Chelsea Handler “Always Knew” She Didn’t Want Kids—So She Became a Dog Mom Instead
“I’m not a mother of a human for a good reason,” she says.
I always knew conventional motherhood wasn’t for me. I’m not into babies; I’m only interested in kids once they start talking. Truthfully, when a friend has a baby, I know that our friendship will probably take a hit. I’ll be supportive, but we’ll need a time-out while they’re off dealing with said progeny. Or the friendship might end altogether. It really depends on what kind of parent they become.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to tell anyone in my life about my decision not to have kids. They told me. Even my mother said, “When you grow up, don’t get married, and don’t have children. Both are very long-term commitments, and you’re not cut out for either.” She wasn’t wrong. I took it as a compliment and thought, “Oh, my mom thinks I’m more than that. I don’t have to have a husband and kids to be of value; I’m going to make my way in the world without being a parent, and it will be a great endeavor.”
I was perfectly content never becoming a parent, but then, when I was 27, one of my friends said, “You don’t do anything for anybody — you’re making no contribution to society. Try to at least do something good and rescue a dog.” She showed me a picture of a 9-year-old half German shepherd-half chow chow at the pound. I was guilted into it.
He came home the next day, and I named him Chunk. My mom and I called each other Chunk, so it was my nickname for anyone I really loved. At the time, I was breaking up with a boyfriend, and when I finally did it and said, “Chunk and I are leaving,” the dog jumped off the couch and ran to the door with me. That was a thrilling moment — as a parent.
From that point on Chunk and I were obsessed with each other. I remember one day when I was paddleboarding on the Hudson River with a friend and I thought Chunk was at the house. He wasn’t. He had been following us and was running along the riverbank. Suddenly I heard barking, and as I looked over, Chunk jumped into the water. He swam a quarter mile to us before I grabbed him and put him on my board. I thought, “OK, you’re my son, and I’m your mother.”
Naturally, as my son, Chunk lived a pampered life. We were inseparable, and I brought him everywhere I went. He would always come on planes with me, but once, when I was traveling to Whistler, I left him home because I thought there was a quarantine in Canada. When I got there, I found out that I could have brought him, so I put him on a private plane and flew him there. That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done — more so for the pilot, whose only passenger was a dog.
Last year, when I was on a ski trip, Chunk died of old age. It was right after I’d lost my second dog, Tammy. By then I had already rescued Bert and Bernice. They’re very chow chow — finicky and kind of mean. It’s a good challenge because that’s what people think of me half the time. The dogs like my cleaning lady more than me, so that’s a bone of contention in our house. This is exactly why I don’t have children; they’d also like my cleaning lady better than they’d like me.
I don’t know how my dogs feel about me, but I have true, unconditional love for them. I guess it’s like what people say about children — you just love them no matter what. Dogs add so much value to your life and make you more balanced as a person the second they start wagging their tail. You want that when you come home, especially if you’re single.
Of course I realize that being a dog mom is a lot less responsibility than being a parent, but you’re still in charge of their well-being. I’m not a mother of a human for a good reason: I couldn’t get away with the things I do. This is the responsibility I can handle, and really, I can only handle it because I pay people to help me organize my life. I know I’m in a rarefied position. But even if I didn’t have money, I would still have a dog. I would need to.
— As told to Samantha Simon
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download on April 19.