Ready for baby?

It’s a boy! It’s a girl!

It’s a happy, bouncing bundle of smoochable round baby belly, preciously tiny paws, sleepy and hungry grunts that melt your heart, and, of course, new-parent kryptonite: baby smell! You know the baby smell — that pheromone-fueled fragrance that brings a thumpity-thumpity heart and butterfly-tummy feeling when you bury your nose into that perfectly round, achingly adorable head and breathe it in.

It alters your brain, all that baby love.

And you don’t mind one bit, of course. We humans are hardwired to fall head-over-hairball at first contact with tiny, vulnerable, wide-eyed infants, including animals. And that instinct is magical stuff, carrying parents through choppy tides of sleep deprivation, relentless demands, stained carpets, and lots and lots and lots of poop.

Kittens — who mostly arrive in one giant seasonal baby boom in late spring and early summer — are at the top of their adorable infant game right about now, commanding every waking moment of happily bleary humans. In the bustling lobby of the Salem Friends of Felines adoption center, Saturday-morning crowds peruse the adoptable adult cats, but all eyes are drawn to the crate of fluffball kittens. Wobbly heads gaze up from the towel-lined carrier, their curious eyes that distinctive shade of baby blue. Volunteers in colorful smocks kneel ‘round, lifting babies one at a time, recording health data, checking a list of names and markings. “This is the gray Tabby boy, and someone is interested in him. Ooh! And you get to name him!” They hand him off to his foster mom, who is also taking several siblings until they’re ready for forever homes.

An experienced foster mom has plenty of wisdom, “I’ve fostered about 90, I think, at last count. Yeah, about 90,” she says, breathlessly. But she can’t slow down right now. “It’s not a good time,” she smiles at her left hand, clutching the handle of a mewling cat carrier. She has kittens to care for. And she’s out the door, her husband trailing, loaded with baby supplies.

While puppies don’t all make their wiggly debuts in one seasonal rush like kittens, many do arrive this time of the year.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this in the winter,” says Jennifer Beveridge, who watches Oscar, her 12-week-old Boxer puppy, play a raucous game of tug with Duke, a nine-year-old French Bulldog. Shug, a seven-year-old Frenchie, watches sleepily from the couch. “I get up around 3 am and take Oscar out to potty. Then he’ll let us all sleep for a few more hours,” Jenn explains. Before she learned this trick, he was waking the entire household at 5 am, wiggly and noisy and ready to start the day.

Beveridge and her husband Alan lost their two elderly Labradors earlier this year. “We’re big dog people,” she says. “Actually, we just love all dogs. But we were ready for a big dog again.” Meanwhile, the French Bulldogs wear expressions suggesting they’re maybe not so ready. Mostly good-natured about the intrusion of their hyperkinetic new brother, they’re clearly still adjusting.

Oscar is nearly the size of his older siblings, but not for long. He’s sired by a 100-plus-pound Boxer. The Beveridge household will soon have a 70- or 80-pound toddler, and they’re ready. “He’s really good at letting us redirect him,” Jenn beams. “If he’s chewing something he’s not supposed to, I give him a chew toy. If he’s annoying the other dogs, I give him something else to do. He likes positive reinforcement.”

Kittens have their own toddler phase. Call it the razor-tooth ninja trickster phase: climbing curtains, overturning plants, bounding from hiding spots to tackle passing humans.

Whatever the species, the best prepared caregivers maintain their sanity with baby-proofed play spaces, plenty of toys and activities, and careful socialization. For puppies, there’s expert help in the form of structured puppy classes. Groups like Willamette Humane Society in Salem, OR, offer experiences tailored to puppies not yet through their full round of vaccines: they’re carried from the car to a carefully-cleaned training room, and have designated potty spaces other dogs can’t access.

L-R: Shug, Oliver, Duke

L-R: Shug, Oliver, Duke

At 12 weeks, Oscar has just one puppy vaccine to go, so the Beveridges followed their veterinarian’s advice for his first walk to the neighborhood park. It was a dry day, eliminating the risk of disease-breeding puddles, and they kept a sharp eye for signs of any animal feces. They also carried him when noisy car traffic scared him.

Oscar’s first park adventure left him exhausted. He sprawled on the sofa, all twitching paws and contented sighs. But 20 minutes later, he was hopping around nine-year-old Duke, who had been quietly chewing a toy. Then Oscar ran from human to human, placing his paws on their laps for attention. He heard the click of a camera and cocked his head. His brow wrinkled in an expression half innocent puppy and half wise old man. The humans basked in the warm rush of endorphins. “Awwww,” the entire room exclaimed. “He’s a pain in the butt,” Jenn laughed, “but we love him to bits.”

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.