We had two three-year-old rescue dogs and two old rescue cats when Baby D was born. Even though the dogs were well-trained (mostly), you never know how your pets are going to react to babies.
Well, in one case we knew. Beowoof (Woofie for short) loved everyone and everything. Especially kids and puppies. The greatest day of Woofie’s life was the day he escaped and went to Science class at the local middle school. Half the kids were on their desks, shrieking, but, as usual, Woofie was convinced everyone loved him.
Woofie had been waiting for his own boy forever. He was gonna be thrilled…as soon as the kid was big enough to play.
I expected Bat Cat and Commando Cat to be utterly indifferent until Baby D was old enough to terrorize them.
My biggest worry was Fey. Fey was half-Chinese Shar-pei, half German-Shepherd. She grew up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, never sure where her next meal would come from. She warned Woofie off her food when she first arrived, though she did learn to share toys and bully sticks. Fey believed her job was to guard her yard from skateboarders, her mortal enemy the street sweeper, and even human would-be burglars. She was very good at her job.
Fey never bit humans, but she held the gas meter man at bay more than once, barking until I arrived and told her it was okay. Occasionally, she’d issue a soft, warning growl when a human she didn’t know tried to pet her. And although she behaved well with the schoolchildren who hung out on our front steps, Fey only adored a handful of humans.
What would Fey do with a baby?
While I languished in the hospital for days after my emergency C-section, Andy snuck home Baby D’s used swaddling blankets to get the dogs used to baby’s smell. Fey got in two sniffs before Woofie seized the blanket and tried to convince Andy to play tug-o-war.
When Baby D came home, both dogs were very interested. For about five seconds. Then Fey returned to guarding her yard while Woofie begged for tummy rubs.
The cats were more curious. As soon as they discovered Baby D was basically a miniature heating pad, they snuggled up next to him and purred.
Until they discovered the heating pad could turn into miniature banshee, screeching in frustration if he didn’t get enough food. They bolted for their actual heating pad.
Woofie was impervious to Baby D the banshee.
Fey was not. The night five-day-old Baby D went ballistic, Fey appeared next the rocker where I tried in vain to calm the crying baby. Frustrated and crying myself, I found Fey at my side, ears flatly submissive, staring at me.
“Go to bed, Fey,” I sniffled. “Go to bed.”
Fey did not go to bed.
She stayed with me for the next hour or two, until we figured out that yes, our newborn really needed three ounces of formula in addition to breastfeeding. Not until Baby D quit crying did Fey go back to bed.
So it went for the next few months. If Baby D howled at night for more than a few minutes, Fey appeared at my elbow, her eyes big and pleading. She never barked or growled. She never lay down, either. She just sat.
“What do you think she’s doing?” I asked Andy. “Is she worried about the baby?”
Andy shook his head. “I dunno. She always sits with you. Even if I take Baby D.”
I thought of Fey’s imploring eyes, and how her tiny ears were always pulled back. “Oh my God. It’s me. It’s always when I’m angry and frustrated. It’s like she’s coming in all submissive, in order to placate me. ‘Don’t kill the baby, Mom! I know he’s not behaving, but I am! Look, look how submissive I am!’”
From then on, every time Fey came and sat next to me with her worried eyes, I told her, “Don’t worry, Fey. I won’t kill the baby.”
Fey’s presence was helpful. She distracted me from seemingly overwhelming emotions. Her submissive pose always reminded me that I was sending out angry vibes that were impacting others.
Baby D couldn’t tell me that.
Luckily, he had a canine big sister looking out for him.