Blending a Family with Pets: Part 1

Blending a Family with Pets: Part 1

I was a single mother with an 18mo old, a cat and a Husky Mix. Tom was a single dad of a 5-year-old boy and a beagle puppy. After the wedding I moved into Tom’s modest 2bed, 1bath ranch-style home and began the process of organizing our family and pets together.

From vague horror stories on the internet and distant friends I had always anticipated animosity between children and step-parents. I expected our children to scream, throw fits, hit, bite, scratch or whatever other imaginable nightmares that could accompany blending a family. What surprised me is that our children got along splendidly! They became instant best friends and have remained so even still. What I never anticipated was the stress and strain on our marriage that our pets would cause. It never dawned on me that we would need to get rid of a pet in order to maintain a happy marriage. And I NEVER would have guessed that blending our family would require us to part with all 3 of our beloved fur-babies. I wish someone would have warned me that before I re-married, I would need to be willing to part with my pets in order to do it. Neither my husband nor I, were prepared to make that sacrifice, and it caused years of intense added stress to our new and fragile marriage. Just knowing and being prepared for this possibility would have drastically reduced arguments, stress, guilt and blame and would have made our transition to a whole family much shorter and easier.

This story is a 4 part series that shows how we struggled (and failed) to blend our pets and the huge strain it caused our tender marriage. My hope is to give deeper insight to anyone with pets looking to re-marry and to let them know, even if you decide your new partner and their children are worth giving up your furry companions for, there is a happy ending.


Part 1: The Beagle named Sawyer

Tom had been stationed in England through the Air Force for four years and decided to separate from the services in order to be guaranteed more time with his son in Colorado. The two had excitedly made plans through skype of all the things they would be able to do once Tom relocated.  He purchased a home in Colorado and as promised brought home a beagle puppy that they named Sawyer. His son, Thomas, was immensely elated at the dream of having a dog. By the next visitation however, Thomas relayed the news that his mother had picked up two German short-haired pointer puppies. He stated that though he was excited to have a dog at his dads, he now had TWO dogs at his moms. By yet the very next visitation, Thomas expressed his heartache of losing one of the dogs at his mother’s home and the only dog they had left was the one conveniently named Huck. Thomas primarily blamed his step-father for sending the other puppy away. Thomas expressed his concern that promises aren’t real and that Sawyer would be sent away too. With intense empathy for his son, Tom promised that Sawyer is family, and that they would never, ever get rid of him, because “you don’t get rid of family.”

About a year later I came into the picture and met the happy hound that was as boisterous and hyper as could be. Because Sawyer was still a puppy, he spent the time while Tom was at work in his kennel. After I moved in once we were married, I saw no reason for the puppy to remain in his kennel when there was someone at home. He was an overly-excited pup who constanly plowed over my toddler by accident. His tail was just the right height as her face, which led to plenty of tears .  I blamed the dogs’ frequent household accidents on the stress and excitement of changing surroundings, until it dawned on me that this puppy was not fully potty-trained. Tom would leave for work in the dark hours of the morning and would let the dog outside for a moment to relieve itself. By the time I got up with my toddler, the kennel was a puddle being splashed in by an exited puppy. I strapped my little girl in her highchair and proceeded to clean the dog, the kennel, the floor and the walls… EVERY MORNING!

After a few weeks, and in a moment of absolute frustration, I rather rudely demanded a new kennel that would make cleaning up after “your dog” more convenient. Tom defended his furry pet by declaring the situation couldn’t possibly be that bad because there never had been a problem before I moved in.  Needless to say, it sparked a HUGE argument. Meanwhile we got Sawyer tested for an infection to ensure it wasn’t the source of his inconvenient habit. The tests were negative and we were back to square one.

Around this time I discovered I was pregnant, only 2 months into our marriage. Through the excitement we continued to work with Sawyer by enrolling him into dog Training which yielded poor results due to his selective listening. I found training with the rambunctious pup immensely stressful with morning sickness and a clingy toddler. Once I caught him lifting his leg against the couch and immediately yelled for him to go outside pointing at the door. He proceeded to the door alright, all the while still urinating leaving a zig-zag pattern across the entire living room, through the dining room and the kitchen; which my toddler was quick to find splashing in amusing. I spent a majority of that day thoroughly cleaning the entire floor, the baby and the dog, all the while trying not to vomit. That night I vented, ranted and raved to Tom about how horrible this dog was. I accused Tom of loving the dog more than me. (There may have been some pregnancy hormones at play here.) He accused me of not caring about promises. Tom of course was determined to keep his promise to his son and we again ended up in a huge argument over Sawyer.

Finally we came to a more loving understanding about the stress I was under while still trying to keep this puppy for Thomas’ sake. Determined to help my husband keep his promise to his son, we continued to work with Sawyer. I made sure he went outside every 4 hours… accidents. Every 2 hours… accidents. Every hour…. He went outside, did nothing, then ran inside and relieved himself. I failed. I couldn’t do it. I’d read the training a beagle for dummies book. I have tried everything I could think of. I was exhausted and didn’t know what else to do. This time we did manage to have a discussion (Albright a lengthy one) about our options and found only a few, none of which were optimal.

We could leave Sawyer in his kennel just as Tom had before we married. But that would leave the poor puppy in a soiled kennel during Tom’s 12 hour workdays with my pregnancy nose having to smell the kennel the entire time, not to mention his howling. We decided the better option was to just give me a break for a time by leaving the dog outside during the day. Luckily it was the summer and the weather permitted the short-haired canine to comfortably reside outside in the shade of a huge apple tree. It seemed like a peaceful reprieve… until the howling started. I didn’t believe in electric bark collars, so we tried a citrus spray collar instead. It didn’t work. Sawyer would howl, sneeze, howl, sneeze, howl.  He would wake my toddler from her nap, leaving her and I very grumpy. He began digging and chewing EVERYTHING but the dog toys. We tried several bitter “no-chew” sprays which he licked off before proceeding to chew. We left him outside with the company of our husky and my toddler and I would spend as much time as possible outdoors with our furry friends. Soon these two accomplices figured out how to escape the ridiculously short fence mandated by the HOA with only stapled chicken-wire do deter these suborn canines. It began to be a daily occurrence which I told my daughter was our “walk”, to search for our buddies. About this time I received news of a complication in my pregnancy and I would have to remain on modified bedrest for the foreseeable future. To top it off, winter was approaching, and the short-haired beagle would not be able to endure Colorado’s snowy season outdoors. Again we hit an impasse. What were we to do?

This was no life for us, or the dog… All of the time, energy, effort and stress and arguments it was causing for those of us who lived in this home on a constant basis, and Thomas was only with us for four days a month. The only way we would be able to keep Sawyer is by putting him in a kennel at night, let him out shortly for the morning and require kenneling for the time Tom was at work which would only allow a few hours for Sawyer to be out in the afternoon. I had been trying to force Tom to make the decision I thought was best instead of letting him come to that conclusion on his own terms. It wasn’t until I completely surrendered the decision to my husband that he saw the only two choices left. Tom was going to need to choose which life-lesson was more important to teach Thomas; the humane treatment of animals, or keeping promises.

We gave ourselves a limited time to come up with ANY other solution, after which, we would need to re-home Sawyer to a loving family who could provide him the care and attention he desperately needed. We researched many options and decided that the Colorado Beagle Rescue would be Sawyers best bet to find a loving forever home. We found a foster family that was willing to take Sawyer and we spent several tear-filled, stressful hours driving to Colorado Springs. We surrendered our happy beagle and got back into the car, it was one of the few times I saw my husband truly sob. I felt horrible. I had failed my new husband and my step-son. I felt guilty and that it was all my fault. I was the stereotypical step-mom coming in and driving a wedge between father and son. My husband was also riddled with guilt from breaking his promise to his child, even though he knew it had to be done. He also blamed himself for causing months of misery for me. The entire ride home was long and quiet.

A few weeks later, the first snow fell.

After about amonth I inquired as to how Sawyer was doing. It was bitter sweet to hear that Sawyer has since found a lovely new home with a young woman experienced in the beagle breed. She gave him a new name and has since been able to housebreak him and found him to be an absolute delight and perfect little companion.

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