Not-so-secret confession: I am not a perfect dog mom. I rarely pick up Artemis’ toys and put them back where they belong, just as I often try on five pairs of shoes without putting them back into place. Recently, I watched one of our favorite dog influencer accounts apologize for their “untidy” home, which was much tidier than our home after I hire a professional cleaner. Bath time is always chaotic, with Artemis glaring at me and trying to jump out of the tub the moment I look away (probably to check my phone). I love watching cute dogs enjoying their scrub-a-dub-dub-dubs in the tub (or sink), but I don’t know how these dog parents do it without getting soaked themselves. I feed Artemis mostly canned food (albeit the same brand that the British Royal Family feeds their dogs), though I do enjoy cooking for her. The problem is, she doesn’t necessarily love the meals I cook any more than she loves her favorite canned brand, and because I can barely make time to cook for myself, she mostly eats canned. (As the mom to a picky dog, I’m just glad we found a brand she loves!) On Instagram, I see beautifully plated raw meals for dogs that look better than the meals I slap together for myself, sometimes eaten standing by the kitchen sink. And I have not taught Artemis to talk like Bunny, though I absolutely have entire conversations with her regardless.
That said, to my credit, I’m actually pretty committed to taking Artemis on long walks and romps in the park, but sometimes, if there’s a meeting or deadline looming over my head, I drag her home early and I bribe her on the return trip with more treats than she should eat in a day. My clothes are always covered in dog fur, no matter how often I use the Dyson V7 Animal, aka one of Artemis’ nemeses (the other being skateboards), and I just looked at my bedroom carpet and it’s covered in my own hair just 24 hours after vacuuming, so I guess Artemis and I are even. But it does not make for an immaculate lifestyle, and on Instagram, it feels like all the other dog parents are doing it better than me. Does anyone else feel this way?
Earlier this week, I reached what felt like a breaking point in my dog parenting journey. You know that saying, “There are no bad dogs. There are only bad owners?” Well, Artemis was acting up in ways that she had never done so before, and I took that maxim to heart and blamed myself 100 percent for my failings as a dog mom. I continued to scroll mindlessly through my Instagram Stories, watching endlessly perfectly-behaved dogs in their spotless homes while I sobbed on the rug, which hadn’t been vacuumed yet. I was overwhelmed. Artemis had just eaten a bag of high-value dog treats while I was making a presentation and then dragged so hard on the leash that I slipped on ice that day. I could only blame myself. I remember standing over my kitchen sink, breathing deeply, wondering how I had failed Artemis as her guardian.
Instagram has the ability to make us feel like we are never doing enough. I saw this first-hand when I bought a very expensive dog food brand for which everyone on Instagram gave rave reviews, only to find that Artemis turned her nose up at it. Though it was not my fault, I felt like a failure. If my dog wouldn’t eat this perfect dog food, would I be feeding her lesser dog food? I opted to keep quiet because what doesn’t work for us doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. It might be perfect for you, in fact. Dogs are individuals, just like us. (And if you have a picky dog, too, may we interest you in joining our Picky Pups Pack to try and review new products for free?) Being a great dog parent really isn’t about all the expensive toys and gadgets you buy for your dog, or even the fancy vacations you take with your dog. Is your dog healthy? Well fed? Spends enough time with loved ones? Gets enough exercise? Feels safe in their environment? Those are some of the questions to consider when we ask ourselves whether we are good dog parents.
I’m well aware that Argos & Artemis contributes to this pressure to be a perfect dog parent, with our focus on good taste and high standards. I’m sure that some dog parents look at the photos of Artemis and me (always taken by our talented photographers, which contributes to this veneer of perfection) and think the same thoughts that I do when I see other perfect dog parents on Instagram. I don’t have a resolution to this feeling. I do know that I recently watched a dog influencer mom post about how she always felt uncomfortable posting photos of herself because she felt uncomfortable seeing herself on camera, but her dogs are absolute stars. When I saw that, I was reminded of why I started Argos & Artemis—not because everything can be more perfect, but because everything can be more human. We’re a community for dog people, after all.
Feeling human—feeling like I belong in my own body has been a long struggle of mine. I’ve spent most of my life living with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). What that means is that when I see photographs of myself, I don’t recognize myself. I can’t reconcile the image of myself in my head and the image that is captured. I think they are two different people. Before Argos & Artemis, I did not have a photo of Artemis and myself that wasn’t a blurry selfie. I avoided being in photos with my friends. I declined when loved ones offered to take photos of me on holiday. I was scared to confront the static image of myself.
But when we launched Argos & Artemis, I had no choice but to take some photos of the two of us. If I had money to hire a model to replace me in our “chief canine officer Artemis and chief dog mom Noël” photos, I would have done so! (It’s all a veneer to some degree, right?) And slowly, it got better. Maybe because when I’m with Artemis, I feel more comfortable with myself. When I look into her eyes, I feel lost in her love.
And when I look at these photographs of us, I recognize the look of love and devotion in my eyes. I recognize the joy I feel with her. And then I recognize myself for the first time.
I can’t credit Artemis for resolving my BDD (which has not been actually resolved, but is a lifelong healing process). Her ego is already too big for that. But I do think dogs help us see ourselves. They see the best in us, after all. We are imperfect, but dogs have been with us since our nomadic hunter-gatherer days (long before other animals became domesticated). We’ve been in this together for a long time, and our journey’s not over yet.
Photography by Sylvie Rosokoff