We did a little experiment a few days ago. My aunt in California bought a puppy here in Utah, so it was at my mom’s house for a night before it made the drive out west. We usually keep Eva far away from dogs because she has an allergy, but this puppy was so small and so cute that I thought it would be worth trying a little bit of interaction.
Before Eva was diagnosed with her allergies, she loved dogs. We actually took her to the park for the big city dog walk so that she could sit at the edge of the sidewalk and see all the different breeds parading by. Of course, we had cats and she loved them too, but I could tell that she was especially partial to the energy and joy that dogs have so I was looking forward to the day that we’d be able to give her that barking Christmas package with the puppy in it.
Anyway, she’s allergic. We found out on the same day we found out about all of her serious allergies.
Since then, we’ve kept her far away from dogs. We don’t often go to houses where dogs live, I don’t let her go anywhere near friendly dogs at the park, and we’ve locked up my parents’ dogs everytime we go to visit. As a result, Eva developed a fairly intense fear of dogs and I have to admit that I didn’t do much to temper it. It’s easier for me if she’s afraid of the things she’s allergic to. Not necessarily healthier, but definitely easier…
The thing is – she’s not deathly allergic to dogs. Unlike nuts and sunflower and cats, her dog allergy isn’t going to kill her. So, I thought the puppy might be both a good test and a way to start coming back from her dog phobia.
It started out a little tense. Her heart was racing and she kept trying to run away from the puppy, but once I got her to sit on my lap and she saw me petting the dog, she got a little braver. It actually only took about a minute before she was petting the puppy on her own and laughing at how funny it was and telling it she loved it. I admit that I let her go full steam and she gave it hugs and kisses and rubbed it all over. I probably should have taken it all a little slower, but she was so happy and for a few minutes I actually came back to seeing that puppy under the tree with the big red bow.
About three minutes in, I noticed she was scratching at her hand. She had a welt. And another on her arm. And a large one on her face. I wiped her down with a wet paper towel, but itchy red bumps had already spread on the side of her neck, up over her wrists, and around her belly button. Our dog experiment had not gone well.
And then we came to the part of the experiment that reminded me why we don’t experiment like this. Three minutes of puppy time was nowhere near enough for a three year old and she was desperate to cuddle with it again. When I explained she couldn’t…crushed. She was crushed. She wasn’t mad or argumentative or whiny or anything else that would have been easier to deal with. She was just crushed. The lip quivered and the tears came out, but she listened and stayed up on the kitchen stool while the puppy ran around on the floor. The only thing she said about it was, “I won’t be allergic anymore if I can try again because I really love him.”
This is a bad part of the allergy game. When you go a long time without a reaction, you start to feel like maybe your kid isn’t that allergic and maybe they could just have a little and pushing limits is worth it if it’s something that would make them happy. But…I don’t know. It’s not.
It’s true that she didn’t go to the hospital this time and after an hour everything had faded to those classic flat allergy patches. That part of it was fine. The part that wasn’t worth it was the part where I gave her a puppy, snatched it away, and she thought that she was doing something wrong by being allergic. I hate setting up scenarios like that because I feel responsible for her sadness, just like I feel bad when she can’t have birthday cake or when she can’t play in the ball pit or when she can’t buy anything from the ice cream truck.
On the one hand, she has to be exposed to things like that over time or we have no hope that her life will ever be different. But on the other…it’s hard to be the person who takes away the puppy.