Pet Parenting: A Story of a Dog Named River

Anybody that tells you owning a dog does not qualify you as a parent is either doing the dog thing wrong, or angry that their special snowflake, angel of a darling child has now been compared to a hairy, flatulent, trouble maker who likes to chase after squirrels and lick their own crotch.

I have recently read a fair amount of articles claiming that those who consider themselves parents simply for owning a dog need to, and I quote, “STOP!”  You can google them or you can check a couple of the following links to see what I am talking about:

Pet Parents: Can We Stop Pretending It’s a Thing?

Pet Parents are NOT Moms

There are so many more I could point out, but we’ll stop at two for now.

For a quick summary, there are several arguments to support this….. let’s call it “ideology.”  Firstly, and my favourite of these points, is that a dog is not the “fruit of your loins,” so to speak.  They do not share your genetic code and they are not of your blood – not even the same species.  Secondly, they do not yell that they hate you, break curfew, rebel or require that you drive them to soccer practice.  The social interactions and needs of a child versus a dog are a completely different.  Thirdly, a dog rarely outlives its owner; this falls under the idea that parenting, in part, means leaving a legacy – a piece of you behind after you are gone.

Now… before I address these well crafted and thoughtful points, I’d like to spend a little bit of time talking about my recently adopted rescue; a dog that goes by the name of River.


River is a dog that I began working with at the local SPCA, where I work as the Kennel Supervisor.  Up until that point I was proud of myself for staying strong and avoiding the old “I want to adopt them all” mentality that could easily overcome someone in my line of work (and has on many occasions).  Truth be told, River was at the shelter a while before I really noticed him.  And there’s plenty of history I could give on the little guy, but to make a long story short he was not in good health when he came to us; a sad little mutt in dire need of medical treatment.  After receiving the veterinary care he needed, he was eventually moved into the adoptions kennel where I just happened to be covering a shift.  Despite having many other dogs to deal with, I was drawn to this one in particular.  I’m not sure why it happened, but it did; we connected with each other.  Before long, I asked my wife to come in and meet him and a few weeks later we adopted him.

In the few months that he has been living with us, he has provided us with a lot of entertainment, happiness stress and grief.  It hasn’t always been an easy go with him, but such is the way of any puppy you bring into your home.  Every experience is entirely different, and in some way the same; we learned as much when we compared this experience to our first dog, Phoebe (now reluctantly River’s older sister).  So let’s talk about some of River’s “adventures” over the few short months he’s been with us, shall we?

To start, I will point out that my beautiful four legged boy is indeed a smelly one  There is no nice way to say it – he farts.  He is flatulent.  He can produce a scent that can easily clear a room – and what’s more is that it lingers.  When this happens, the room belongs to him for the next 10 minutes.  You are best advised to leave and return with a breathing apparatus.  It wouldn’t even be so bad if we could predict when these events would occur, but we can’t because he only deals in the silent type of bio-chemical warfare. This is an element of his being that we noticed earlier on in his development, and while it has gotten better over time, it still remains one of his more amusing qualities.

Of course, he does possess a more commonly shared trait with other puppies; he’s a chewer.  So far he has managed to destroy a coaster, two xbox 360 controllers, our TV remote, his bed, several of our slippers and shoes, and many of his own toys without effort.  I’m sure he has also managed to eat more sticks and tree branches than a beaver of similar age.  I wish I could say that was it, but I would be lying.  It gets better.  Recently, we’ve been experimenting with giving River a little bit of his own space in the house (rather than keeping him crated while we are gone).  We were reluctant to give him the whole house, so we agreed to let him roam between the kitchen and the bedroom as these are two places that he is most comfortable in.  One day, after coming home from work, I found Phoebe waiting for me, but not River.  I made my way through the house and eventually, I was happily greeted by the little devil himself.  At the time, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary – he hadn’t messed in the house, everything appeared to be intact – so I fed both of them and went to let them out.  Just as River passed by, I noticed he looked a little different; his paws seemed darker for some reason.  I managed to grab him before he could make his escape and I examined him a little closer.  He was green!!  His paws, and other parts of him, were covered in a substance which had dyed his hair an interesting shade of forest green.  Confused about what he had gotten into, I released him and made my way through the house.  That’s when I found it.  On the bedroom floor, right next to the bed were the remains of a long forgotten bag containing a variety of …… harmless liquid items that my wife had received during her bachelorette party some years ago.  A few of these items were more interesting than others, but the one sample bottle he had bitten through happened to be green…….and for some reason he decided to roll in it.  To be honest, neither of us can figure out where the bag had come from and we should have been a lot more angry with him over this incident but we decided to let his one go.  The enjoyment of seeing a proud male prance around the backyard with the partial appearance of a Muppet is really hard to remain angry over.


This leads me to the last few days where River has shown his more exploratory nature.  Before I begin, I will let you know we let both of our dogs out in our COMPLETELY FENCED backyard.  We have never had a problem with this…..until now.  A few days ago, when my wife was returning home from some training out of town, she was approached by one of our neighbours……and River.  As it happens, after I let him out, he managed to slip through the fence somehow and gallivanted throughout the neighbourhood.  Relieved that he was returned without incident, we examined the entire fence line for gaps that he could have used to escape.  We found nothing.  Then comes the next morning when I was getting ready for work.  I let him out, as normal, and I swear he had been in the yard for no longer than two minutes before I returned to check on him.  River was not in the backyard and I started to panic.  My eyes scanned around everywhere before I noticed something next door.  The weeds and bushes in our neighbours overgrown backyard were rustling and moving, much like a scene out of Jurassic Park.  I called his name and he burst through a thicket of raspberry bushes with a pleased look upon his face.  After re-examining the fence between our two yards, I discovered that River had removed one of the boards around the bottom of the fence, creating a hole just begin enough for him to slip through.  Our neighbours fence also just happens to be incomplete, explaining how he got out the night before. The effort to bring him back into our yard and repair the gap cost me more time time than I care to admit.  Regardless, I anticipate this will not be a problem in the future….

At this point, you are probably wondering why I have shared all of these anecdotes about River.  Well, I was just about to get to that.  I wanted to illustrate that River is a living, breathing being that makes his own choices, has his own personality and, ultimately, his own set of quirks.  He takes a lot of patience.  I wanted to tell you some of his story to show that in a mere few months he has come just short of driving me absolutely nuts!  Truth be told, given a chance, he will misbehave.  He plays with things he knows he shouldn’t be playing with.  He explores places that he should not be venturing into.  He smells.  He’s messy.  He digs in the mud.  He constantly gets carsick.  He annoys his big sister.  He wakes us up at 4:00 in the morning whining because he needs to go pee or he’s hungry.  Is any of this starting to sound familiar?


I don’t want to give you the impression that River is entirely a bad boy though.  We have spent a fair amount of time training him  He’s learned quite a bit of manners since living with us.  He has learned to sit and wait.  He rarely messes in the house (becoming increasingly better).  He shares his toys with Phoebe, and sometimes Phoebe shares her toys with him.  Despite his being annoying, Phoebe is actually quite protective of River.  These are things he may not have learned if it hadn’t been for our efforts in teaching him.  He has come a long way, and he still has much to learn.  Every day is a new challenge and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I do not have children.  Not in the traditional sense anyway.  I have two dogs, and though they are not human, in many ways, they can act childish. No, they do not have a curfew, but they certainly can act out and rebel from time to time.  They can get grumpy with you, no matter how hard you teach them otherwise.  And while I would love to tell you that I have a plan in place to deal with the smell, there are some things that can’t be taught.  Some humans are just as bad or worse anyway.

It’s true that River is not my offspring.  Last I checked, there are plenty of people that adopt humans and they do not share the same genes.  I wouldn’t say that this is a requirement for parenting and if blood doesn’t matter then I could make a similar argument for species.  As we’ve established, dogs may not break curfew or go back on their promise to “say no to drugs,” but they do find their own ways to rebel and get into trouble.  And no, River does not have a college fund, but he does require some basic level of education, which continues to this day.  As to the legacy, a piece of you left behind, or whatever you would like to refer to it as, this is open to interpretation.  Nothing is forever, human or animal.  I am proud of my dogs and proud to introduce them to people.  I am equally proud that we’ve given them a home, shelter, food, care and love.  This is legacy enough.  People will know that these dogs are taken care of when their existence could have been much worse off.

Honestly, if you have to start an article by excusing yourself for being a “bitch”,  you’ve already lost me.  This does not give you free reign to make whatever argument you want. and still make it convincing and coherent.  Also, the claim that me using the term parent when I simply own a dog “belittles” what you do as a “real parent” is a bit extreme.  At no point did I say that either River or Phoebe were human children; they require a different set of needs and a slightly different touch.  I’m sorry you take offense based simply on the level of “difficulty” required.  Truth be told, I have seen some of the outcomes produced from “real parenting” in current generations and I have found them wanting.  Regardless, I try not to judge.  I also acknowledge that your experience may change when you go from having pets to children of your very own.  Everybody’s experience is different.  Despite whatever you have raised, good or bad, if you want to call yourself a parent, who am I to argue with you?  I only ask that you extend the same courtesy and let me have my own experience.

I am a proud pet parent and owner of two wonderful rescue dogs; they are a part of my family.  Nobody can take that from me.


3 thoughts on “Pet Parenting: A Story of a Dog Named River”

  1. I am already in LOVE with River from your story. If you have a pet you are a pet parent. That is all there is to it. I always refer to myself as my pets’ Mama. I lost my most precious dog, Holly, a year ago this month. I still miss her every day. She was truly an incredibly special dog who came into my life when I needed her desperately. As I always say, I may have rescued her from the shelter, but she rescued me many times over. I still have my three cats who would never admit to “needing” their Mama (as no self-respecting cat would do!) but they do need and want to be with me. Can’t wait to read more about River and Phoebe.


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