Being a Dog Mom Helped Me be a Better Person Mom


In March of 2017, my husband and I adopted a 10 year-old foxhound that was retiring from a lifetime of hunting. Zack was my first dog, my first baby. We got him thinking he would be perfect to keep my husband company as I traveled for work; however, it quickly became apparent that he was my dog. He followed me everywhere in the house, slept in my closet when he was scared, and looked to me to meet his needs first.

We lost Zack in August — I am still crying at random times each day from missing him — but I will forever be grateful for the lessons he taught me about being a mom. 

Being Zack’s fur mom prepared me to be a person mom in ways I never would have anticipated:

1. Sleep loss.

For the first year we had Zack, he woke me up every single morning by 6:00 a.m. ready to go for a walk. I had been a sleep-until-8 a.m., loll-in-the-bed kind of person before Zack. He helped me develop the discipline to wake up earlier, and to hop to it once I was awake!

We all know sleep deprivation and discipline is a skill required of moms (oftentimes many times in one night!). 

2. Gross stuff.

At first, I thought Zack smelled like a dog and was dirty. I’d pet him and then wash my hands immediately. Then, slowly over time, I began to pet him on-demand, kiss his nose and head, clean out his floppy ears, open his mouth to feed him his pills, pick up his poop… There’s pretty much nothing I would not have done for that dog. It was love and devotion like I’ve never known before. 

Excellent practice for all those dirty diapers, baths, cradle cap, and booger-sucking-out episodes with my new baby…

3. Financial sacrifice.

Zack was old when we got him — equivalent to a 70 year-old person! As I mentioned, he had hunted his whole life, running miles at a time with his pack. We were asked to adopt him when he was slowing down and could not keep up on hunts any longer. It turns out the reason he couldn’t keep up was some sort of degenerative arthritis in his spine, which eventually left him unable to use one leg. We spent a pretty penny working to discover the cause of his limping (doctor’s visits, x-rays) and then to relieve his pain (pill after pill after pill). We did everything we could within reason to keep Zack’s life comfortable, and it came with a price tag. I would never consider not spending whatever it took to care for him.

Our bank account used that experience as practice for the untold child-related expenses to come: diapering, clothing, childcare, swim lessons, art classes, and on and on.

4. Worry.

One time at my parents’ house, Zack went missing for about 15 minutes. I have never felt panic like I did as we combed the streets, stopping neighbors to ask if they had seen a foxhound… Had he hurt himself? Had he been hit by a car? Had someone taken him? Each time we left him behind when we traveled, I angsted over boarding him at the vet because he seemed to never eat or poop when he was there. I constantly checked bumps and lumps for fear of cancer. And, in the few weeks before Zack did pass away, I cried on more than one occasion at the thought of living without him and at the thought of him living in pain. If there was ever the hint of trouble, I worried.

Worrying about your child… Do I even need to elaborate??

5. Constant company

I never went to the bathroom without Zack following. I never went out to the mailbox without Zack trailing behind me. Every time I got up from the couch, he got up from his bed. When I went to sleep at night, he moved to the bedroom with me. I grew accustomed to the constant company, and though I worried about him constantly getting up and down as his pain increased, in truth, I loved my little four-legged shadow.

Well, you know what they say about having a young child — you won’t go to the bathroom alone for years. I guess I was well-prepared for that!

Now that I have a tiny human to mother, I reflect back on where I was in my life before Zack. I’m not sure I could have survived the first weeks of motherhood without the transformation Zack gave me. He taught me how to be a mom, how to love someone more than myself, how to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for someone. I am a better (person) mother today because of Zack, and I will forever be grateful to my first (fur) baby for teaching me how to be a mom.

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Sarah Townsend Leach is a fundraising, communications, and leadership professional living in Collierville and working with clients around the country. Sarah grew up in Nashville and has lived in quite a few places, but thanks to visiting grandparents in East Memphis throughout her childhood and attending Rhodes College in Midtown, this has always been a second (and now a primary!) home. Sarah and her husband John met through both of their work in the Episcopal Church in 2015, and she is a mom to Poppy (June 2018) and Ann Townsend (October 2019). Follow her journey through new motherhood: focusing on learning how to be a parent and finding her new work-life balance out in the burbs. Sarah loves exploring, being outside, yoga, and crafting (all of which she has no time for now that she is a toddler mom).