Many people find themselves in a predicament when they have a baby: integrating their pets and their newborn. Some go as far as to surrender their pets to shelters because they are unable to cope with competing demands or are fearful of their pets behaviour towards their baby. The circumstances are rare when this would be necessary. New mothers are instinctively protective.
Pets are beneficial to childhood development in areas such as empathy, responsibility and nurture, and they provide a source of comfort and confidence for the child. They are great for reducing stress in pet owners which in turn also benefits the child. Growing up with animals can also teach a child to respect animals and understand that they are also, thinking and feeling beings.
When I found out that I was pregnant I became quite upset at the prospect of denying my pets the entirety of my attention and love. I have two cats and two dogs who I love as if they were my children. My dog Abbath is five years old and is a border collie crossed with a cocker spaniel. He and I have a particularly close relationship full of physical closeness, cuddles and constant attention. He is a very sensitive dog and incredibly loving. In preparation for the baby my partner and I worked on improving his training, which included establishing boundaries. For example he is not allowed near me when I am eating. We also began implementing different sleeping arrangements for the cats, no longer could they sleep in our room. This has been quite difficult but was easier than it would have been because we made it a gradual process.
After I had the baby my partner brought baby clothes home and let the animals sniff them. They were curious about the new smell and we feel that this was a good introduction.
I walked through the front door alone to tend to the animals. Abbath began whining, cowering and reached his paws around my neck. It was obvious that he knew something had changed and possibly knew that I had given birth. He was incredibly emotional as was I. He met my new baby, Quinn, and was curious yet submissive. As the night progressed and Quinn began crying, Abbath began shaking his head, his body was floppy and he looked sad. We were unsure why his head was shaking and it looked like it could have been neurological so we took him to the vet in the early hours of the morning. After over night observation it was determined that he had an anxiety attack. Three days passed with Abbath in a submissive and depressed state before he gradually bounced back to his happy and energetic self. Throughout this time we ensured that he was receiving abundant attention and affection. I was overwhelmed with happiness when he started playing with his toys again and wagged his tail.
Abbath then became more attentive to Quinn and watched over him at all times. We allowed him to sniff Quinn and give a kiss on the back of the head and closely monitored all interactions. He reached a point of being quite protective over him but eventually this behaviour tapered off. He is now completely relaxed and sporadically says hello to Quinn with a sniff. I make sure that I have regular cuddles with him and let him know that my love for him has not changed.
Integrating our animals with our newborn has certainly been a journey with challenges along the way. We now have a happy, functioning family unit with fur babies and a newborn. I envisage Quinn to be interacting with the animals and enjoying his formative years in the company of furry friends.