If you have ever been the guardian of a pit bull, you know how quickly and seamlessly they become the "baby" of the family. Mocha, Rescue Chocolate’s mascot and source of inspiration, came into my life 11 years ago. She was my insta- and perma-companion, best friend, and 45-pound “baby.” When my boyfriend (now husband) came into our lives a few months after her adoption, Mocha’s position as spoiled and adored child was cemented.
Through the years we watched as she ignored, or worse, growled at young children. We were confident in our ability to keep neighborhood children separate from our Mocha, but less sure, ten years down the line, how she might react to our own soon-to-arrive baby.
We bought books (“Good Dog, Happy Baby”), scheduled a pack of dog trainer sessions, and blindly hoped that with Mocha spending much of the day and night right by my side she could sense the baby growing. Mocha would cuddle me so close that she should have felt some of the baby’s movements.
During Mocha’s training sessions, the trainer instantly earned Mocha’s trust and started teaching her to heel, sit, and stay like a champ. Mocha learned that “Place!” meant she had to go to her doggie bed and wait patiently for the next command. Mocha was smart enough to catch on quickly, and she could perform almost perfectly during the training sessions. But it all went out the window in real life.
When I was 9 months pregnant, a friend and her small child came over for a visit. Mocha was practically rabid as she tried to break free from her crate and pounce on the tiny invader.
After all those weeks of sessions, the trainer cautioned that we would never be able to fully trust our dog with children. We all agreed that it wouldn’t be safe to let Mocha anywhere near the baby, and our hearts sank.
Coming home from the maternity ward, I had Mocha on the mind. I wanted this introduction to be perfect. If only Mocha could smell this tiny human and understand that he came from her two favorite humans, mom and dad, all could work out.
I knew foremost that we needed to "go slow” with the introduction. But in my impatient mind, I could only see "go slow" as a directive for one to two hours, or at most a couple of days, and then a couple of weeks. In reality, after a month went by in which I was consumed by care of my human child during all hours of the day and night, and seeing that there was no break in the Mocha situation, I began to desperately consider Mocha’s options. Keeping her crated or tethered to the stair bannister at all hours was no way to live.
A lot of people, with the best of intentions, urged us to re-home our dog. What if we slipped just once and Mocha managed to get loose? And what would happen once the baby became mobile and crawled into Mocha’s space, or picked up Mocha’s toys?
We contemplated sending Mocha to live with various family members, who were all out of state. But none of them were equipped to add a challenging (aka not good with every human and creature that crossed her path) canine to their households. And we couldn’t possibly send her off to strangers, or worse: back to the kill shelter from which she had been rescued.
With no better choices at hand, we took no action. We waited. Then, somehow, a change did in fact occur.
One day, Mocha was leashed to an immovable object and sitting on the couch while I sat with the baby a few feet away. Mocha ignored us, or pretended to. I have a feeling she was gathering all of the information she could through sniffing the air. And observing our every move, out of the corner of her eye. She was showing that she was ready to stay with this family, being calm and appropriately disinterested in this wiggly new tiny human.
We gradually tried new scenarios. Perhaps Mocha would be sitting on one end of the couch, next to my husband who kept a hand on her collar, next to me, and the baby was attached to me on my other side. I’d be ready to run for the hills at the first sound of a growl. But that never happened.
As the baby’s motor skills have grown and he’s been given some control over his meals, Mocha has been all too pleased to sit directly beneath his feet at meal times. This little human now shares her glee as she runs around vacuuming up all the food morsels that he tosses out down to her.
As the days tick on, Mocha is getting slower and the baby is getting quicker, therefore we will always keep the two under supervision. However, I am so glad we gave Mocha the time to show she could be trusted. She deserves, and we are so grateful, to have her live out her golden years with her adoring adoptive family.