Can you ‘change’ your partner: the non-pet lover?
Part 2 of 2: Two dog caregivers discuss single life, marriage and parenthood
I didn’t care about the saga story of Shep, the Labrador Retriever/German Shepherd mutt mix that my mother carried along to our car. My 9-year-old self wanted this dog to be gone. I was unmoved by the way the Black Lab mom chewed his tail to a mangled rope and that he was the only puppy of a basket full who looked like his father — a golden brown and black German Shepherd. That was puppy momma problems that had nothing to do with me.
I didn’t like dogs. My mother knew it. I knew it. And I wanted her to take that abused dog right back to my godparents’ home with his ruthless mother. But my own mother refused to do it. I didn’t understand the appeal of dogs. I was appalled by the delight on her face. I would leap onto our kitchen counter when she let him inside before he could try to rub against my legs. I thought dogs were stupid, and this furry ball always smelled like lemons. That annoyed me, too.
Who would’ve ever thought I’d grow up to be a professional dog caregiver or to be the main family member playing with that dog for 13 years? Who would’ve thought I’d have tried to fight day camp workers who wouldn’t let me get home to Shep during a tornado?
And who would’ve thought that a man who cringed at the idea of a puppy as a gift from his co-workers would then marry a dog trainer? What can we say? Dog lovers happen.
In this two-part series, dog trainer Sheryl Matthys (founder of FetchaDate) and dog walker Shamontiel L. Vaughn discuss online dating, singles and marriage, parenthood, and life with pets.
Sheryl Matthys: When I met my boyfriend (now hubby), it was an ongoing joke at his job that he would not ever have a pet. He didn’t like pets nor all the hair. But he knew that I love pets. I thought once he sees one, he’d probably come around. I had dogs my whole life, but they could never come in the house. My parents thought that was unclean. So I knew that when I got older, I wanted to have my own pet — inside. I didn’t push the matter with him though. Still, he saw how much dogs meant to me. I would be around dogs that weren’t even mine, and he could instantly see the relationship that I had with them. After awhile, he started wondering, “What am I missing here? Maybe there’s more to this.”
I think people have the potential to change. But I think we also need to hear people out. Just like how you are adamant about not wanting kids, I think it’d be really unfair to date a father or someone who wants kids — thinking that they’re just going to change you. Let’s face it. Kids are on a whole other level than having a pet. Whether it’s wanting a dog or a kid, I think you have to let the person come to that realization on their own. It won’t magically happen. Considering I didn’t originally want kids though, I realized I was reaching the point of no return. I had to make a decision sooner rather than later.
Shamontiel L. Vaughn: That’s a good point, the biological clock for women. That’s something that can’t be argued.
Sheryl: Yeah, and you can have a pet at any age, right? There’s more time to come around, unless you decide to adopt. I’ve seen many elderly people who never had a pet nor a desire for one who would now be lost without having that dog or that cat. In a nutshell, I think there’s potential that everybody can change their minds. But if they do not, people should just be more accepting of that.
Shamontiel: There is one thing that I cannot quite find a rational reason for though. My mother, who is my best friend, has called me out for my head swiveling when I see a leash but never a stroller. She loves babies but also pointed out some similarities between the two. I’m not someone who calls dogs “fur babies,” but even I cannot deny some of the parallels.
They both have their own smells that are good — and bad. They both make noise, one barking and one crying. They both need your attention. You have to come home and feed both. You have to make sure that you take them to the doctor, or the vet in a dog’s case. You’re affectionate and loving with both. Puppies follow you around like kids. So a small part of me can’t figure out why babies aren’t my thing. The only thing I could come up with was dogs are an ego boost. Definitely not with cats, but there is an ego boost that happens with dogs specifically, where dogs are always the homie.
No matter what happened yesterday, they’re always excited to see you the next day. Kids get older, especially in their terrible twos and teenage years, and that just does not happen with pets. Maybe I’m vain. What do you think is the reason that someone would connect more with puppies rather than babies?
Sheryl: First and foremost, I think it is the unconditional love that you’re talking about that you get from a pet. You could be a little short with it, and the next minute, your pet will still come up to you and snuggle in your face. They’re just loving and loyal. They also don’t really talk back.
However, sometimes people have children as somewhat of an ego boost, too. A lot of people have their own kids rather than adopt because they want something that’s a piece of them. They want someone that truly looks like them. Do you want to know something incredible though? At my Leashes and Lovers parties, I would take pictures of hundreds of people. And I started to realize these people look like their dogs. Kids and pets have similarities but are also so different. I can’t deny that pets are so much easier though. I love motherhood, but this is true!
Shamontiel: In the middle of talking to you, I looked up the SEO phrase “pets who look like their owners.” This is a little creepy. Some are a stretch, but others actually do look oddly similar.
Sheryl: Right! You know what may be another factor? Fear of rejection. I’ve held kids, and they get squirmy or they don’t want you holding them. Dogs usually give reciprocal love. I remember seeing my niece and walking over to hug her. She looked at me and said, “Go away.”
Shamontiel: Oh, no! [Laughs]
Sheryl: She was honest. “I don’t know you, and why are you here? Why are you trying to give me a hug?”
Shamontiel: Dogs can shade you, too. I have had some phenomenal dogs — two of which I boarded for about two weeks and cried so hard when I had to leave that one of them even licked the tears off my cheeks! I had the worst time leaving those two. But in 480 walks and 80 different dogs, there have been maybe two or three dogs who just didn’t like me. One dog stands out in particular; it was an Australian Shepherd who would not give me a chance.
I got all the way into the house. I opened the crate, and the dog ran out. I thought everything was good. And then I got the leash. And this dog just barked and growled, and got into crouching position if I got too close. And even then, if a child would have said, “Go away” or something like that, I would have said, “Alright, cool. I’m not losing any sleep over you.” I would have left. But I was so offended that this dog had the audacity to not like me. I stood in the kitchen with this dog for 20 minutes.
I pulled out every single toy and treat. The weird part was the dog would let me feed her. She just would not let me put the leash on her. After a little while, I finally figured out from a second dog that it really had nothing to do with me. I think this dog was from a puppy mill. So when leashes and strangers appeared, this dog affiliated that with, “Oh, I have to leave this new home.” It had nothing to do with me. You don’t always know the kid or puppy’s background — unless it’s yours.
Sheryl: Yes, dogs have issues and various upbringings. I always tell people who are thinking about kids to get a dog first. They make the greatest precursor. If you think you can handle a dog, then at least you’re aware of the time commitment it takes to feed it and care for it. However, you can also put down some food and water, come back seven hours later, and you won’t be charged with child neglect.
Sheryl: Motherhood does change your life because the focus becomes more about the kids. You may see your friends traveling all over the world, solo or with a dog, with way more freedom. Some of my happiest moments have been with dogs. But you know what? I’m very happy being a mom and loving my three dogs, too!
Check out Part 1 to find out their views on dating and marriage as pet owners, the myth that non-moms don’t like kids, the mental health perks of therapy dogs and what happens when the pressure is on to have a child. Sign up for her mobile pet dating app FetchaDate here in the meantime.