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Preparing pets for a new baby

Friday, December 7, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:22 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 7, 2008

Editor’s note: Jake Sherlock and his wife Jenny are expecting their first child in March, and they’ve chosen to share their challenges and experiences in this column. Look for it periodically here at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

I sure hope our baby girl loves dogs. She’s going to be surrounded by them.

Jenny and I are both dog people — we have three of them: Opal and Jewel are the pugs Jenny owned before we got married. My dog, Kotie, is a former pound puppy I adopted about seven years ago; he’s a chow, husky and Australian shepherd mix.

Kotie ended up in the animal shelter because of how he reacted to his previous owners when they were expecting a baby of their own. I heard the story straight from them after a chance meeting in a Kmart parking lot: Kotie growled at them when they tried to take a bone from him, and they feared he’d do the same thing to an innocent baby crawling around.

Apparently they didn’t realize that dogs tend to act like, you know, dogs. Who lets a baby, toddler or child try to pry anything from a dog’s mouth? But I’m happy it worked out that way — their overreaction brought me my best friend.

So I was especially proud when my old friend started trailing Jenny all over the place, acting as if he’s protecting her. He can tell there’s something up with her (at six months, so can everyone), and his instinct to protect his pack appears to have kicked in.

That’s what I learned after visiting with Kotie’s veterinarian, Nicole Fulcher of All Creatures Animal Hospital. A mother of three herself, she had plenty of good advice for how to prepare the dogs for the baby.

• Before bringing the baby home, she recommends I come home with a blanket she has been wrapped in so the dogs can get used to her scent. This helps prepare them for the fact there’s going to be a new person in the house, Fulcher said.

• To help prevent jealousy, she recommends that we give each dog at least 10 minutes of undivided attention each day so they know they’re still part of the pack.

• Fulcher also recommends keeping the dogs on a set routine, which is something I’ve noticed with my own pack. When I get up on a weekday morning, Kotie barks a little to be let out. If I sleep in on a weekend, once he hears me start to stir, he barks his head off. Fulcher says that set routines are an important part of the pack mentality because they give dogs security.

• If we want to keep the dogs out of the nursery, she recommends setting boundaries now so that it’s an understood rule when the baby gets here. We were already ahead of her on that one — the office that was transformed into the pink nursery also used to be the room the dogs slept in, but they’ve since moved to the guest bedroom. We kept the door closed for a couple of months while the room was in progress, and now that we leave the door open again the dogs ignore it.

Besides the three dogs, we also have Milo, our real-life Garfield: He sleeps about 22 hours per day, he can take down an entire dish of food in one gulp and he loves to torment the dogs. Milo is the only pet allowed upstairs to our bedroom, which is also where we plan to have the baby sleep for the first few months.

Once the baby moves downstairs to her nursery, Milo shouldn’t be a problem. But while they’re both upstairs, we’re afraid he might try to get a little too snuggly with her. I’ve been woken up many a time in the middle of the night because Milo’s tail is in my face or because his whiskers are tickling my nose.

Fulcher says the idea that cats can suck out a baby’s breath is an old wives’ tale, but she still doesn’t recommend letting cats into the crib. Our plan is to set up the portable crib the baby will sleep in now, and then shoo Milo away whenever he gets close to it.

Beyond that, Fulcher said cats are harder to predict than dogs. She said some cats will get really stressed by a baby’s cries, while others won’t.

Knowing Milo, as long as the baby doesn’t upset his feeding schedule, I think he’ll be OK.

Jake Sherlock is a news editor at the Columbia Missourian. E-mail him at SherlockJ@missouri.edu.


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