When my first granddaughter was born, her mother’s yellow Lab, Rupert, was about 5 years old (or 35 in human years). Rupert had witnessed the births (and ensuing drama) of his housemate Beretta, a black Lab. He may have started to develop a protective instinct then – when puppies began to crawl out of the toddler pool-turned-whelping bed and wander through the house while the humans were away. He followed them and kept them out of trouble. Perhaps he even ushered them back to their mother, who no doubt appreciated the extra set of paws. But those were someone else’s babies. When my granddaughter was born, Rupert seemed to claim her as his own.
Rupert was introduced to the baby with a sniff of the receiving blanket she had been wrapped in at the hospital. When the snuffling, rooting creature was carried into the house and placed gently in the bassinet, Rupert took a good, long inhale of her scent. Then he wriggled beneath her bed and stayed there until his owner forced him to go outside for a pee. Rather than staying outside to romp and play with the other family dogs, Rupert returned quickly to the baby’s bed, where he stayed until she woke.
The dog followed that baby from room to room as she was carried around for feedings and diaper changes. As she grew, he sat under her feeding chair and cleaned up the scraps. When she crawled, he nudged her away from furniture toward the middle of the room. When she stood to walk, he was her escort, and her cushion when she stumbled and fell.
The first time she was snapped into a life jacket and placed between her mother’s knees in a canoe, Rupert stood on the dock, vigilant. He whined and paced while they set out without him. Then, over the next hour as the canoe travelled farther away along the shoreline and became a tiny speck in the distance, Rupert sat on that dock and never once took his eyes off his floating family. When they returned and the toddler was placed back up on the shore, he inspected her from head to toe to ensure that nothing had happened to her in his absence.
As his little girl grew and went off first to daycare and then to kindergarten, Rupert had to content himself with evenings and weekends, where he would once again follow the child from room to room, allowing her to dress him in costumes, sitting patiently on her picnic blanket as she served him pots of imaginary tea, supervising her baths and running to catch every ball that she threw in his direction.
Rupert is now almost 70 in human years. He conserves his energy, napping while the child is away. And now there is a new baby in the house. It will be interesting to see if he takes on the role of her protector as well.