Our first baby recently celebrated her 5th birthday.

It was pretty low key. She's not allowed to have cake or ice cream, and we had to open all her presents for her, but I think I saw a little smile on her face while we were singing "Happy Birthday." (Or maybe she was just panting because we forgot to fill her water dish.)

Ginger, who is our golden retriever, probably could have cared less that we went to all the trouble to commemorate her big day. But, it was her birthday after all, and it just didn't seem right to let it go by without at least giving her a new bone to chew on.

Our 3-year-old daughter, Kendall, was pretty excited about the event because it was another excuse to have cake and blow out candles (which she gladly did for Ginger). And Emry, who's 6 months old, enjoyed rocking back and forth in her high chair while we sang.

My husband, Andy, of course, made fun of me for even planning such a to-do because Ginger is just a dog, right?

Well, even though she is of the four-legged kind, Ginger is and always will be an important part of our family, and it has become even more apparent to me just how wonderful she is since we've had our two daughters.

Ginger isn't perfect by far — as any of our neighbors could attest to — but she has so many great qualities that are beginning to stand out the crazier our household becomes.

I think it really began to sink in one day during an extremely chaotic moment involving my 3-year-old, lots of tears and stuffed animals being used as ammunition.

I can't remember the exact circumstances, but Kendall was very upset about something and stormed upstairs to her room.

Along the way she passed Ginger, who was asleep in the hallway, and accidentally gave her a good kick right in the snout as her little feet were stomping by.

I'm pretty sure one eye opened and looked to make sure there were no more blows coming, and then she was back to her little doggie dreams.

About 30 seconds later, Kendall came back out into the hall and began throwing stuffed dogs, cats, bunnies and bears toward the stairs. As I stood there watching, I noticed that Ginger had again become the accidental target.

Eventually, Kendall was screaming, I was screaming and baby Emry didn't know what else to do — so she was screaming. And Ginger continued to lie there as if the house were empty and peaceful.

I remember looking at her 80-pound furry body and thinking, "Ging, you are in for several years of unintentional abuse. I hope you know how much we appreciate you."

As many newly married couples have done, Ginger was our first self-test in responsibility, knowing we would some day have children.

She'd have to be fed, walked, played with and would require the occasional babysitter. It all seemed like a logical way to lead into parenthood.

However, as any parent knows, taking care of a dog and taking care of a child are two completely different things.

Nonetheless, Ginger was our first baby. We showered her with attention, took her with us every time we got in the car, bought her lots of toys and went on lots of walks. Life's good when you're No. 1.

And then came Kendall, which unfortunately — but obviously — pushed Ginger to No. 2.

No biggie. A few less walks and her food dish may have been empty a little longer than usual, but at least she still got her tummy scratched once in a while.

Now we have Emry, and Ginger has fallen another notch to No. 3.

Walks are few and far between, there's no more money for dog toys and we have no more room in our car. Oh, and did we really forget to renew her license for six months?

On the plus side, she does get a lot of attention from the kids. Especially when Kendall uses Ginger as her own personal pony and Emry uses her fur as a way to build up the muscles in her fists.

Ginger doesn't seem to mind, though, and her response is always the same — a big wet lick on the cheek of the aggressor.

Now don't get me wrong, for the most part, Ginger has a pretty easy and comfortable life. There have been many sleep-deprived days that I looked at her splayed-out body in the middle of our bedroom floor without a care in the world and wished I could trade places with her for just a few hours.

And for a dog, she has quite a cultured palette, as she usually gets to sample most meals that we have prepared — whether they landed on the floor or were handed to her directly.

One time, Kendall even went into the refrigerator and gave Ginger a half pound of deli sliced American cheese we had just bought at Wegman's. I managed to figure out what was happening as Ginger was licking the Ziploc bag clean.

I know we couldn't imagine a life without Ginger, and I'd like to think she feels the same way about us. She's provided our family with unconditional love and has never bared a tooth or a growl in any situation.

Perhaps the one thing that stands out in my mind the most is the fact that Ginger has never chewed one toy, shoe or piece of furniture, and for that alone, I owe her big-time.

So if giving her a little birthday party is a small way of doing that, so be it. Our dog, Ginger, is definitely something to celebrate.

Erin Passinger can be reached at erinpass@thecorryjournal.com.

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