Despite the fact that I married a cat person who was allergic to dogs, I always planned on getting my kids a dog one day. I grew up with a mutt named Jeff who was the coolest dog I’d ever known—a husky/retriever mix who liked to wear costumes and could ring the doorbell when he wanted to come inside. I couldn’t imagine my childhood without Jeff and wanted my kids to have the same experience.
My husband Ian liked dogs, but after prolonged contact with one, his eyes would sometimes get red and itchy. I don’t mind cats, but pets are expensive and I’m not into paying all that money for an animal who ignores me in my own house. My husband’s stories of his childhood in England sound like something out of a Dickens novel, so it made sense that he only had cats while growing up.
Although one of their first words was “cat” (for no obvious reason since we never had one), my twins both started asking for a puppy in first grade. In second grade, my daughter took her campaign public with her class’s “persuasive writing” project. While I needed no persuading when it came to getting a dog, I did want to wait until my twins were old enough to help me take care of it. Puppies are adorable, but taking care of my kids was exhausting, and I had no intention of adding to my workload.
As they got older, my kids continued to ask for a dog, and my husband continued to say we couldn’t get one because he was allergic. Everything changed when I read a study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which suggested that children with a pet dog in the house had less childhood anxiety than children without pet dogs. Well that was that—not only did we want a dog, we needed a dog. It would benefit the kids! Now that I had research on my side AND my kids were old enough to help out, I could see a fur baby in our future.
When my twins were nine years old, we began our search for the next member of our family. Our attempts to adopt a rescue dog didn’t work out and our visits to a local fancy pet store ended once my friend said the puppies were probably from a puppy mill. Since we were specifically looking for a hypoallergenic dog because of Ian’s allergy, it looked like buying a dog from a breeder would be our best bet.
I’d done enough research to have a clear vision of the pet that would be perfect for us: the unfortunately-named Cockapoo, a mix of cocker spaniel and poodle. My friend Kerrin had a cockapoo named Douglas and told me that her husband thought he was allergic to dogs too, but it turned out that he was only allergic to the dog’s saliva. She brought Douglas over so Ian could see if the same was true for him. Nothing happened when Ian held him, but when he let him lick his face, Ian’s eyes started to swell. We all did a dance of joy: avoiding dog spit was definitely something Ian could do so our kids could have a more stress-free childhood.
When I settled on a breeder in upstate New York, she turned out to have a very high demand for her puppies and she wouldn’t accept deposits. You had to call her, find out when the litters were being born and call back around that time, hoping the entire litter hadn’t been spoken for already. After a few litters were born early and I missed our chance at seeing any of them, I was about to throw in the towel and buy a freaking hamster.
I had no idea if hamsters could lower your kid’s anxiety levels, but I doubted it. So a few days before Christmas I gave the cockapoo breeder one last call. She said that just that morning one of her favorite dogs gave birth to six cockapoo puppies. The mom was one of the calmest dogs on the farm, giving birth to three puppies by herself without making a peep (respect, girlfriend!), and the whole litter was quiet and calm like her. “That’s our litter!” I said. “When can we come see them?”
The day after Christmas we headed upstate and picked out a tiny buff-colored boy whose eyes were still shut. While we waited the eight weeks for him to be old enough to leave his mom, we debated names and prepared our house for a rambunctious little puppy. I wanted to name the puppy “Stillwell Angel” but the kids were having none of that, and they wanted to call him Jeff, in honor of my amazing childhood dog. Ian sided with the kids, and finally I agreed, giving everyone fair warning that our next pet would be Stillwell Angel.
When we brought Jeff home—this long-awaited family member and future best friend for my kids—we were much more excited than he was. Quiet and sad-looking, he was only two and a half pounds and he preferred to stay in his carrier. Luckily once he was treated for an infection and got used to having lots of space, Jeff perked right up.
Now a healthy 20-pound dog, Jeff is the star of the family and a proven anxiety-reducer for all of us. As my “third baby,” he is the only one who still follows me around, the only one not interested in screens, and the only one who doesn’t talk back. After all we went through to get him, I’d still have to say he was a steal.
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