It’s Sunday morning and I can finally sleep in. I’m in bed, snuggling with my family. I roll over and look into a pair of deep brown eyes. “I love you so much,” I whisper. “You’re my sweet baby.” He doesn’t say anything, but I know he loves me, too. After all, I’m his mom.
And he’s my dog.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with Murray, my Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, aka my Sweetie Wheatie. My husband and son adore him, too. The dog follows my son around everywhere and sleeps in his room; my son likes to run in a circle with the dog (which he adorably calls a “Murray go round”). They play together, they snuggle together, and they both love peanut butter. The dog goes to all my kid’s Little League games and makes friends with everyone. Murray is my (only) kid’s furry sibling, and they’re truly the most adorable human-canine duo ever.
I already had a lot on my plate when I got the dog: Raising a child. Working. Caring for an aging cat. Not to mention attempting to keep on top of sports practices and camp scheduling and homework and somehow, despite having only one kid, doing 900 loads of laundry a week. Did I really need to add the responsibility of another living creature to all this? But I did, and I have no regrets, because dogs really are a person’s best friend, even if — especially if — you’re a parent.
If you have one or more kids already, I think you should get a dog. If you (or anyone else you live with) are deathly allergic to dogs or you live in a place that forbids them, you’re excused. Otherwise, read on.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there are many benefits to children having pets. Pets can help kids develop responsible behavior, learn respect for other living things, and provide a connection to nature. But let’s face it: Goldfish die quickly. Birds are not cuddly. Turtles carry salmonella bacteria on their shells (as my son once said loudly in a restaurant, No thank you! I said, no thank you!). Cats are undeniably adorable, but no one has ever made a movie about a cat that helps a veteran become a better person. Plus, my cats destroyed all my furniture and tracked litter all over my house; also, it turns out I’m allergic to cats, a fact I wish I’d known before I adopted two cats and just lived with my allergies for nearly two decades. With an estimated 76 million dogs in America, they’re the most popular pet in America, with good reason.
Study after study concludes that dogs can make people happier and healthier. Family dogs often move in sync with the kids in their families, bonding with them emotionally. Dogs can even help strengthen a child’s immune system. Also, they’re very cute.
Getting a family dog is a big commitment, sure, but you’ve already made a huge commitment if you have a kid, plus you’ve already experienced cleaning up another living being’s poop. Yes, dogs can be expensive — vet bills and grooming are no joke. But if you have a kid, you’ve already basically set a pile of money on fire. You might have to hire a dog walker or dog sitter, but it’s way cheaper than daycare/nannies/au pairs/babysitters.
Having a dog isn’t just good for kids, though. It’s good for parents, too. A dog really does make the entire family get more exercise and fresh air. You’ll also get unconditional love from a creature that will never talk back to you, demand allowance, or try to negotiate for more screen time. Your dog will not need to go to college and will not care about its privacy. Post as many photos of your dog online as you want! Tell embarrassing stories about the dog! The dog won’t mind. I can no longer baby-talk my son, who is now a tween, but I can, and I do, baby-talk the dog (he’s a good, sweet baby, yes he is). You can also claim you need to walk the dog when it’s time to do the dishes, a move that a certain someone in my household who will remain unnamed likes to do.
Yes, you will be stared at while you eat every meal. If you work from home, your dog will probably start barking the minute you’re on a conference call. The dog will inevitably roll around in something disgusting and stink. And if you get a puppy, you will almost certainly sacrifice a pair of favorite shoes or a rug during the training phase. Your wallet will be considerably lighter. But your heart will be full, and you and your kid(s) will know boundless love.
Only you can decide when the right time is for your family to get a dog — for the record, we did it when our kid was 6 years old — and what kind of dog to get. But when you’re ready: Get a dog. Your kid(s) will be so happy, and so will you.
Janine Annett is the author of the humor book I Am "Why Do I Need Venmo?" Years Old. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Real Simple, Parents, and many other places. She lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog.