Julia's Child, published by Plume/Penguin, is a book about organic food, and growing food, and feeding food to small wiggly people who don't always appreciate it.  This blog celebrates those same things, but also green living. And coffee.  And sometimes wine with little bubbles in it.


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I Cannot Give My Child a Dog

My younger son, age 6, has made every effort to demonstrate his love for animals, and his will to care for a pet. His desperation reached a new level last week when I found the following heartbreaking note in his room:

Dear Santa, Please could you leave behind a reindeer for me to take really good care of.

This is a kid who wants a dog so badly that he's now exploring all other conceivable options. (He wants a dog or a baby. The request for a baby is... beyond the scope of this blog post.)

The little man in question is the most nurturing child I have ever met. There is no doubt in my mind how well and with how much empathy he would treat his pet, and I'd love to give him the chance. But unfortunately both of his parents are severely allergic to dogs and cats. Even the tiny and hypoallergenic poodle who is a member of our extended family sets us off.

Even knowing that I'd have permanently itchy eyes and an ongoing sinus infection, there are days when I consider giving in. Though I have no trouble saying no to my children's aquisitive desires, this one knocks me back. As Adam Gopnik wrote recently in a New Yorker essay:

The unwritten compact that governs family life says somewhere that children who have waited long enough for a dog and want one badly enough have a right to have one.

I kind of agree with him. But there's no way to try this out. Giving away a beloved pet because mama can't breathe sounds even worse than never getting the dog at all.

What would you do? Any advice on how to stop feeling guilty about this? My best idea: we're thinking of getting chickens in the spring. At least they live outdoors.

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Reader Comments (10)

Well, I think for a start, he'll appreciate a letter from Santa letting him know that his request has been heard, and how sad it makes Santa to have to say no, and some of the reasons for that.

Are there pets that he *could* have? A couple of chicks might be a good start in the spring... but what about indoors--a hamster, guinea pig? Or are those allergens also? How about a reptile or amphibian or fish? Iguanas make amazingly affectionate pets... How about an outdoor-only dog, and I'm not talking about getting a chihuahua and locking it in a kennel. Some breeds of dog are made for outdoors and prefer it that way, in particular, certain breeds of livestock guardian dog really don't like to be confined indoors.

Aside from all that, I think it's also just really helpful to remember that life just doesn't always give us everything we want, even when we really really deserve it. It's a tough lesson, but maybe this is an opportunity for him to learn it in a context where he knows he is supported and loved and that you feel compassion for him.

Good luck with whatever you decide... parenting is so hard!

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Head

There is no easy answer. As Heather mentioned, parenting isn't easy. If you and your husband are going to have itchy eyes and feel miserable-then don't do it. But you have to let go of the guilt. Chickens are an amazing compromise!

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLori Popkewitz Alper

Iguanas are affectionate? Heather, your knowledge of the animal kingdom blows me away. I have thought about outdoor dogs, but the climate here... it would make me feel guilty.

Thank you both! It will probably have to be chicks in the spring.

December 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterSarah Pinneo

I polled the family. Their responses, even from my allergic husband: iguana, rabbits that live in a very well insulated hutch outdoors, chickens. My husband is allergic to our cat, and I wash our linens every three days and wash the cat once a week, but it sucks. There's a vaccination coming out soon for cat allergies, but I have not heard about a dog allergy shot...sorry sweets...this is the best I can do. I love our chickens and rabbits, they both require work and creativity to make it all work, but they are lovely animals. You are welcome to come sniff our rabbits anytime to see if they set you off....

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJess

My apologies about the poodle (though she's pretty psyched to have made it onto your blog!) How about a pony? ;-)

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJL

He sounds like a perfect candidate for some weekend volunteering as a dog walker at the local animal shelter, perhaps when he's a little bit older. That might satisfy his yearning, at least in part. Or maybe a local farm, where he could help out with some animal care chores on a weekend. Tough situation!

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEleanor

Okay, before you get too excited about my amazing animal knowledge... the thing about iguanas was just something I heard from iguana owners at some point... the truth seems to be more complicated... and apparently they can be nippy and not necessarily recommended for children unless they are already mature and well trained. But I'm sure you'll do your research before making any decisions anyway. Just wanted to clarify that my information is not *always* to be trusted. :p

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Head

I just found out that I'm allergic to dogs after living with them for most of my life. I asked the doctor why I don't have the horrible reaction that I do to cats, and she said when you live with them you just adjust over time. So, I think it might be awful for a few weeks, and then you would adjust.

On the other hand, I think chickens would be a pretty great kind of pets too!

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate Karyus Quinn

I just can't seem to leave this thread alone, lol. I had to go out and dig up some more information for you to consider. If you really have your heart on a dog, there may be a way. Check out this info on the Great Pyr, which can (and actually prefers to) live its entire life outdoors and makes an outstanding child's companion:


There's some serious commitment involved--training and containment, especially. But if your son really just really really wants a puppy and you could stand its presence outdoors... this may be your answer. Plus, Great Pyrs are supposedly awesome with kids, and will provide outstanding guarding services (and because they guard with voice & posturing rather than actual attacks, they are not dangerous the way some other types of guard dogs are).

Of course, your Great Pyr will be happiest with a flock of chickens to guard so... you may have to get chickens AND a dog. Just sayin.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Head

What beautiful dogs! I will need to do some research, and consider it a long term plan.

My son's kindergarten teacher was telling us this week that her ducks are really a lot of fun, and have lots of personality. Maybe chickens and ducks?

December 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterSarah Pinneo

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