When we found out I was pregnant, our first thoughts were of exuberance, delight, and every other brand of joy imaginable. But it wasn’t long before my husband and I started thinking, Uh oh. How are we going to handle this with ‘the guys’? We have a dog (age 2) and a cat (age 6) who are absolutely inseparable from each other and both almost-creepily attached to us. We can hear them both howling from down the hallway every time we leave the apartment, and I spend about half my waking hours vacuuming couches and laundering sheets because they truly believe they are humans who belong on human cuddling surfaces at all times.
Needless to say, the thought of disrupting their happy love bubble wherein we were the parents and they were our two spoiled-silly children was pretty terrifying. After polling friends, animal specialists, our vet, and our pediatrician, we came up with a short list of tactics and adhered to them. Four months in, our daughter Willow is just beginning to discover her “brothers,” and they’ve been enamored by her from the start.
1. Make a birth plan — for the animals. The last thing we wanted was for our skittish guys to be left in the lurch or dropped off at a boarder at 3 a.m. in a frenzy when I went into labor. So, long before the baby arrived, we tried out daycare facilities, dog walkers, and overnight pet hotels before deciding that the best practice would be to have them in the care of someone familiar. My mother-in-law cleared her calendar for November (bless her) and agreed to come stay at our place to keep things as consistent as possible for them. Whatever you decide, make sure ahead of time that your pets are comfortable with the place and people involved.
2. Introduce baby stuff early. You didn’t have to tell this nesting mama twice that she could start shopping! As soon as we found out we were having a girl, I stocked up on some clothes and started washing them in Dreft. Since scent is so important to dogs (and cats, too!), I wanted them to establish a familiarity with what her things would smell like as early as possible. (You totally don’t have to wait to find out the sex; you can try the same thing with a neutral pack of onesies!) We also put her stroller together early (around 26 weeks) and parked it in the foyer where we planned to keep it once she arrived. After the baby shower, we assembled the baby swing and other items that we knew would be fixtures in the living room. It was a little weird having this stuff out for several weeks before there was a baby to put in them, but it meant that the changes to the space would be absorbed by the pets ahead of time so that when we brought her home, everything else wasn’t changing at once.
3. Steal a blanket (you can return it later!). When the big moment arrived, and the family came to visit at the hospital, we sent my parents over to our apartment with a swaddling blanket that had been used on Willow and not washed. They gave it to the dog and let him tote it around for a day or so, getting used to her scent and bringing him to understand that she is part of his family now. Hospitals prefer that you don’t outright steal their cloth items; we washed the blanket and returned it once the dust had settled. We also purchased this set from Giggle ahead, which are very similar in size, feel, and stretch to the hospital ones, so the dog would have another to use as soon as we returned theirs.
4. Allow kisses if you wish. Check with your pediatrician and vet, but ours encouraged letting the dog give her a few licks on the cheek. As long as your baby and dog are both healthy, this harmless gesture is a great way to start off their trusting relationship. We put Willow (in her carseat) on the floor and I sat nearby so we could let “the guys” sniff her out without her being held in my arms. We felt this way it would help them establish their own sense of her without the harsh realization that Mom would be holding this person most of the time now.
5. Give a little extra love to your pets after baby arrives. During the first week or so after Willow came home, we made sure to spoil our pets more than usual. If my husband was holding the baby, I’d make a big fuss over the cat (he’s a cuddler). And we definitely doled out more treats and “people-food” scraps than usual. We hired a dog walker to come once a day so that our dog could get the exercise he needed. If the weather is warm (ours wasn’t) and you’re feeling up to it (I wasn’t), family walks with the pup are also a great way to get things off to a happy and healthy start for all.
We knew that the drastic change to our animals’ home environment would have an impact. And of course, Willow has gotten the bulk of the attention since we brought her home. Recently, though, thanks in part to the ways we’ve softened the blow for them, both pup and cat are growing more and more into their little sister. She even reached out to pet the dog unassisted for the first time the other day, and we marveled at how he stood still and wagged his tail, even through the ensuing fur-tug. Animals and babies can be best friends, after all. It just takes a little effort to make the transition work for everyone.
Photos: Jenny Studenroth