By Rita Chavez
I have always been an animal lover. Growing up, we always had a family dog or cat, and when I moved away for college, I made it less than a year before adopting my first cat on my own. Fast forward eight years, a husband, one more cat, and two dogs later, I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I got many congratulations from friends and family on my journey to being a mom, but I had already felt that I was a mom, just to my four furry babies. My pets were an integral part of my life; my husband and I had adopted three out of our four pets together, building our little family. But now that we were expecting a baby, I wondered how our family life would change once she came. What if the cats are jealous and pee on her things? Or what if they tried to sleep with her and accidentally scratched or smothered her? What if the dogs are too rowdy and step on her or are afraid of her? What if the baby is allergic to them? These thoughts ran through my head from the beginning of my pregnancy till the day we brought her home from the hospital. So I set out on a mission to make the transition for our whole family as smooth as possible.
First thing we did was set up a pet free space for the baby. We decided to make our bedrooms pet-free, for a few reasons. Before the baby came, we deep cleaned the carpets and furniture in the bedrooms to minimize any possible exposure to pet allergens. We decided to room share during the baby’s early months, so to minimize startling by the dogs when they barked at passing cars at night, or super snuggly kitties trying to get in the pack n play with the baby, we brought their beds downstairs about a month before my due date to get them accustomed to new sleeping arrangements by the time the baby arrived. This was temporary until everyone adjusted well to the baby, and eventually everyone ended up back in the bedroom.
We also started to get the dogs and cats accustomed to more touching. While watching television, I would play with the cats’ ears or tails, or softly poke the dogs on their sides as they walked by, or sit on the floor and gently touch feet and stroke our Collie’s tail. This was all to prepare them for the touching that they would possibly encounter once the baby was mobile.
Then, we waited for the baby to come. Dogs and cats learn a lot through smell, so after the baby was born and we were still in the hospital, my husband took home one of the first blankets the baby was wrapped in for our pets to smell. I wanted them to get familiar with the baby’s scent before we came home because I didn’t want the new baby to be a complete surprise. This was also to help my cats learn a little bit about the new baby, minus all the excitement of the dogs during homecoming. When we came home, my husband brought the baby in as I greeted my pets after being gone for two days. We sat on the couch and as I held the baby, my husband leashed the dogs loosely to prevent any excited jumping, and brought them to meet the baby. They sniffed her feet and were extremely excited, so my husband called them to sit and gave them treats for listening.
The next few months were filled with adjustments, the dogs learned to stay calm around the baby and would lie at my feet if I was sitting on the couch and the baby was in the bouncy seat. My Australian Shepherd would get up from where he was lying to find the baby if she started crying. The cats were very nonchalant and seemed to adjust well, but keeping them out of bouncy seats and swings was a challenge. So we propped the bouncy seat up against a wall on its side when it wasn’t being used, and I would put a large stuffed animal in the baby swing to keep them from perpetually napping in baby furniture. As the baby became mobile, we started teaching her about gentle touching and gave our pets a safe space away from her, too. We bought the cats a tall cat tree, and the dogs were allowed to go upstairs if they needed a break from the crawling baby.
We followed suit when we had our second daughter, and of course, the transition was less drastic as they had all spent four years with our first daughter in their lives. Now our daughters are 5.5 years and 1.5 years old, and we have adjusted well to life with cats, dogs, and kids. Our dogs are very happy to meet other children when we go on walks, the girls have learned to be gentle and our oldest knows to ask an owner and let the pet greet her before going in for the pet, and our cats, as usual, don’t really care about any of it, as long as there is a soft, sunny spot to nap in.
Also read: Cute Birth Announcement by Stephanie Parker
Rita is an Army wife of ten years and a mom to two little girls. She graduated from University of Hawaii: West Oahu in 2010 with a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Public Administration, but has a passion for helping animals and most recently worked for the oldest no-kill animal shelter in San Antonio, TX. As a recent military move led her family to bid goodbye to San Antonio, she now volunteers with The Carrying On Project in Fort Drum, NY, where she shares her love and knowledge of babywearing with other caregivers. When she is not volunteering, Rita enjoys taking photos of her daughters and dogs, and her hobbies include cooking and crafting.
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