In retrospect, we probably paid way too much for her — since two years later we learned she had epilepsy and an annoying propensity to lick her butt and chase after people on bicycles. For all her little quirks, she was after all our first baby, albeit, four-legged, and we named her “Camden” after a cute town near our first home in Maine.
I suppose getting married and buying a puppy together is a rather common phenomenon. I know my reasons for bringing a puppy into our home were twofold. First, it gave me an opportunity to act on my maternal instincts without all the messiness of screwing up human children so that they could grow body hair, pierce various parts of their bodies, and roll their eyes while muttering under their breath over my incompetence. And secondly, it gave me a chance to test drive my new husband on the fatherhood track. It was a feature I knew my model husband supposedly came with, but like the automobile seat heaters I have in my car in Florida, I wasn’t entirely sure where all the buttons for this particular feature were. So when we brought our first puppy-child home, and potty training commenced, I was delighted to find my particular model of husband had a sweet spot for the fathering role.
As a result, as most first children are, ours was spoiled by our undivided attention, time, and assets. Our first child had the most comfortable bed in the house, baskets full of toys, her own Christmas stocking, and a daily schedule that involved walks and play dates with the boxer across the street. We took our first child everywhere with us and sought out recreations that would accommodate her canine tendencies: beaches with dog access, dog friendly campsites, ice cream shops that gave out “doggie cones.”
And these are the thoughts and memories that come to mind as I tearfully drive my first child to an emergency vet appointment after I encounter her lying on her bed in the garage, seemingly unable to get up.
In an unprecedented change of birth-ordered priorities, I quickly phoned a baby-sitter to watch my four, two-legged children so I could tend to my first, four-legged baby. As I hefted her 75-pound limp body into the back of the family vehicle, it was pure guilt that tormented me when I thought about what a second class citizen I had allowed our first child to become. Over the course of the arrival of four, two-legged children, her bed had made its way from the foot of our bed out to the washroom in the garage. Her baskets of toys had been commandeered by her two-legged siblings, and her Christmas stocking assigned to the two-legged baby. Her walks had become occasional at best, and always alongside a stroller of some sort. And the only outings in the car were for long overdue visits to the vet.
It is pure guilt that makes my voice quiver as I call my husband from the car and tell him how I found Camden, how she couldn’t walk, and how could this be the end for her? Both of us are aware of how neglected she has become — how our first child has been demoted — acutely conscious of how little attention we pay her now.
When I arrive at the vet’s office, it takes three technicians to help carry her inside. They take her to the back and I wait out front, bracing myself for the bad news — news that will tell me that I will not be leaving the office this day with my first baby. The same baby that sat loyally with me on the floor as I cried into her fur the day my husband left for a military deployment. The same first baby who had been my guardian and my companion, helping fill the empty spaces my husband left behind.
Needless to say, the moments I wait are dramatic and emotionally charged and right up there with highlights from Old Yeller and Lassie.
I am called back to see the vet and stop in my tracks when Camden trots over to greet me. Stunned by her seemingly miraculous recovery, the vet informs me she isn’t sure what, if anything is wrong with Camden, that she seems perfectly fine, that maybe it is a sprain? There could be some tenderness in her elbow? Has she been running or playing in a way that would sprain it?
At this point my first child is drumming her tail against my pants and I am disoriented by the change in prognosis. I only faintly hear the vet’s instructions for some doggie anti-inflammatory as I am ushered out by my picture-of-health dog to pay for services rendered — services that seven minutes earlier I was convinced would be along the lines of euthanasia.
The drive home is a mixture of bewilderment and relief, as my first child predictably hangs her head out the window. The brief thought of could my dog have been faking? is quickly dismissed when she pulls her dopey head back in for some brief butt licking.
Finally able to replay the vet’s comments, I think about her question concerning whether or not Camden could have hurt her leg playing? My mind goes to the afternoon before, as the — all five of them, four legged and two legged — galloped through the yard stumbling over one another like a whole pack of, well, puppies. I remember how the boys had thrown the tennis ball for Camden. How they had all chased her around the yard insisting she release the ball.
I then began to remember all the mornings my children have fought over who gets to feed her and how my youngest toddler will sit and feed each individual morsel of food to her as Camden patiently and gently takes it from her fingers. I think about how completely unintimidated my two legged children are of Camden’s enthusiastic greetings, even though she outweighs them by 50 pounds and how they throw their arms around her and whisper things into her fur that only she understands. I think about how she is their jungle gym and how she seems to actually enjoy it when they stick their little fingers into her eyeballs, or try to catch her tongue.
I wince a little as Camden bounds out of the car and I realize how much this little first-child appreciation outing has cost me in vet and baby-sitting bills. But when her two-legged siblings run squealing her name to make sure she is all right, I feel the guilt leave my heart as I realize that our first baby — really is favored.
Tiffany Roach is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine with a BA in English. Question? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org