Two or Four? Or Does It Matter?

I am a childless woman of a certain age and, based on my lifestyle choice, I will never have children. This thought has been tumbling in my head for months now—often like a tennis shoe in the dryer. It wasn’t until recently that I came to fully understand and accept that motherhood takes different forms and, in my case, is not reserved for those who suffer the pains of pregnancy and childbirth.

Harley drew another short straw and developed an abscess in his throat. If I tried to spell out exactly what they found pinching off his esophagus and displacing his trachea, I’m not sure it would fit on a single line. The cells are weird, shouldn’t be there—and they’re similar to some we found in his nose two and half years ago when he had explosive nosebleeds. Poor Dr. Ireland, he can’t get an easy one with Harley. Always a conundrum.

photo by Lyn Sims,

The day after his surgery, Harley was pathetic. He had a dish towel wrapped around his neck and secured with duct tape. This high-tech bandage covered a three-inch incision and the one-inch tip of a drainage tube that looked like it came straight from a kid’s juice box, flimsy and moist. His eyes were tired and confused, his face sagging under the effort of trying to make sense of the pain and side effects of the anesthesia.

Harley’s delicate constitution was in a tizzy from his antis: antibiotics, anti-fungals and anti-inflammatories. His normal breakfast held no appeal, so I decided to spoon-feed him straight from the can. I gathered a small, manageable bite on the spoon and lifted it to his mouth. He licked it gingerly, taking the smelly, moist mush with his tongue and gently licking the back of the spoon for the remaining portion. Then I saw my reflection on the back of the spoon. That’s when I saw motherhood, when I completely and absolutely understood how I would fulfill my dream to raise a child.

As with all great revelations, this one was simple, stark and unforgiving. I could embrace it or be enveloped by it, enclosed in a life of bitterness for what could never be. The feeling that followed, however, was weightless and calm, like an early spring day on an Oregon beach, cool but with the promise of warmth to come. It just felt right, comfortable. I am already a mother. The more I considered it, the more I accepted it. I change Travis’ diapers at least four or five times a day. Because he’s blind, he needs help walking safely through the house and yard so I hold his collar as I would a toddler’s hand.   When we take the boys on a car ride or on an adventure, we have a diaper bag with extra wraps and pads, and their own bottles, snacks and toys to keep them busy. Harley is the independent middle schooler with his own activities and schedule—and medical issues. I’m there to hot-pack abscesses, apply salve to cuts and scrapes, soothe upset tummies, and when necessary, spoon feed him when eating from a bowl just won’t work.

But it’s not just about what my boys need from me. My guys give back, both to me and to the community. They are both registered therapy dogs. Harley visits with troubled teens for Gabriel’s Angels at the Pima County Juvenile Court facility every other week. Those kids communicate more fully with him than they do with some of the officers in their living units.  He’s their connection to love, trust and confidence. Even if it’s only for an hour. Travis, although retired due to health issues, helped nearly 25 teams either prepare for the Delta Society examination or qualify, through his work as a neutral dog during the exam. He made a few visits during his tenure and preferred senior men. He was always happy to greet them with a look that said, “I’ve got a few miles on me, too.  Let’s just sit and relax together.”

I realize there are some folks who believe equating a dog with a child is wrong—even sad—but I’d respectfully like to point out that once again, it’s not about the dog. It’s about the caring, the nurturing, the loving and all that’s involved in supporting and maintaining a relationship with a being who is dependent on you.

Harley and Travis give love and receive it. They have bodies, hearts, minds and souls. And I will protect and nurture their entire beings as long as they wish to remain with me. Two legs or four, it no longer matters to me.

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20 Responses to Two or Four? Or Does It Matter?

  1. Really wonderful post Kate! two or four legged they are our babies!

  2. shardie1 says:

    Great post, Kate. AireHugs to the whole family from me and the HardieDales.

  3. Tina says:

    Wow Kate. You are so amazing in your insight and putting perspective into wonderful words. Those of us that don’t have human kids can so relate. I am lucky to have your friendship. Hugs to Harley and Travis.

  4. Vanessa says:

    I have a number of friends without children who are embarrassed to admit to me that they consider their pets to be their children. I have had a conversation with an in-law who never had a pet of her own, and her assertion was that taking care of an animal was nothing like taking care of a child. I am a mother to both humans and 4-legged beings, and I can say without a doubt that it really isn’t that much different. There is plenty of love to go around, and over the years, I have certainly had my share of worries over this one or that one or the other. I felt pity for the in-law who had never experienced the love of a dog or cat. And I was quick to reassure my childless friends that they had nothing about which to be embarrassed. Not having children, for whatever reason, does not negate the need to have “someone” to nurture and love.

    Incidentally, that in-law and her family did get a dog eventually … A dog who developed a growth on her leg that need to be treated. They have been driving the pup to Ithaca for radiation treatments … working like crazy to keep her healthy 🙂

    I definitely understand that deep-rooted need to become a mother. I am so glad you have been able to find peace with it through Harley, Kate.

    • Kate Titus says:

      Thanks for sharing, Vanessa, especially the worries over this one, that one and the other. No need to count legs, it’s all about the caring. Animals open many doors for us. Even a snake in the yard can elicit feelings of concern for their well-being, right? 🙂

  5. Julie says:

    Beautifully written, Kate. I can relate so well, though I currently don’t have any 4-legged kids living with me due to not being able to afford vet care (something I strongly believe in). I’ve never wanted to have human kids, though I like them a lot. I adore animals and have had many amazing kids in various species! I love how you expressed everything here. Thank you.

    • Kate Titus says:

      I wish more folks would do the math before they adopt a pet. I admire your discipline and am frankly amazed by it. Not sure I could control my desire to have a warm, furry soul in the house. Thanks for thinking about their well-being and not just your desires.

  6. Beth Weber says:

    A perfect way to express what many of us feel for our beloved furry babies! Beautifully written!

  7. Marcie says:

    Thank you Kate, beautiful. I was never ashamed to tell people that my mother once gave me advice to raise dogs instead of children. It was funny at the time, and i took no offense, as her child, even though i KNEW she was not kidding!! Lo and behold it turned out to be my fate (as well as the fate of both my brothers!). I am grateful i learned at a young age that my relationships with dogs are meaningful and important and mutually satisfying. For sure they receive 90% of any nurturing instincts i may have. Very sorry to hear about Harleys latest trauma. I hope he heals quickly.

    • Kate Titus says:

      I learned about the power of animals very early, as well (both cats and dogs in the house growing up). Looking back, I’m stunned that I survived nearly four years as an adult without an animal. When Kallie (Calico cat — and no, I didn’t name her….) came into our lives 17 years ago, everything changed. She really helped me stay grounded and in touch with my nurturing side. Helping her to the Bridge was a painful but necessary experience. I better understand the Circle of Life and my role in my animal’s lives.

      When Harley came along, I got a glimpse into the responsibility required to maintain all his needs (mental, physical and emotional). And in recent years, as his health has been questionable, our connection has just grown deeper and deeper. It’s amazing and scary at the same time. That bond will eventually break– and I’m dreading that time — but I’m holding on tight and not looking forward (or back). Livin’ in the now with my boy!

  8. Outstanding. This will resonate with every pet lover. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jennifer Monroe says:

    This is really beautiful. It was a wonderful experience to be with you and Kathy and your boys. Your love and dedication to them as your children is so evident. You are a role model for parenting!

  10. Keisha Jones says:

    Ok, after that read I had to grab the tissue box. Kate, thank you for that. I too am a mom of both 2 and 4 legs and can say that without a doubt it is much the same. I have to say that I often have found it easier to understand the 4 legged kids than the 2. Also, in loss the feelings are NO different at all..

  11. Leslie Weichelt says:

    Thank you Kate. In my heart I have always felt that I couldn’t love our 4-legged babies more if I had given birth to them. They are our kids. I love your article and, coincidentally, Dr. Ireland and his staff have been caring for our kids for many years, including some very challenging illnesses and outcomes. When we had to board our girl, Maddie, for a few days and I showed up with two pages of notes regarding her care regiment, they never batted an eye. They know our babies are our children.

    Happy Mothers Day, Kate.

    Leslie Weichelt

  12. Laura Hodge says:

    Happy Mother’s Day, Kate!

    My son apologized to me for equating the loss of his horse, Gus, to the loss of a child. He tried to explain that he understood it was not the same thing. I told him, “Pshaw! It is definitely the same thing.” He loved Gus. He raised him from a foal. Gus was his boy.

    Parenting lies in nurturing. My oldest grandson was adopted. His mom is no less a mother than I am to the children I gave birth to. Those who love and nurture any living thing deserve a place in that splendidly beautiful garden of love that is born of the commitment to do what is necessary, to love and be loved in return.

    Yes. You are definitely a Mom. Never doubt your honored place in that prestigious club of those who care for others.

    I don’t know who wrote this, but, it fits:

    “M Is for the Many things she gave me,
    O Means only that she’s growing Old.
    T Is for the Tears she shed to save me,
    H Is for her Heart of purest gold.
    E Is for her Eyes with love light shining,
    R Means Right and Right she’ll always be.

    Put them all together, They spell MOTHER.
    A word that means the world to me.”

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