Help! My Girlfriend Keeps Making Her Pets My Problem

I do not like animals, but last week my girlfriend brought home a puppy. We already have two cats, and I'm the one who always cleans their litter box and makes sure they have food and water set out all the time. We both work different hours, so now most of my relaxing time at home is disturbed by this dog that is definitely not potty trained yet and just chases the cats around the entire house. My girlfriend loves this dog, so I don't want to make her get rid of it and look like a horrible person in the process, but I also don't want to be stuck training or taking care of it (and I know I will be). What would you do in my situation? I need some professional advice! —Hairy Situation
Dear Hairy Situation,

Before I try to answer your question, I have to come clean. When my husband Mark and I first met 30 years ago I lived with a 7-year-old boy, two snakes, two cats, a dog, a bunch of tropical fish, two turtles, and, if I remember correctly, a couple of hamsters. All this in a typical (read small) Manhattan apartment. After we wed, Mark said, “I didn’t just marry Lynn—I joined her biosphere.”

Mark had grown up with almost no pets, except, after much lengthy pleading, a goldfish his mother bought him, and which died pretty fast.

I have never lived without a pet, and I loved all the members of what Mark called my biosphere, even my son’s snakes! I had those creatures before I met Mark, so I did most of the work, which was fair, except Mark kindly walked the dog every morning and sometimes at night, too, and he cleaned out the cat box when I was pregnant. He has learned to feed the livestock if he gets up first, but he refuses to sleep with any animals other than me. That was a blow to me and the cats, but we adjusted.

Now Mark says, “I’ve grown to like the beasts.” When he says this, I think (but do not say), “Beasts? What beasts?”

The snakes, the dog, the fish, the turtles, and the hamsters all died eventually, and we slowly pared down on livestock, but I cannot bear a house without cats. I have always lived with cats. My earliest happy memory is visiting a mama cat and her newborn babies.

My thoughts about you and your girlfriend, the dog and the two cats? First off, I think all members of a household, both furry and not so furry, have to agree before adopting anyone new. No one joins up unless everybody is on board. The puppy is the new baby, and I wonder when and how he or she appeared. Was there discussion? The ASPCA and other adoption agencies (pet stores, not so much) try to make sure all family members agree before adding a new member to the family. This protects the furries and the less furry. Cats and dogs are a responsibility, and taking one into your home is like having a child. You are responsible for the animal’s well-being. They deserve love, compassion, and respect—just like humans.

The problem is not with the four-legged critters; the problem here is with the bipeds. It’s important that the concerns of both parties be heard—fully heard—by the other.

Through no fault of their own, furry companions walk into the line of fire and elicit strong emotional reactions between people. The furries become symbols of communication problems. They can be a bridge between their people or they can be a dividing line. This is not fair to anyone.

I suggest that you and your girlfriend have a long and frank talk together, not only about the pets but also (and most importantly) how you connect and make decisions together. You might consider relationship counseling so you can get back on track. The problem is not with the four-legged critters; the problem here is with the bipeds. It’s important that the concerns of both parties be heard—fully heard—by the other.

Dr. Joel Gavriele-Gold wrote a book about this called When Pets Come Between Partners: How to Keep Love—and Romance—in the Human/Animal Kingdom of Your Home. You and your girlfriend might want to read it together.

Best wishes,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Sal

    Sal

    November 14th, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    This could be about more than the pets it could just be that she doesn’t respect you enough to listen to how you feel about the animals.

  • Leslie

    Leslie

    November 16th, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    If you are married then I can see that this is a we are in this together kind of thing but if you are not sure about how this relationship is going to go, then I don’t think that you should have to have the pets as your responsibility. On the other hand though if you are living together then I guess they are part of the whole house responsibilities.

  • mika

    mika

    November 16th, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    So you love the girlfriend but not the pets. But having pets is obviously something that is very important to her. My thoughts are that of you wish to keep the girlfriend then chances are you are going to have to learn to love the pets too.

  • ricki

    ricki

    November 19th, 2015 at 12:26 PM

    Would there be any possibility of sending the dog to be trained or to have a trainer to work with all of you together so that living together would work a little better?
    Having a new puppy can be a real challenge for a lot of people especially if you do not always feel like you have the time or the patience to make it all work.
    they are wonderful animals and can ultimately bring you a whole lot of joy but I also know that is a lot of hard and diligent work for their people too.

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