Becoming A Dog Mom For The First Time

Love At First Sight 

I first saw Royler on the Instagram page of a local rescue organisation. When I saw his face for the first time, I immediately knew he was the one. His big goofy smile, soft eyes and rich fluffy mane stole my heart! As ridiculous as it sounds, it was as if there was a higher power, like the universe was telling me that he belonged in our family.

We had fostered a dog a few months earlier, but for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t take on the responsibility at that time. I immediately showed my boyfriend the photos of this adorable pup, but much to my dismay his reaction was hesitant and of course, being the more sensible one of the two of us, he began to list all the considerations, responsibilities and concessions that would come with this commitment. It was a total buzz-kill. After sleeping on it, he said he wasn’t ready and that he felt we should wait. I was disappointed, devastated in fact… but I tried to keep my feelings inside as I didn’t want to push him if he wasn’t ready.

Later that morning, he came to me and told me that he had a change of heart. No matter when we choose to adopt, there would always be an adjustment period and as neither of us had any imminent travel plans, now would be as good a time as any. I was overcome with nervous excitement - ecstatic at the prospect of giving this handsome pooch a home but burdened by my neurotic alter ego urging me not to get my hopes up; What if he was already gone? What if we aren’t chosen? Would my boyfriend change his mind again?

Butterflies In My Tummy

Just an hour later, we went to the dog park where the organisation holds adoption days once a week. I was certain that other families would be interested in adopting Royler, so this was really our only chance. It was a harrowing 4 hours – we were interviewed by the person who runs the organisation and ultimately has the final say as to who gets to take home each dog. I appreciate that she tries to ensure that each rescue dog is placed in a home which is the most suitable. It made sense as it reduces the chance that the dogs are returned. Still, it was excruciating - those few hours felt like an eternity.

Royler had spent that time coming up to me and nuzzling his head into me, he was very quiet and subdued in comparison to the other dogs there who were running wild. It was a 30 degree day and at one point he threw up, which resulted in a huge surge of worry that I was not expecting at this early stage.  After all, we were yet to find out that he would join our family.

When we were told that Royler could come home with us, I didn’t know what to do first - tears welled in my eyes and I ran over to our gentle and vulnerable pup to tell him the news, as if he could understand! I threw my arms around one of the volunteers working there, and we proceeded to fill out all the paperwork for the adoption.

Health Concerns

Becoming a first time dog mom isn’t all cuddles and kisses (but mostly it is!) It certainly has its challenges. Royler was rescued from a kill-shelter only two days before we adopted him, so inevitably, he had a bunch of health problems that needed to be addressed.

He was severely underweight and we quickly discovered that he had both kennel cough and worms. Needless to say, the first few weeks were really tough. Seeing my baby sick and lethargic is one of the hardest things in the world – I would wake up in the night to comfort him as he coughed and heaved. While I tried to put on a brave face, it tore me apart inside - all I wanted to do was to wave a magic wand and make him healthy! He was getting all the medical attention and care he needed to get better, but these things take time. I learned immediately that patience is not a virtue that I possess when it comes to the well being of my pup.

Love, Joy and Poop!

It took a full month for Royler to recover and we could easily judge his improvement by his behaviour, which became more playful and mischievous with each day that passed! I felt so overwhelmed with love and gratitude as I watched him come alive – getting to know his personality has been such a gift (even if it does come with chewed furniture and missing socks!) My needs and desires now came second to his - a fact which is clear from the fully stocked cupboard of a wide variety of premium healthy food & treats, while our hooman food cupboard remains pretty bare apart from our staple - granola.

I imagine that it isn’t so dissimilar to having a child – the innocence, dependency (my life really does revolve around his needs), and of course the fact that our floor is often strewn with a load of toys!  Not to mention that the primary topic of daily conversation is now poop – did he poop with you? How big was it? What consistency? I wish I could say that this has reduced with time, but Royler has problematic anal glands, for which there is no quick fix so his butt and all the things that do or don’t come out of it, are discussed on a daily basis, usually more than once!

The new experiences are the most heart-warming… I explode with love and pride every time I see him learn something new, whether it is succeeding in climbing up a children’s slide in the playground of our local school, finally mastering the art of standing up and resting his front paws on the water fountain, or discovering that he can’t actually fly when he tries to take to the air in pursuit of every bird ever!

By far, my personal favourite so far was the first time we took him to the beach! He was nervous when he saw the sea, but he (quite literally) will follow us wherever we go, whether that be the bathroom, bedroom or to the ends of the earth – so this was no different! He splashed cautiously by the shore and even backed up a few times uncertain what was happening as he felt the spray and probably tasted the salt from the frothy waves. We continued to wade in backwards beckoning him further, and in no time at all he was trying to run his little paws to towards us. With his paws frantically splashing in an effort to run on the water, he succeeded to paddle towards us and his expression instantly transformed from happy confusion to total excitement – and that was the moment where he realized he could swim! I had never really thought too much about the phrase ‘doggy paddle’ until then.

Many of my friends have told me the overwhelming joy when their child takes their first steps or speaks their first words, and from what I experienced, seeing Royler learn to swim for the very first time was no different. My cheeks hurt from smiling; my heart was bursting as if there was no room for it in my chest, and all of my worries and problems vanished (temporarily!)

He makes me realize my own potential. I am NOT a morning person. Luckily for me, Royler is more of a squeaker than a barker, so whilst he still serves as a reliable alarm clock, he is more than happy to snuggle up in bed with me for a nap once my boyfriend has taken him for his morning walk and fed him breakfast, before he heads to work. Again, I count myself very lucky to have a partner who is far more functional than me in the morning, and happy to take that shift!

Nonetheless, since adopting Royler, I have amazed myself with my capacity to function at times when I would normally be no more than a zombie! I will never forget one morning when I woke up at the crack of dawn (not by choice) and failing to get back to sleep, I got out of bed, took the pooch out, fed him and even made some doggy treats to freeze. My boyfriend was positively astounded when he got up for work to find me in the kitchen piling peanut butter & banana into the blender!

When Love Takes Over

I have definitely already touched upon the fact that we want the best and only the best for our baby, so much so, that sometimes it is impossible for me to see when it has become a little insane! Yes it’s ok to buy the latest deshedding tool, I actually invested in two hairbrushes at the same time so I could compare them – and I really don’t think that’s excessive. However, I have to admit that there are times when perhaps I am so blinded by my love for him that I end up sacrificing my own comfort. 

For instance, every night like clockwork as we brush our teeth, Royler plonks himself on our bed – either smack bang in the centre of it, or often times just taking up my side of the bed as my boyfriend often goes to sleep earlier than I do. Now this is SUPER cute, he is in sleepy mode and just adorable. Whilst my boyfriend simply lifts him ever so slightly and shuffles the dead weight of our sprawled puppy to a more convenient position that allows him some room, I cannot bring myself to do the same. I find myself manoeuvring into the teeniest tiny space or settling for an incredibly awkward angle, all  so that I don’t disturb my sleeping angel from his slumber! Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because I have either hit the edge of the bed or I have pushed my boyfriend to the edge and Royler is passed out lying diagonally across 75% of our king size bed. On the plus side, it doesn’t look like I will be needing my electric blanket this winter!

It might sound like I am just far too soft on him, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Although his doe-eyed gaze and permanent smile makes it all the more difficult to be strict and enforce boundaries, we do make sure that he is challenged, disciplined and trained on a continuous basis. And let me tell you, training and discipline requires a hell of a lot of patience! Like most puppies, Royler has boundless energy that is combined with never-ending curiosity. He is a massive scavenger, a trait which has resulted in me paying great attention to the ground during our walks, as he will quite literally eat anything that he finds! This can be really infuriating and I repeat the same phrases over and over again every time in the hope that one day, he won’t try to eat the trash somebody left out, or the cat food left on the side of the road for strays. The reality is, he probably will.

It isn’t all bad - just look at that face! I quickly noticed that my attention to and awareness of my surroundings is significantly heightened - long gone are the days of walking and texting or even talking on the phone. In this respect, I have found that he has provided me with a new method to relax and be present in the ‘here and now’ – our walks are essentially a form of meditation for me, aside from the poop collection and disposal anyway.

Becoming a first-time dog mom has taught me so much in such a short time. I never knew I was capable of being responsible for another being - sometimes I could barely look after myself! But with Royler it’s different, it doesn’t matter if I am tired, busy, sick or stressed (or all of the above) – I discovered that I can and will still go above and beyond to ensure he is living his best life! It was instinctive from the first day he joined our family – he became the centre of our universe!

When Anxiety Takes Over

Of course, with responsibility comes sacrifice. I am spontaneous (and a little impulsive) by nature, and I love to travel. I can no longer jump on a last minute flight on a whim, vacations require planning and preparation – neither of which are my strong suit. It comes as no surprise that owning a dog is costly and time-consuming, but what I hadn't anticipated was just how emotionally draining and terrifying it can at times. I have a tendency to overthink absolutely everything, and this is amplified for things that I care about. 

What this means is that I have been positively riddled with anxiety countless times over the last 4 months. This could be anything from worrying over whether he was getting the right amount of food, panicking when I heard him ‘reverse sneeze’ - although in my defence, this sounds like he can’t breathe and it’s pretty scary! 

Most recently, he leaped from a 6ft height to chase after a ball before I could stop him, and tumbled with a thud in front of me on his feet. I tried to act cool, after all he didn’t seem fazed, but my heart was pounding in my ears and it felt like my insides has instantly twisted into a thousand knots. He had landed heavily it looked as if his body squished into his head… what if he damaged his neck or spine? He didn’t express any signs of pain or distress but what if he couldn’t feel it because of the adrenalin? These thoughts might sound dramatic, but the following morning we woke up to find that he had wet the bed - yes, our bed! 

Now, Royler has never had any accidents in the house and I always counted my lucky stars that I didn’t have to mop up pee (or poop) multiple times a day. Naturally, I spiralled. Within no time at all, my mind was writhing with terrifying thoughts and diagnoses (not helped by Google/Pet MD/every other pet site possible). I cancelled any plans and spent that Saturday hysterically crying and utterly inconsolable. Of course, he went to the vet the next day, who told me it was likely a one off and not to worry unless it happens again! Oops… did I overreact? 

With the beauty of hindsight, I acknowledge that I may have let my emotions get the better of me, but in those moments it’s pretty tough to keep them in check. So I can say with certainty that I am still learning how to be a mom. It has shown me aspects of myself that could be better. It’s hard work, but I am starting to adopt a more level-headed approach and making an effort to ensure my reaction is proportional to the circumstances. So I guess that’s another benefit of becoming a mom – self reflection and personal growth.

Who Rescued Who?

I hope that I am able to change for the better, so that I can be the best mom to Royler! At the end of the day, all of the worry and stress magically disappears when I arrive home to see my handsome pup smiling ear to ear and completely unable to control his excitement! He listens, comforts and consoles me on my bad days and has the incredible ability to turn an ordinary day into a wonderful day. Just one gaze can transform routine tasks and unremarkable moments into unforgettable memories! 

Royler fills me with an overwhelming joy that I have never experienced before, and it is such a rewarding experience to watch him grow and learn in a happy and safe environment. I cannot imagine our lives without him, and the days before him are a distant memory. I feel so privileged to have rescued him and often find myself wondering if it is really Royler who rescued me! Thanks to this special pup, our house became a home and we went from being a happy couple to the perfect family. 

The only question now is, is it too soon to get him a baby brother or sister?