As the mother of three mostly-grown children, I thought I was long past worrying about separation anxiety. Not that my kids ever gave me much to worry about on that score; all three were socially confident from the get-go, cheerfully waving bye-bye on their first day of preschool and always excited for play-dates and sleepovers at friends’ houses. In this era of helicopter parenting, I’ve always taken a certain pride in my children’s independence and self-assurance.
So it simply never crossed my mind that my puppy would be the one to suffer from separation anxiety. I first realized this Eddie was not cut from the same cloth when he was about four months old, and I dropped him off at the local doggie daycare center while I went on a job interview. I wasn’t overly concerned that he whimpered and tried to follow me out the door; I was sure that as soon as I was out of sight, I’d be out of mind. I figured he’d have a blast playing with new pals and forget all about me. Little did I know!
When I returned three hours later, Eddie scrambled frantically to greet me, barking and waggling as if I’d been lost at sea for seven years. The daycare attendant gave me the frazzled, weary look of a preschool teacher who’d had a particularly trying day. “He cried the whole time,” she said, unsympathetically. “He’s too attached to you,” she stated, pointedly. My face burned. Eddie couldn’t get out the door fast enough.
Apparently my normally happy-go-lucky puppy had been one very unhappy camper. As I walked Eddie home, my tail between my legs, I couldn’t help feeling guilty. What had I done wrong? Why was my puppy clinging to my apron strings when my children never did? Too attached? Hadn’t one of the breeders I contacted grilled me about who would be home during the day with the dog? I didn’t end up getting a puppy from that breeder, in part because she’d insinuated I would be an unfit mother if I worked outside the home. I’d recently lost my job, but I was optimistic about finding a new one quickly, so I couldn’t promise her I’d always be a stay-at-home mom.
It’s not as if Eddie is shy. The very definition of a social animal, he loves going to the park and cavorting with other dogs of all sizes and shapes. He loves people indiscriminately too, and with his enthusiasm for kissing babies, he could run for office. (In fact, with a little coaching, he might even be a better debater than some of the GOP presidential candidates!)
After a subsequent and much shorter visit to the same doggie daycare triggered another meltdown, I had to face that Eddie suffers from canine separation anxiety. So far as I can tell, he copes well enough when I leave him home alone for short periods. But since still I’m unemployed and spend most of every day at home, I’ve actually never left him for more than about five hours. Truth be told, Eddie and I have been nearly inseparable ever since I brought him home at eight weeks old in June.
In the beginning I felt as if I was on maternity leave, waking up in the middle of the night to take Eddie out and keeping a close eye on him to prevent accidents indoors. By now, Eddie’s seven months old and house-trained; I could leave him alone longer and far more often than I do. But since I still haven’t found a job, I’ve continued to stay home with my now-adolescent dog.
Having Eddie to care for (and, yes, dote on) has given me a sense of purpose – not to mention the inspiration for this blog. Our walks provide the missing scaffolding to my days, plus they get me out of the house and away from my computer. Eddie’s steadfast companionship and puppy antics have kept me sane and smiling through a difficult transition in my life. People must wonder why, with an almost empty nest and no job, I’ve tied myself down with a dog when I could out enjoying my newfound freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I choose. In fact, I love my new daily routine. Eddie is a good neighborhood ambassador, and all the walks he and I take with our friends are great for my physical and mental health. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relaxed — nagging financial and existential worries aside.
Yet I’m beginning to think maybe I’m a little too attached to Eddie. Can you be codependent with a dog? Because today I’m packing for my first-ever trip to Istanbul and my greatest anxiety is not dealing with jet lag and navigating a foreign culture, but whether Eddie will freak out when he realizes I didn’t just duck out to buy more dog food – I’ll be gone a whole week!
Although I’m pretty certain I won’t spend more than a few minutes a day missing Eddie while I’m gone, I just wish I could be as certain that Eddie won’t spend the entire week missing me. My husband and younger daughter will be home to take care of him (as well as our two cats and bird, and themselves), and I’ve hired a dog walker, but Eddie’s daily routine won’t be the same. All along I’ve been his primary (sole) caregiver, the one who walks and feeds him, the one who keeps track of when he’s due for a poop, and the one who notices immediately when he makes a beeline into his crate to chew some purloined treasure. Will my surrogates remember to fill his water bowl, stuff his Kong toy with treats, and leave the radio on NPR when they leave for work and school in the morning? Will they make sure to shut the cabinet doors under the kitchen sink where we store cleaning fluids and clear the floor and low surfaces for objects he could chew and choke on? Will my absence make Eddie morose or hyper, and will his neediness drive my family crazy?
No doubt, my absence will be an adjustment for everyone, and I’ll likely snap way too may photos of Turkish dogs, but I’m hopeful that at least one member of the family will be happy to see me when I come home.