, wet or unpredictable?? Guess you won’t be going out to mom and dad’s camp on the Paavola 40 anytime soon then — they have an outhouse in the woods……..

  • Jack Penland

    I have never had a dog I didn’t love. My dogs are members of the family, and quite frankly, smarter than most politicians. They are certainly more ethical than many people.

  • Kristin D.

    You don’t like anything squiggly, wet or unpredictable? And you have children?!? :) Coming from a person who’s first child was a dog, then added two (human) children, 2 and 4 years later, my dog-child was by far the easiest. While the first few months of ownership are the hardest, there are amazing books and classes that you can attend to help you learn and grow your relationships, and once defined, the co-habitation can be absolutely beautiful. There are often too many households who give in to the pressures of getting a dog, and then do not put the same effort into forming that relationship, as they would put forth for anything else in their life. Those are the dogs who are in the shelters, who too often are put to sleep, or come so close to death, just for being a dog. You just have to have a routine, and stick to it; they (the dogs) don’t talk back, well, unless you have a husky. If you don’t want him on the couch, bed, etc., NEVER let him on the couch, bed, etc. My dog-child challenged me every so often (i.e. begging, jumping on the couch, maybe a little growl here and there to see what he could get away with), but my human-children, on the other hand, are now teenagers, *sigh*, enough said. And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the love you have for your dog will ever, or should ever be the same as the love you have for your children, but if you open your heart to your dog, it is a kind of love that you will experience nowhere else. I take that back, God gave us this most precious gift called unconditional love, and if we are lucky, when you have a dog as part of your family, you get to experience a close second.

  • gene

    Because they are so darn DOG-GONE-GRATEFUL! (O:
    Our dogs thank us every day. Plus, they will give their lives for you no questions asked!

  • Tim Curtin

    We have a menagerie of pets (turtle, gecko, hamster, rats, frogs, fish) headed up by two dogs our 4 kids manage at varying degrees with our help. My wife is the ultimate animal lover. We had ferrets and guinea pigs at different times before the kids came along. The ferrets were a lot of fun, and had their own personalities. While I’m not much on anything we currently have other than the two dogs, I have found them all to be an invaluable addition to the household. The kids get a lot of enjoyment from playing with and spoiling all of them, and the inevitable passing of various ones have taught them to deal with death as a part of life. Our two dogs are the greatest antidote I could have to soften my mood after a long day at work (I’m a cop), since they want nothing else other than to just pounce on me and be loved. They make it easier to deal with everything else in its own time. I’m certain you’ll learn to take the trade off in a less orderly and sometimes smelly home for all they can bring to it.

  • James

    You won’t regret the first couple of months of training. The happiset dogs are the best trained dogs. Your little critter (the dog) has a big heart and will provide you with unconditional love and loyalty. She will never hold a grudge, will be overjoyed to see you again after you have been away and will constantly entertain and amaze you. And even a small dog is a protector.


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