Snuggle Puppy’s Tell-Tale Heart



DSC_0017In late March, my husband and I decided to adopt a puppy. We had our hearts set on a black lab mutt, and I had found the perfect one. All puppies make me go weak in the knees. But this one was a real looker — speckled paws, cockeyed ears, and seal-pup eyes.  As she snuggled into my lap on the long car ride home, I looked over at my husband and sighed. I was in puppy heaven.

A week later we were in puppy hell. The dog hadn’t taken to being in a kennel the way we hoped she would. At night she made ear-shattering noises that sounded like human screams. And then she would howl, and then yowl, and then cry, and then bark. She tried every noise in her puppy arsenal. Even earplugs couldn’t muffle the sounds of her discontent. So we suffered . . . sleepless night after sleepless night.

In vain I searched for some solution. I downloaded e-books on crate training. I pleaded for advice on Facebook. I scanned online puppy forums, studiously reading even the most cockamamie suggestions. But nothing worked. And the more I read, the more certain I became that this was somehow our fault. We had ruined our puppy.

So when a friend mentioned that a toy with a beating heart might calm her down, I didn’t even chuckle at the ridiculousness of the suggestion. I turned to the almighty online purveyor of everything — Amazon. And there I found “Snuggle Puppies Behavioral Aid Toy for Pets,” a stuffed hound with a “new and improved” plastic heart designed to produce a “real feel” heartbeat. The price tag was a tad hefty for a dog toy — $39.95 — but I wasn’t just buying a toy. Oh no. I was buying peace of mind and (potentially) a good night’s sleep. DSC_0062

Four days later, Snuggle Puppy arrived. We opened the Velcro cavity in her sternum, removed her red plastic heart, and switched it on. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. The heartbeat was audible even at a distance. And it seemed to do the trick. With each passing night the dog whined less and less until she wasn’t making any noise at all. Blissful silence. Totally worth $39.95.

Snuggle Puppy’s impact on our family has been overwhelmingly positive. But there is a downside. Lately, I find myself fixating on what Snuggle Puppy represents: namely, my inclination to overparent. Rather than giving the dog a few weeks to get used to her crate, I let my anxieties get the best of me. I looked for a quick fix. I coddled her. I threw money at the problem. And the end result is, of course, totally adorable. But it doesn’t really matter much if you indulge a puppy. What worries me is that I might behave the exact same way with a human child.

My husband and I are still undecided about whether to have a baby. (I’ve agonized over the decision on this very blog.) And my hesitation stems, in part, from deep-seated concerns that I won’t be a good mom. I’m worried I’ll become the kind of over-indulgent, uber-protective, anxiety ridden helicopter parent that I abhor. And having a puppy has done nothing to alleviate my concern.

A couple of weeks ago, we left the dog with my parents and flew to New York City. I left excruciatingly detailed instructions in which I outlined the many steps required to turn on Snuggle Puppy’s heart. But would my parents read them? Would they be able to figure it out? I wasn’t sure. At 9pm I sent a text. At 11pm I sent another: “Don’t forget to turn on Snuggle Puppy’s heart!”

They did forget. “What is snuggle puppy?” my stepmom texted back the next morning. But the dog survived. She had a ball, in fact. Puppies (and children) are resilient creatures, after all. They can probably handle a little over- (or under-) parenting. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll use up most of my anxiety on the dog, and when it comes time to rear a child, I’ll be able to provide the perfect amount of parenting. One can hope.

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5 thoughts on “Snuggle Puppy’s Tell-Tale Heart

  1. I think you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Yes, puppies, and babies, are resilient. Snuggle Puppy isn’t for her. It’s for you. As it goes with babies… there’s no such thing as coddling an infant or being too attentive to them. Anyone who says otherwise is just ignorant and/or cruel. You do whatever a newborn needs and if it has long term consequences then you correct them as they get older. But there’s no such thing as coddling an infant. Toddlers and older children are different, but it’s much easier to work on behavior once they’re old enough to communicate and understand to some degree.

  2. Everybody worries that they won’t be a good mom. Or a good dad. Generally, they do just fine, as, I’m sure, will you. As my father-in-law puts it, if children know they’re loved, you can’t go far wrong.

  3. I wish someone would guarantee that if I did xyz that my kid would be a well grounded, kind, funny, well read, bilingual, world adventurer with safety at the for front of his mind, oh and common sense. What I have right now is day to day survival with some funny moments and lots of snuggles. I think like anything else we do it’s an adventure. Once you decide you can’t take it back and you move forward with what you got. Same as the moment you land in a foreign country. I stress about my kid because I can only control so much in a given moment. I’m not sure if I did the right thing in deciding to have a kid but he’s here and he is pretty funny and we have a good time most of the time. It took awhile to get here. It’s been hard but like the puppy all we can do is love them and the rest is up to life to decide. Cassie thanks so much for giving me something to think about on my way to work. It’s always a pleasure to read your work.

  4. I think the good news here is that you know what to get for the baby — a snuggle puppy of her own. The baby listens to your heartbeat for nine months. It must be the most soothing sound in the world. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Preferably a snuggle puppy whose heart beat can be synched with yours.

  5. Cassie, have you read this essay by Ann Patchett about getting a dog? I just read it and it made me think of your post.

    “I imagine there are people out there who got a dog when what they wanted was a baby, but I wonder if there aren’t other people who had a baby when all they really needed was a dog.”

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