Why I Proudly Rock the Label: Dog Mom
I’ll say it loud and proud: I consider myself a dog mom.
Saccharine or not, I call myself Millie and Olive’s mom because I honestly can’t imagine another title. It’s not like pet parents have a ton of options when it comes to naming our relationship with our beloved dogs.
“Guardian” sounds too formal, like the dog is some pitiful Dickensian ward of the state. “Owner” turns the dog into an inanimate possession rather than a thinking, feeling member of the family. Calling yourself your dog’s “person” is a little better, but still weirdly generic. Considering yourself a dog mom or dad is a way to give weight to a multidimensional relationship that goes way beyond “best friend.”
Obviously I didn’t give birth to my dogs (though Millie does have my gigantic forehead and Olive has my sense of humor) but the level of love I have for them borders on obsessively maternal. Much like a human mom knows what makes her kids tick, I am an encyclopedia of Millie and Olive’s likes and dislikes. I understand them in a way that no one else does (not even my husband, aka their “dad”), which means that they turn to me for support and guidance in a way that activates my maternal gene. My instinct to nurture, protect and care for another being is in full effect when I’m interacting with my dogs.
The level of love I have for [my dogs] borders on obsessively maternal. Much like a human mom knows what makes her kids tick, I am an encyclopedia of Millie and Olive’s likes and dislikes.
I’ll admit that I occasionally cringe a little when I refer to myself as a dog mom. As a woman of a certain age without any human children, I worry that the title sounds like a sad attempt to replicate the bond between human child and parent. Sometimes people will ask me if I have children and I’ll smile and say, “Nope, we went the dog route instead.” That answer usually derails what could be a strained conversation in a good way. There are no sad looks or uncomfortable follow up questions about why we opted to not have children, just a nod of acknowledgement and acceptance of the road we chose to take.
Considering myself a dog mom is less about a desire to mimic human moms and more about acknowledging the depth of devotion I have for my canine charges. There is no love deeper than maternal love, and while I don’t pretend to know exactly what it is, I do adore my dogs so much that it borders on weird. My love for them is almost too embarrassing to put into words, but suffice it to say that sometimes I look at them and my heart grows three sizes, just like the Grinch’s, for no reason at all.
My own mom jokingly chastises me that I treat my dogs like children, and I have to wonder; is that a bad thing? Is it wrong to feed them super-premium dog food? Is it weird to plot out their intellectual stimulation? Am I nuts to let them snuggle in bed with us, spooned against our bodies like the world’s best heating pads? And is my over-the-top dog-centricism a product of my childfree state?
My love for them is almost too embarrassing to put into words, but suffice it to say that sometimes I look at them and my heart grows three sizes, just like the Grinch’s, for no reason at all.
Maybe not. A dear friend and lifelong non-dog person recently adopted her first puppy. I worried about where the pup would fit into her family, as she’s always been a human mom above all else. I figured the puppy would end up being an appreciated friend who knew her place, well below the kids and just a few steps above the pet iguana.
Was I wrong.
My friend’s follow-up email after she brought the pup home eloquently described how she knew, from the moment the tiny trembling creature was placed in her arms, that she was the puppy’s mom. Not guardian, not owner, but mom. She suddenly felt the scope of what it meant to welcome dog into her life, and she understood that this little being was as dependent on her as a new baby. It was an amazing moment of realization for her – now my dog nerd ways made sense to her! – as well as for me, because this human mom instantly recognized the depth of dog-human bond. Now, her Facebook feed has almost as many photos of her new dog as of her children, and every time I see one I feel like a missionary who converted a nonbeliever.
Calling yourself a dog mom or dad is shorthand attempt to pin down feelings that are hard to describe. There’s a complex magic in the relationship between dogs and their people, and when I call myself a dog mom, I’m trying to distill the depth of those emotions into a single word that everyone understands.
Guardian? Owner? Person? Nope, just call me Millie and Olive’s mom.
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.
Image of Millie and Olive overwhelmed by motherly love: Courtesy Victoria Schade