I got myself a reputation at obedience school the first time the instructor addressed me as “Huxley’s mommy” and I blurted out “I’m not his mother!”
Obviously the poor woman just needed a way around having to remember all the dogs’ names AND all the owners’ names, especially since a lot of the dogs came with more than one human, but of course I had to go be a dick about it. Seriously though: I know people talk about their dogs as their babies, or see dogs as babies-in-training, but the dog is not my baby. For starters, I don’t have to feed him from my body. I have to pick up his poop, but I don’t have to wipe his bottom afterwards. Also, and more importantly, I did not gestate him for nine months and then push him out of my vagina, which is good because he weighs 100 pounds and is covered in fur.
Okay, maybe “owner” feels a little clinical -- plus, I didn’t buy him, I adopted him, and if I’d adopted a human I’d be its mom for sure. When the dog “talks” he calls us “lady” and “guy,” but I don’t expect other people to refer to me as “Huxley’s lady,” because that sounds like he’s some guy in a Robert Browning poem and I’m his last duchess.
So no judgment if you do call yourself “mommy” when talking about your pet -- maybe it’s the least bad option. But when I hear it, it conjures up all the same feelings you’d get if I said “hundred-pound hairy infant” to you.
I understand why people feel a dog has something in common with a baby. I did actually experience something akin to postpartum depression when we first got him, a grim couple of weeks when I started describing myself as “so neurotic I even worry my dog doesn’t love me.” When you’re at home all day with a thing that needs something from you but can’t make its needs understood, you’re apt to start feeling a little desperate, regardless of its species. Eventually you get to know the critter and start understanding its signals, but for those first Eraserhead weeks, dogs and newborns have a lot in common.
Another commonality: We like to talk to the dog about how terrible and smelly he is, because he doesn’t speak English and therefore just looks at you soulfully. My parents did exactly this to me when I was an infant (“You’re such a bad baby! Oooh you ruined our lives! Oh yes you did!”) which probably explains a lot about me.
Also, it’s important for both of them to know you’re in charge -- though you don’t usually demonstrate that to babies by putting a strap on their neck and yanking them around, or not letting them eat their food until they look at you. But you can grump at the dog or tell him he’s smelly or put a strap on his neck for his entire life without traumatizing him -- and if you thump him, at least if he’s my dog, he LOVES it. The dog doesn’t need a college fund or back-to-school clothes. You can drop off the dog and a gallon bag of food with generous friends when you want to go out of town for the weekend, and they won’t even think it’s that much of an imposition.
On the other hand, the dog will never read your favorite books for the first time. The dog won’t write you stupid parody songs for major birthdays. The dog will never be able to fix you a drink, no matter how well you train him, because he has no thumbs. Also, a baby will never pick up a dead squirrel and try to get you to play tug-of-war -- or, OK, it might, but it at least won’t pick the squirrel up in its mouth. And a baby, hopefully, does not die at 10 or 12 or 15. But when the dog dies, if people say “Oh, it’s like losing a child,” I’m going to correct them -- even if it gets me a reputation.
Because I love my dog like crazy, but I’m not his mom.