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A Mother’s Tale (er… tail)

When your dogs become your kids

By Shelley CarrollPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 7 min read

I’m not a grandmother… yet.

But kids grow up and leave… in theory.

They may (eventually) leave your house but they never leave your heart. They certainly never leave your thoughts.

Moms worry. It’s our thing. We hope we’ve given them the tools to make it out there in the big bad world, but we also hope they know that, when the world is too much, they can always come home again - whether for a few minutes, days or months.

But we never stop being moms.

When they were of suitable age and interest, my two oldest kids moved out into their own spots. And it was an adjustment… for me, anyway.

In spite of having lived on her own during her university years, when Ash sought to leave the nest once and for all, she didn’t just move out… she moved three provinces away. She didn’t even know for sure if she’d have a job when she reached her destination. And as she fully expected, it all worked out. Not that I didn’t have faith in her or her tenacity, but my anxiety needed to be convinced.

Chris moved across town. And strangely, although his absence was certainly felt (and noticeable by the significant drop in the amount of laundry and groceries), it wasn’t all that different than when he was actually here. Chris tends to keep to himself, do his own thing, adhere to his own schedule, have his own space. So all that really changed when he moved out was the chance that I’d see him, even if only briefly, at least once each day.

But no sooner did Chris move out this past July, Apollo moved in.

Apollo is my youngest son Kyle’s adopted rescue dog. A black mouth cur who hails from Texas, he was 15 months old and chock full of piss and vinegar.

He joined our family and was a wonderful complement to our existing pet situation, becoming a companion to our elderly dog Nikki. I’m not saying they became bosom buddies, but they seemed to adapt and eventually enjoy a peaceful coexistence.

In COVID times, I’ve been working from home. Having two dogs to care for throughout the day while my husband tended to his errands and while Kyle worked shift work, gave me a bit of a sense of purpose outside of work… and maybe a bit of reason to get out of bed each morning and get moving.

Sadly, we bid farewell to Nikki on Christmas Eve. She was 16 years of age and even in spite of her long life, we knew it wouldn’t be easy to say goodbye. But we did. As a final farewell to her and to comfort ourselves, we were all together as a family later that same day. Christmas proved to be a bittersweet distraction from her passing, but it also gave us the opportunity to just relax and enjoy one another’s company. Perhaps that was her final gift to us.

Apollo, no less a family member, was also affected by her untimely departure.

In those first few days following her passing, he seemed to look for her now and then, his energy level seemed to drop, and his appetite seemed to dissipate.

I got it, I figured. I was missing her too. Apollo therefore became the perfect agent through which I could channel my grief and up the ante in terms of caregiving.

But I may have been blinded by my own need for solace to recognize Apollo’s suffering.

NYE, when taking him out for a pee, he got spooked by the sound of some firecrackers in the neighbourhood and quickly retreated to the safety of our house. Not that we could blame him: as a rescue, we didn’t know his backstory so it’s hard to know what sounds and actions might trigger him.

His behaviour on New Year’s Day was also concerning. He didn’t have much of an appetite. He didn’t seem to have as much zest or fervour during his routine recreational walks. Sometimes we took him outside, and he had to be coaxed to go out. And if he did go out, he wouldn’t even pee.

We just assumed he was a little bit depressed. After all, we’re all still adjusting to life without Nikki.

But by 4 am Jan 2, Apollo took a turn for the worst.

Kyle, being 19 years old and on Christmas break from work, keeps a slightly different schedule than me and my husband. He’s up all hours of the night and sleeps all day - this lifestyle is made easier when you have a mom who is only too happy to babysit the pooch during the daylight hours.

But when Kyle woke me up at 4, I knew it wasn’t good.

“Mom… there’s something wrong with Apollo…”

I jumped right up.

Kyle had taken him outside… but rather than come back in, Apollo laid down on the grass, refusing to come back in. Although Kyle was able to coax him back onto the deck, Apollo once again laid down, staring off into space.

This was more than just a case of canine depression.

Something was horribly wrong.

Kyle called the vet hospital and I brushed my teeth. By 415, we were en route.

They took us into the same examination room in which we’d said goodbye to Nikki a mere 8 days earlier. I was numb. I felt like I was floating. They took him out back for X-rays and blood work. I tried to talk to Kyle but he’d only respond with “Mom… stop talking to me with that soft voice”.

Dealing with it in his own way and with no room or patience for his mother, I retreated within myself.

“Jeezus, surely to goodness we aren’t going through this again so soon after Nikki. Apollo isn’t even two years old. This isn’t right. This doesn’t make sense.” These were the thoughts that occupied my mind in an endless repetitive reel.

They sent us home at 545. Apollo would be supervised and placed on an IV drip. Whether a GI blockage or a toxic intake, he would be monitored and that’s the best we could hope for. Kyle made the right call in waking me up and in calling on the folks at the hospital.

I didn’t question their expertise, but I did nonetheless question our own self-reliance as pet owners. He never goes outside without supervision and we know there is no rat or otherwise vermin related poison here at the house. But he clearly “got into” something.

That said though, we can’t discount that he often tries to eat garbage when we’re out for walks. Perhaps we should reconsider our food and toy choices for him. Veteran though we may be to pet care, we have to acknowledge that we still have much to learn.

Toxin aside, our visit to the vet revealed something more: Apollo has heart worm.

So once this scare is over and he’s back to normal, he’ll be treated for this ailment as well. Like we always have, we’ll find the money somewhere. He’s family.

My younger, more ignorant self would scoff at me for the tears I’ve shed over this past week and a half for these dogs.


Long story even longer, I could deal with the kids growing up and leaving, but just so long as I still have someone else who needs a little TLC.

While Apollo spent the night in hospital… For over 36 hours at home…. there were zero dogs.

Not to make it all about me, but I stayed in my PJs all day.

You know how when you’re a young parent, you wish someone would take the kids for the night? And then they’re gone and despite an hour of so of relief, you spend the rest of the night feeling guilty and lonely?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

There’s a part of me that always wants to be taking care of someone. Sometimes, begrudgingly. It defines me on a certain level - and it has been a huge part of my adult life.

And it keeps me from being responsible for just me.

These things come in threes, as they say.

I cringe at what may come next.

But I cling to what we have.

It’s all we can know for sure at this moment.

My friend put it very succinctly: “our relationships with our pets is different. Our kids grow up and leave… and we end up spending more time with the animals.” So true. They’re our confidantes and companions. Plus they don’t talk back.

So a parent is always a parent. This mom is always a mom - whether to a two-legged or four-legged creature.


About the Creator

Shelley Carroll

Ms. Carroll is a 40-something year-old veteran public servant and mother of three adult children. She and her partner Hal live in Amherst NS with a sweet, anxiety-ridden rescue dog. Shelley loves running, red wine, and laughter.


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