Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I have been dating a man seriously for about 8 months. We get along great and have lots of fun together. He is extremely thoughtful and caring, and many other good qualities that are hard to find these days.
Two years before I met him, I adopted a dog from the humane society. She is an inside dog because she has quite a bit of anxiety and leaving her outside too much would not be good for her. I've grown up with dogs and always had a special love for them.
This man struggles with the idea of having a dog around if we were married. He cannot stand the dog being near him or his things, and is afraid it is not safe to have her around babies we have in the future.
I'm the complete opposite because I know my dog’s personality and I know how to handle her.
If we were to get married, this man would want me to give her away. I don't want to consider that option because she is my responsibility and I care about her a lot. I don't want to have to choose between a great guy and my dog, and I feel resentful being put in this position by him. What can we do to resolve this?
Rosie and Sherry's Answer:
We can identify with your dilemma. One of us is a dog lover and owner, married to someone who has spent more than 14 years regretting the day he agreed his family could adopt a puppy. The other of us can't understand why people make dogs a part of their lives.
Our different outlooks help us understand where you and this man are both coming from. You love the pet you rescued from the pound and feel a sense of responsibility to take care of her and keep her safe. This man may never have developed an emotional bond with a pet and may find it difficult to appreciate how a human being can feel connected to an animal. It can be harder still to understand that giving up a beloved dog isn't the same as getting rid of a broken appliance or worn-out piece of furniture – the owner and pet both go through a grieving process, and the owner often feels lingering guilt.
Some people are simply not "wired" to be around animals.
We're convinced that people are born to either be dog lovers, or not. The Humane Society estimates that 39% of U.S. households have at least one dog and that there are 78.2 million pet dogs in the country. At the same time, there are plenty of people who don't want to share their space with a creature who sheds, barks, licks, has to be taken for walks, uses a portion of the family budget for food and veterinary care, and has the potential to cause injury through its bites. Sometimes, a person who is not fond of dogs can gradually learn to tolerate or even like one, but many others are simply not "wired" to want to be around these animals. Having a dog in the home may be something this man cannot compromise because it's too emotionally and/or physically difficult for him.
Devoted pet owners sometimes have compelling reasons to find their faithful, beloved dog a new home. A family member may develop an allergy; the owner has to relocate and can't take the pet along; a landlord has a "no pets" policy.
The dilemma you describe may be another compelling reason to give up your pet - if you decide that this man is someone you could marry and build a good life with, and he feels he can't live with a dog.
Having said this, we believe that it is beneficial for you to try to find a workable compromise. This can be a good opportunity to gain insight into the way you solve problems together, and how you view the subject of compromise. This will prove to one of the important factors to consider when you decide if you're right for each other to marry.
You can start by acknowledging each other's feelings about having the dog in your lives. You can admit that no matter how connected you feel to your pet, and how well you feel you know her, she will always have primal instincts that can't be disregarded. For example, none of us knows how our pet will react to life transitions, such as when we bring home a new spouse or a new baby. Many dogs need help adjusting to these changes. Even when they have come to relate well to newcomers, pet owners shouldn't take the situation for granted and should always supervise dogs around small children.
This pet is a collaborative effort to take each other's feelings into account.
He can acknowledge how much you love your pet and feel responsible for her. He can make an effort to acclimate to your dog, perhaps by taking her for walks, playing catch with her, giving her food or water, offering her a dog biscuit. Dogs are quick to respond favorably to people who interact with them. It sounds as if he may be concerned that your dog doesn't have enough behavioral boundaries. Perhaps she likes to sit on the couch or sleep in the bed and he dislikes this, or she sniffs around his things, jumps up on him, licks him, barks excessively, or tries to interfere when you sit together.
If this is the case, it might be helpful if you worked with a trainer to teach your dog boundaries that would make this man more comfortable with a dog in the house. It may also help to find a good boarding kennel so that you can go away for long weekends or vacations by yourselves and not have to worry whether the dog is well cared for. As you can see from our suggestions, it isn't just an issue of this man learning to tolerate your pet – it's a collaborative effort to take each other's feelings and concerns into account.
The Either-Or Choice
It could be that even though both of you sincerely attempt to find a way for him to accept your dog and you to address his concerns, he still may not be okay with the idea of a dog in his life. It's at this point that you're faced with an issue that can only be solved by one of you sacrificing for the sake of the relationship.
Many couples face issues like these – impasses that can't be resolved by a little give and take on each side. For example, if he lives on the east coast and she lives on the west - each with a good career and family ties - and neither wants a commuter marriage. They can end their promising relationship, or one of them can decide to relocate because marrying this partner is more important than a particular job. Couples struggle with this dilemma when one partner wants children and the other doesn't, one wants to keep a kosher home and the other doesn't, one wants to accept a great job abroad and the other wants to stay stateside.
One way to resolve an "either/or" dilemma is to look at how the two alternatives affect each of you, and make the decision which seems to be the best for your relationship. You may decide that having a dog isn't worth the discomfort it will cause this man, or he may decide that he'll tolerate the situation for your sake.
First, however, you’ll have to resolve the question of whether marrying someone who is right for you is more important to you than keeping your beloved dog. If you absolutely had to give away your pet in order to be married to a good man with whom you could build a loving home, would you do it? By deciding what priority marriage has in your life, you don't have to view your dilemma as a choice between this man and your dog. You either prioritize marriage, or prioritize having a dog.
If you decide that marriage is your priority, then you can focus on continuing to date and figuring out if he is right for you. (His willingness to try to acclimate to your dog, even though his efforts were not successful, will probably be a factor in your decision.) If both of you decide that you'd like to get married, you’ll have to find a new home for your pet.
Spouses don't come in perfect packages tied up in a pretty bow.
Once you've made the difficult choice, we suggest you accept it without guilt and without resentment. Life isn't perfect and spouses don't come in perfect packages tied up in a pretty bow. If you choose marriage over the dog, keep in mind that sometimes, for the sake of harmony, one of you has to be the one to give in – and that role will shift between the two of you in different situations.
Conversely, if you choose to keep the dog over marrying this man, try to accept the fact that sometimes there are "deal breakers" that can keep you from marrying someone who is otherwise right for you. This dog was your deal breaker.
We'd like to add a word about what may happen if you decide to give up your dog. Given the responsibility that owning a pet entails, this isn't an easy process on several levels. First, you can't just drive to a distant town and abandon the dog, or leave her on a vet's doorstep. Animal shelters are not always good alternatives, as many of them don't have a no-kill policy, and those that do sometimes warehouse dogs in unpleasant conditions. It's best to search for a loving home for your dog, a process that may take time and energy.
Second, you'll be giving up a beloved companion, and may feel sadness and grief for a while. It will be important for this man to be understanding of how difficult this is for you, and appreciate the extent to which you've demonstrated how much you value your relationship. If he is the right man, we suspect that his love and companionship will more than replace that which you lost with the dog.
We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,
Rosie & Sherry