Saturday, May 05, 2007

Puppy Love: When Your Pet Is Your Baby

By Te-Erika Patterson

Thirty-year-old Carmi Thomas is a devoted non traditional parent. She happily prepares home made meals for her 8-month-old. She wakes up early to brush his hair, give him vitamins and spend time with him before dropping him off at daycare.

By day Carmi trains social workers for certification in Hillsborough County, but that isn't her real job. Her real job is catering to and pampering an 8-month-old Coton De Tulear puppy she calls Hollywood.

“If I had to do it all over again I would’ve waited until I finished my masters degree because he’s so time consuming,” says Carmi, who adopted Hollywood when he was 7 weeks old. Carmi, who is single with no kids, loves to pamper her pooch.

Besides allowing Hollywood to sleep in the bed with her, ‘on top of the covers only’ she insists, Carmi enjoys rubbing his belly until he falls asleep in the evenings. She spoils Hollywood by purchasing the latest canine couture and showcasing his superstar swagger in a variety of jazzy dog carriers that look more like fashionable purses.

“Hollywood is a superstar just like his Mama,” Carmi says proudly. “He was three pounds when I got him so I carried him in my purse. On the weekends we go everywhere together. I take him to the mall. I sneak him into Wal-Mart. I even sneak him inside restaurants when I can’t find one with outside patio seating.”

“He’s a Superstar,” Carmi squeals excitedly. “We’re on our way to the top!”

Yes, Carmi is a super Mommy, but Hollywood does have a father. Her boyfriend, Greg Warren whom she has been dating off and on for more than a year was with her when she adopted Hollywood and has grown to share the same affection for the pup.

During the pair’s most recent ‘off’ period, Carmi and Greg decided that they would have to sit down to establish visitation rights with Hollywood.

But this type of puppy love isn’t celebrated by everyone in Carmi’s life. Michael Oliver has known Carmi for 17 years and he says this kind of love may be dangerous.

“First of all, she came over to the house with that little purse with the dog in it. I was like, ‘Why don’t you leave that dog at home? Why are you walking around with that dog in that purse?’” Michael explains. “I don’t think she should love her dog that much. I think it’s displaced love but now it’s too late because she’s in too deep. It’s 6 months in and she can’t get out now.”

While Michael wants the best for his friend, he believes that her devotion to her pet is an attempt to fulfill a void in her life. “She just bought a house and I guess she didn’t want to be there by herself,” Michael says. “She doesn’t have anyone to talk to but Hollywood. Hollywood probably understands what she’s talking about. He probably licks the tears off her cheeks. My wish for them is that they would be together forever. Let no one come between her and Hollywood…no other dogs either.”

Dr. Karen Johnson of The Banfield Path Pet Hospital in Portland, Oregon disagrees with Michael. “That is someone who has obviously not had any pets,” she remarked after hearing his comment. “Maybe as a child his family had animals but didn’t consider them to be pets. There are research studies that show that pets decrease stress.”

“That kind of bond exists because nothing else in the world that gives unconditional love like pets do,” Dr. Johnson continued. “They provide a sense of joy and a sense of purpose. I bet if you go down to your local animal shelter and pick one up, you’ll fall in love too.”

When Carmi comes home at the end of a long day she can expect that Hollywood will be jumping up excitedly as if to say, “You’re home! You’re home! I’m so glad you’re home!”

“He’s my little companion, my little friend,” Carmi says softly. “When I’m not talking to God, I’ll talk to Hollywood.”

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