WHITNEY: Making a case for adding a dog to the family

Thank you, Big Rapids, for bringing your puppies into our office this week. We needed it.

Two days in a row, lovely people walked weeks-old puppies into the office — a little tiny Jack Russel terrier and a "bug," otherwise known as the combination of a Boston terrier and a pug — and productivity came to a screaming halt. People ran to the reception area, cooing on bended knees and vying for the little midgets' attentions.

During the weekend, we were dogsitters for some friends as they took a summer vacation. Despite a little spat between the house guest and one of the feline residents, which left me more mangled than them, it was really nice having a dog around.

And last week, one coworker forwarded to me an email from another coworker who had a bunch of lab puppies for sale. It was nearly impossible to delete. I clicked back into the email several times to look at their little smushed faces. What's better than a wiggly, warm puppy?

Some parents get baby fever. I get puppy fever. And it's in overdrive right now.

Since we've been married, Bryan and I haven't taken the plunge into dog ownership. We have two angsty cats instead, one of whom doesn't even allow me to touch him. He doesn't care about me, but a dog would care!

You know who else loves dogs? Our kid.

Olivia knows the names of more dogs than she does of people. She talks constantly about my parents' dog, Shotgun (her pronunciation, though, is Gotgun, which alarms some people who overhear our conversations). She's constantly searching and calling for our neighbor dog Nike, who Olivia believes has gone "nye nye" if she isn't in the backyard. If we encounter someone walking a dog somewhere, she's quick to point it out and ask, "Pet? And hug?"

There's plenty of good reasons to own a dog — or any pet, to be honest — when you're raising children.

From the first day home through toddlerhood, having pets around the house helps boost children's natural immunities, giving them a better chance of not having animal allergies when they grow up. It teaches them compassion and gives you a great opportunity to work on "gentle hands" touching.

As children get older, pets can take on a more therapeutic role. Reading to a dog can help calm a slow reader's anxieties because their canine companions can't judge or correct them like human. Mary Renck Jalongo, PhD, education professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and author of The World of Children and Their Companion Animals, told Parents magazine, "If you're struggling to read and someone says, 'Time to pick up your book and work,' that's not a very attractive offer. Curling up with a dog or cat, on the other hand, is a lot more appealing."

We've seen similar programs used in schools here in Big Rapids. In other counties in Michigan, courts use therapy dogs to comfort child crime victims when they take the stand to testify, an experience that can be traumatic even for adults.

Personally, I believe spending my childhood taking care of animals great and small — at one time, we owned two dogs, three cats, four horses, a rabbit and a hamster — better prepared me for the responsibilities and hard work that were ahead of me in adulthood. My sister feels the same way, and we talk often about how thankful we are for that experience.

Have I made my case yet? Our kid needs a dog. If you see my husband after you read this column, be sure to relay the message.