Let he who is without sin, throw the first tennis ball

Except where children and weddings are concerned, and always when a situation is vague or ambiguous, Carolyn Hax heroically refrains from passing judgment on those who write in to her.  Even when it feel really, really hard not to.  Case in point:

In Friday’s chat, a woman wrote in looking for advice about whether to get a dog.  Wait, scratch that.  Not a dog, a puppy:

Chicago: How difficult is it to raise a dog? I live in a very dog-friendly city (with many parks and beaches and dog-oriented services such as dog walkers and doggy day care). I have friends with dogs, I’ve dog-sat before, so I have an idea of what it’s like to raise one. My boyfriend seems to think I can’t handle it (I did have cats before…didn’t work out, I gave them to the Humane Society when they were still kittens, but to my defense I was only 23 and definitely not ready). I’m in a different place right now, emotionally (now 27) and physically (didn’t live in Chicago several years back), and I would love a puppy. I don’t need my boyfriend’s approval but I’d like him to be on-board with my decision, since we are planning on getting married. Any thoughts?

So much about this makes me want to scream DO NOT GET A DOG!!!!!! The most obvious being

  1. The cliche (but true) “if you can’t handle cats, what makes you think you can handle a dog?”
  2. She’s asking, broadly, “how hard is it to raise a dog?”  This strikes me as comparable to saying “how hard is it to raise a kid?”  Um.  Depends on you, the dog, your job, commute time, home, commitment to exercise and discipline, disposable income, patience, temper, and desire to travel.  Over the next 15 years.  It’s not a question with an answer.  The fact that she’s asking it concerns me–sounds like she’s just looking for confirmation/support, not actually thinking it through.

But, while I was quick to align myself with the boyfriend, who doesn’t think “Chicago” can handle a dog, Carolyn refrained from criticizing her, and instead gave her options to dip her toe into the doggy pool–and called the boyfriend out on his criticism:

Carolyn Hax: First, don’t get a puppy if you’re not sure. They’re much more difficult to have than adult dogs.

And, you might want to consider fostering first. A lot of rescue groups place dogs in temporary homes (a) because it’s better than being in a pen at a shelter, and (b) because most rescue dogs need some TLC, either because of medical issues or just because they need some basic training (housebreaking, obedience) to make them better candidates for adoption.

So, you could narrow down your breed preference–or just figure out your best size and temperament fit–and approach rescue groups as a volunteer. There will likely be some screening involved–there’s less red tape in having a baby (0) than there is in adopting an animal–but you can get that process going today.

BTW, is it possible your BF doesn’t want a dog, or doesn’t want the hassle of your having a dog? Suggesting you can’t handle it is a remarkable lack of faith, and I wonder what his justification is for that.

Hm.  I’m not sure fostering is the best idea….kind of like recommending that someone find out if they like teaching by subbing.  People who fantasize about getting a dog seem to want one for the relationship they’d have with it.  Plus, as Carolyn notes, dogs fostered from the humane society are likely to need extra time, treatment, attention, etc.  I’m not sure that’s a great choice for someone who’s never owned a dog before, period.

Chicago again: He has grown up with dogs his entire life (golden retrievers) and loves them but thinks that if I get one, he’s going to end up doing most of the work and he’s not ready for that just yet. He also doesn’t think it’s right to have a dog in the city (his condo is small, no backyard) and wants to wait until we move to the suburbs (Barf. I hate the suburbs. But even so, that’s not for a while anyway, maybe several more years). He also thinks I’m a bit whimsical in nature, which may be true, but I have been thinking about this for a while. But I think volunteering/fostering might be a good first step.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like fostering makes sense on a lot of levels. Having experience with goldens does matter, but the breed of a dog makes a difference. There are dogs with all ranges of exercise needs, and unless he had extremely mellow goldens, he’s used to dogs that need to get a good workout. (Retriever = working dog, no matter how commonly they’re seen as family dogs; same goes for border collies, shepherds, pointers, hounds, etc.) There are excellent breeds for city life, and some research will point you to them.

Now, many rescue dogs are also mutts, and even the veteran shelter staff can be mystified by some of these guys–but they aren’t mystified by the temperaments they see. That’s another argument for an adult: You won’t be guessing about final size or mood. What you see will be what you get.

This was going to be more about relationships than dog breeds, but I got carried away. Sorry.

Anyway … (more)

Hm.  Carolyn’s right, here…if the bf has only ever had retrievers, then his experience, too, is limited.  No wonder he thinks–and he would be right–that it’s unfair to have such a dog in a small condo with no yard.  In this case, Carolyn’s advice to do good research about what kind of dog would be happy and healthy in that environment is good.…but….read on:

Carolyn Hax: I balk at the idea of your “proving” anything to your boyfriend, since your last post makes him sound awfully patronizing. You’re your own person, and while you’re right to consider the future, it’s still time for you to do with your life what you think is right. If he really has so little faith in you, then it will be important for him to see whether his prediction bears out. I just hope that, if you do flake out on him, he makes up his mind one way or the other, to break up with you or love you (and his new dog responsibilities) as-is. Trying to have it both ways, to keep someone close while also vocally doubting him or her, is a well-tested recipe for misery.

Well said.  But wait.  Something just struck me that I didn’t catch the first time around.  Is she living with him, in his small, yard-less condo?  Or does she virtually live there?  This is never made explicit, but it definitely seems possible.  Why else would the size and layout of his condo matter to the discussion?  If she lives in a condo he owns, and wants to get a dog he doesn’t want (and doesn’t think she needs his “approval,”) there are even more complicated problems here.  But again–this is exactly my point: this is me, jumping to conclusions and filling in gaps to arrive at what I think is a convenient judgment.

Another reader said:

Chicago & Dog: I’m waiting for your more response….but didn’t the “he wants to wait until the suburbs and her saying yuck – bring up a red flag?

Seems like they aren’t on the same page in other areas either.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I was going there when I said he sounds patronizing; their being together does seem to be predicated on his being right about things, like when it’s okay to have dogs, when it’s time to move to the burbs, and when one deserves to be taken seriously. I hope she asserts herself here, if only to make it clear who she is.

Argh, once again to me it sounds like she’s the one being cagey: she’s accepted that the suburbs are in their future, but snidely adds a “yuck” when talking to other people.  He’s obviously been clear about his plans and desires.  To me, it sounds like she hasn’t been.  But that’s not fair of me, right? Why is it so hard for me not to roll my eyes at this woman?

I wasn’t the only one to question this person.  At least one reader wrote in with a similar comment to mine above:

Washington, D.C.: For “wants a dog in Chicago”: if she couldn’t even take care of cats, how does she expect to take care of a dog? Dogs need much more care and attention than cats, not to mention the multiple walks per day. If you feed the cats and make sure their litter box is clean, they’re pretty much good to go.

And Carolyn lays it out on the table:

Carolyn Hax: I think the point was, that was then, this is now. The BF is taking the past miscalculation as evidence that a dog is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to jump to the same conclusion. A dog is a bad idea only if the circumstances that led to the cat reversal are unchanged, and if she doesn’t fully appreciate what having a dog involves vs a cat. A foster situation would be illuminating on both counts. And if her daily schedule is such that any agency would say she’s not a fit for a dog, then that will tell her a lot, too.

Hm.  What do you think?  Did I let my annoyance that she dumped her kittens at the shelter unfairly color my interpretation of everything she said after that?  Or did Carolyn withhold judgment to the extent of not asking questions about some definitely questionable details?  What’s your take on “Chicago”?

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2 responses to “Let he who is without sin, throw the first tennis ball

  1. Eh… maybe I’m just feeling judgmental, but I agree. She describes herself as “whimsical” (which I interpreted as a “cute” word for irresponsible…), and really had no redeeming factors for her side of the story. I think that in advice columns in general, the letter writer can really tell their side however they want, twist the facts if necessary, etc.; and if you still don’t agree with them, well, then they’re probably wrong.

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