Feeling Guilt As A Dog Parent

Ever since I have had dogs in my life, I have felt guilt.  Actually, ever since I was a kid, I have felt guilt.  It’s what I learned.  It’s what became my identity in some ways.  I have spent my life consistently feeling guilty in every relationship I have had from parents to friends to marriage to yes, my dogs.

In most situations and relationships, it is not the other person that makes me feel guilty.  And no, my dogs definitely don’t make me feel guilty unless dinner is late.  But it is me that supplies an endless supply of guilt cake that tops my life.

When my dog Digby fell seriously ill, the guilt was there.  Had I fed him well enough?  Did he travel enough?  Did he travel too much?  Was he bored? Or did he get enough rest? I could go on and on.  And then when he passed away, the guilt was unlike anything I have ever felt and still wrestle with.  Did I let him be sick for too long?  Did I do all that I could?  Did he love me? Did he understand how much he meant to me?  Was I enough?

When Brickle, who is 14 years old, was recently diagnosed with a mouth growth, I not only felt guilt over what I could have done, but I was made to feel guilty by well meaning acquaintances and even vets who wanted to take out half of Brickle’s jaw to remove the growth.  When we opted not to do that, yet still do a biopsy which was still risky at his age, I felt guilt. Was I wrong? Should I put him thru extensive surgery for a few more years? What did HE want me to do for him? It turned out that his growth was in fact not cancerous, but we still are working on natural treatments to get the size down.  I feel guilty about what treatments we choose and what others think of that.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Now, at one of my biggest personal crossroads of life, the guilt is coming at me from all directions.  We have decided as a family to move to another country.  It has not been easy to navigate the house purchase, the visas, the paperwork and more.  But the first decision we made was how to get our dogs safely there without putting them in the cargo of an airplane. Their tickets cost more than ours, but we opted to travel to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 ship where they will have their own caretaker, get their meals cooked, and we can visit them almost all day.  Is it ideal?  No.  But for us to find our happy place in Italy and for me to realize a lifelong dream, this was the right decision for us.  But I am still getting the guilt.  Very much.

Although our way of life has been questioned before.  When we decided to move to California from Florida, “why are you moving? The dogs want to stay in Florida.”  When we sold our house to buy an RV and travel the country to animal rescues, “the dogs don’t want to travel. They want to stay in one place.”  When we returned the RV to move to Italy, well, you can imagine. And I understand the questions.  I understand the concern.  But I also understand that there is no reason for any of us to give up our dreams.  I understand that my dreams can be realized with my dogs in mind, their safety, comfort and enjoyment.  And I won’t feel guilty when I take care of them to the best of my abilities.  We all know our dogs individually the best.  You know in your heart how to take care of them properly. Show other people by your actions that you can include your dog in any life change or circumstance and that you don’t have to abandon them!

I am tired right now.  I am worried.  I am concerned.  But if I let depression, self doubt and guilt overwhelm me right now, I won’t be able to get this accomplished.  Do I feel that it is right for me and our family? I do.  Do I think that my dogs will be happy with a place to roam, a simple life and more time with us in Italy? I do.  Do I think it will be a challenge? I sure do.  A senior dog needs extra rest, care and also needs a purpose.  Our purpose has been travel since he was a puppy.  It is his job.  It is what he wants to do.

And in this situation, I will not feel guilt as a dog parent.  I will focus on doing my best for myself, yes, I have to.  I have to be happy to be good for anyone else.  And I want to be happy so badly.  I want this to be the beginning of a new way of thinking, a new way of life, and a new way to travel with my dogs.  We are 2 Traveling Dogs! And I am proud of that.  Be proud of who you are as a dog parent.  And throw that guilt to the side so that you can do your very best job for your dogs.

Rachael Johnson, 2 Traveling Dogs

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