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Dog + Baby Love
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We were not short on advice on how to introduce Nigel and the baby. My sister-in-law suggested we leave her in her car seat (on the floor) and let Nigel “find” her so that she’d be his little charge. A friend suggested that I shower Nigel with affection when my husband brought the baby into the house for the first time. To familiarize him with “eau de Mirabelle,” we even brought Mirabelle’s first hat with her scent all over it home from the hospital. We implemented none of these plans.

Instead, we were already home with Mirabelle when our friend, who was looking after Nigel during my hospital stay, returned him to our abode. I was carrying Mirabelle in my arms. Nigel was happy to come home and I made an overly enthusiastic scene to welcome him.

That was probably the most attention I paid him for about two weeks.

Something surprising happened during those two weeks. Nigel did not sulk at the lack of attention or act jealous of the baby. It’s unlikely he was thrilled with his new circumstances, but he quickly took his place on the couch, head between his paws, observing it all. At night, Nigel remained on our bed as time and again, I leaned into the baby’s crib to pick her up, feed her, soothe her, rock her.

He appeared to have resigned himself to the situation and did not act out. He did not attempt to leave our bedroom, where he’s always slept. This was his family and he was staying put.

A few times in the middle of the night when the baby’s cries grew in volume, I took her into the living room, where we retired to the rocking chair. The Hairy Son, who was accustomed to lounging on our king-sized bed, plush sofas, lush blankets and down pillows, took his place on the hardwood floor by my feet as I rocked the baby. He did it to keep me company.

One night a couple of weeks after Mirabelle’s introduction to our household, Nigel returned to my radar. It was 9 pm. I was exhausted, but Mirabelle, in the throes of the “witching hour,” was alternating between two states: fervent eating and fervent crying. Bedtime was nowhere in sight.

Except for Nigel. As he does every night, he went into our bedroom to retire for the evening. This simple act gave me hope that one day (with luck, sooner rather than later) my daughter would learn a nighttime routine as well. I thought to myself that if my Hairy Son is smart enough to know when it’s bedtime, then surely our Hairless Daughter will grasp this one day, too.

That night, for the first time, I viewed Nigel as an independent being and developed a sense of respect for him. He was not a creature to be coddled and infantilized. He knew the ropes. He gave me hope that from chaos can come order. It just takes time.

Yet even though I appreciated Nigel’s patience with me and our new situation, I didn’t understand it. How could a dog who would ordinarily growl at anyone trying to move him from his spot on the couch be so docile with a vociferous baby invading his space?

I called Dr. Levy, his vet, for some answers.

“Once a new baby comes into the family, they see that baby as part of the pack because that baby is so attached to you, his beloved human,” said Dr. Levy.

“They often become better behaved because they have a younger member of the pack to protect and include.”

But I still didn’t understand why Nigel wasn’t acting jealous.

“They have a job now,” said Dr. Levy. “They kind of get that you’re taking care of the newest member of the pack.”

I’m happy if Mirabelle gives Nigel a renewed sense of purpose. But I’m truly grateful for the sacrifice he’s made.

Mirabelle’s in daycare now. Mornings are quiet; I work at my computer on the couch with Nigel by my side. When I take a break and glance up from the screen, I often find myself looking at Nigel and thinking, Thank you.

Calm’s returned to our house. Though the pecking order is different, Nigel remains his strong self. But it took having a baby for me to realize that.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 76: Winter 2013

Hinda Mandell, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Her essays have appeared in USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times.

@hindamandell

Photos by Matthew White

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