Dear Alison and Tony: My boyfriend Frank and I have been seeing each other for about nine months. I’m 32 and ready to get married and I think Frank might be “the one,” but while Frank and I have discussed moving our relationship forward, I have a problem that seems almost unsolve-able. My problem is that Frank is doesn’t really like cats. He does have a dog (“Daisy”). Since we don’t live together, I spend most of my time at his place, not just because he doesn’t really like to be in my house around the cats, but also because Daisy seems to need constant supervision (Daisy gets destructive if Frank isn’t paying enough attention to her). Since I am spending so much time at Frank’s house, my two beautiful cats are now alone a lot. I feel guilty about this. I’ve had my kitties for many years and they’re like children to me. Eventually I’d like to move in with my boyfriend and blend our households, but Frank says the only we he consider if is if I give my cats away. He gets to keep the dog, of course. I love Frank, but this arrangement seems unfair, and puts me in an impossible position of having to choose between him and my cats. Can you two offer some help?
Fran the Fur Mom
Alison’s Take: I’m an animal lover and am particularly fond of my two cats, so your note struck a chord with me.
My first reaction to your question was: “why did you date someone who disliked cats if they are a must-have in your life?” One of the key things to finding lasting love with someone is to figure out your top must-haves and non-negotiables. If your cats are your family, someone who can’t incorporate you as a “package deal” into their life, is not someone you should have ever dated in the first place!
Now you’re in the very situation you could have avoided if you had considered Frank’s most significant negative — that he doesn’t like the very creatures you adore. And secondly, Frank may be a wonderful man, but he is already committed to someone else who came before you. That would be, Daisy. Dogs become territorial and destructive when they are not trained properly, but they also do so to control the owner. Daisy’s destructiveness keeps Frank close to her and that is just what she wants.
Frank may have some good qualities, but compassion isn’t one of them, nor is respect for your feelings. His conditions for moving your relationship forward are harsh, cruel, and selfish. Perhaps for him, pets are just “nice company” but not on an equal footing with people, so he doesn’t think it’s such a big deal to insist you abandon your cats to accommodate time with him. But for you, pets are not just nice company, they are beloved family members. I am assuming you have told him this, but he has ignored it. It might be inconvenient, maybe even a bit unpleasant, for Frank to incorporate the cats into his life, but if he really loves you and wants to be with you, he has to make room for all of you. Shockingly, I have heard about women who have abandoned their actual children so they and a new love can be alone, travel etc. These women have no hearts and should never have been mothers. And consider the cruel and selfish men who would make such a request. Would you really want to be with someone like that? If your cats were actual daughters and Frank didn’t like children, would you abandon those daughters to be with Frank?
When you bring a pet into your life, you make a commitment for the rest of that pet’s life and it is a sacred trust. They rely on you for food, shelter and love. And in return, they love you as only animals can (pets don’t talk back and they are always sympathetic listeners). If you doubt that abandoning your beloved furry ones would break their hearts along with yours, I have personally witnessed the distress of animals who have been sent away simply because their owners could no longer care for them. These animals display the same symptoms of broken hearts as humans do. Abandoned, the once-loved and now rejected creatures become depressed and sometimes, become almost feral.
Ask yourself: “what really is Frank’s issue with my cats, other than he prefers his dog?” Some people are afraid of cats, but that isn’t what you mentioned. Other than being severely allergic (which you didn’t mention either), it doesn’t matter what Frank’s objections are. If you allow Frank to take complete control of this situation, he will continue to be the “master” of your relationship and dictate to you for the rest of your lives. He wants you to live on his terms alone, and he needs to compromise. For starters, he should leave his precious dog for a night now and then to be in your home with your cats, so your precious pets aren’t neglected. My strong suspicion is that if you push back on the cat issue, he will prove that he cares for his dog more than you. That will be all you need to know to show him the (dog) door and find someone next time who loves you and your cats.
Tony’s Take: Pets are very important to us, providing emotional support and allowing us to express our love and caring to another creature that shows it’s appreciation. For the most part our pets are who we are so love , so it’s love me, love my pets. That being said, there are various reasons why this might not work, such as allergies or irrational fears. Many people are allergic to one or more breeds of cats or dogs but, if you are choosing a new pet, there are other breeds which will not trigger an allergic reaction (I know one person that even though he is allergic loves his cats so much he has endured 40 years of discomfort). As far as irrational fears, I know one woman who can not be around cats without facing a panic attack and another woman that has the same problem with dogs.
When you are blending two lives that contain pets, you must be aware of the personalities of the pets. For example a single cat that has been the only pet for years bonds hard to their owner and does not tolerate other pets or even other human beings easily. They may get jealous of another pet or human and get destructively lonely if left by themselves too long. Two cats are better because they will keep each other company and will bond with multiple humans. Two cats that were litter mates are a good choice because they grew up together. If not, getting one male and one female cat cuts down on competition. Dogs are similar in that they get bored without company and may act out. But in this case, the cats aren’t the problem. Frank doesn’t understand cats (he wants instant unconditional affection which is not the way of cats) and probably been badly influenced by knowing another person’s single cat in the past. However, Fran has two cats that would accept frank and his dog, easily.
To understand Frank, you need to understand his dog. In this case, Daisy is a female dog that is hard bonded to him as alpha male. The dog is ill disciplined as a cry for attention and he has handled this badly. Is there any reason to believe he would be any better as a father? (The ultimate question any woman has to ask herself is do I want this man to be the father of my children).
In loving someone you accept who they are and therefore must love or at least tolerate those people or creatures that they love. Frank is uncaring and insensitive, and those traits will color the relationship for as long as it lasts. That being said, I believe that we have no logical control over who we love. Fran, therefore you must decide in your heart how much of yourself you would sacrifice to be with your boyfriend, and whether the resentment would eventually destroy the relationship.
Tony’s Response to Alison: In this case we agree in the entirety but Alison’s analysis is much more passionate and beautiful than mine was. She, as a woman, has seen this happen before, the sacrifice of self for the sake of a relationship, and has brought that experience to her reply.
Alison’s response to Tony: Tony, your suggestion that how a man handle’s his pet may be an indication of how he would be as a father, is an interesting one. In Frank’s case, he has already shown he has some issues regarding the training and care of his dog. But more importantly, he has given Fran clear warning that he wants to control every aspect of the relationship, while clearly not controlling things in his own life. You say that we haven’t any control over who we love, but we do have control over getting involved with someone who isn’t right for us. Fran knew that Frank disliked her cats, yet she continued to date him. The real issue isn’t even about whether or not Fran keeps her cats, but whether or not she keeps Frank in her life. That’s going to be a difficult decision, because he has made it so. If I were Fran, I’d keep the cats, and ditch Frank. He’s not worthy of being the father or her children, or the “Fur daddy” to her cats.