Dear Prudence

Ruh Roh!

I caught my landlord in flagrante with his dog.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My wife and I live in a small apartment at the back of our landlords’ lot. They are a sweet, retired couple who have been very kind to us. The back door of their house faces our front door, and we walk past it when we come and go. One morning we decided to take our dog on a quick walk before leaving for work, which we don’t normally do. When we returned, as we came around the back of the landlords’ house we caught the man with his pants down, apparently having sex with his dog. He very quickly stood up, pulled up his pants, and acted as if he was just tying his shoe or something. We said good morning and quickly scooted back into our house. My wife and I both asked what the other saw and we were in agreement that him having sex with the dog is what it was. Should we just move out quietly or stay and pretend nothing happened? Do we tell his wife? Do we confront him directly? We are afraid we could get kicked out for speaking up. But I am afraid for my wife’s safety. They live with and take care of several young grandchildren and I am afraid for their safety, too.

—Grossed Out

Dear Grossed,
Yes, your landlord just screwed the pooch. The answer to what you do is contained in your letter: You are worried about the safety of your wife, his grandchildren, and presumably your dog. I think concern is justified when you’re describing someone with no sexual boundaries. What he’s done to his dog is likely illegal either under a specific bestiality statute or an animal cruelty law. This New York dog lover was sentenced to more than six years in prison for using his position as a building superintendent to repeatedly enter an apartment and violate the tenant’s Labrador puppy. As for what you should do, I spoke to Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. She said often people who see sexual misconduct don’t want to believe their own eyes or don’t feel empowered to take action. (Thus is explained the life of Jerry Sandusky.) Christopher says that when shocking behavior comes from someone you know and like, it can be even harder to report, but she points out that seemingly nice people can also be sexually deviant. Christopher additionally raises the possibility that this grandfather may be showing signs of dementia. You have no evidence your landlord is harming his grandchildren—maybe his sexual attraction is limited to the four-legged—but the authorities need to investigate what’s going on in this home. So calling the police is the way to get this started. Obviously, doing so leaves you with no choice but to move out. It’s hard to imagine running into your landlord when you’re both out for an evening walk with your dogs. Surely you don’t want to find yourself saying to him, “I think Princess is looking a little peaked.”


Dear Prudence,
I’m a man who has been dating this really cute and caring guy from Israel. He is everything I want a partner to be. However, he dodges my question about whether he has ever killed anyone. On our first date a year ago I asked him what he did for military service, and he said with a smile that he would have to kill me if he told me. I found out that is the standard response Israelis give when they can’t tell what they did in the military. But actually killing another person is a big deal that would change a normal human being permanently. I told him that if he did kill someone I understand it was a part of his job fighting for his country. However, I can’t deal with the uncertainty. He has asked me to move in, but I just can’t bear the thought of moving in with someone capable of killing another person, being nonchalant about it, and not trusting me enough to tell me. Do you think I should keep pushing him to tell me or am I overreacting?

—View to a Kill

Dear View,
I have heard from American service members and recent veterans who say they cringe at social events when civilians come over to them and start asking just this question. Their reluctance to answer is not out of nonchalance about this, but just the opposite. It is also unfair to pressure even an intimate partner as a test of trust to divulge what happened in combat. You are lucky to have never been to war, but you seem insensitive to those who have. It should hardly come as a surprise that being in the armed forces can entail directly killing the enemy, or being part of such an operation. If this bothers you, then don’t get involved with a veteran. However his military service may have changed your boyfriend, the result is what you see, and you say he’s everything you want in a partner. So that alone should settle your nerves. If the United States had compulsory service, you yourself might have had to bear arms against an enemy. I imagine you wouldn’t care to be badgered for the details. Fair enough that you’ve asked, but you’ve been given all the answer your boyfriend is comfortable providing and to which you are entitled.


Dear Prudence,
I’m in a relationship with a woman I love who is the mother to a delightful 5-year-old, whom I also love. Later this year, we will all be moving in together. I’m the type of guy who tends to acquiesce, but we’ve had some problems stemming from my partner’s demands on my attention and what I’ve felt to be relentless requests for help with tasks both domestic and professional. The other night she became upset with me because I wasn’t giving my undivided attention to the cartoon we put on for her daughter. There have been occasions when I’ve used movie time to do a bit of work on my laptop. This time I was glancing at my phone, actually looking at some historical information about the cartoon. My partner insisted I pay full attention. She said that we should be talking to her daughter about the things that she watches, and that we needed to show her that it is not OK to be on the phone, stare at a laptop, or read a book when we are spending quality time together. Was I failing as a partner and aspiring parent or is cartoon time a fair moment for a parental figure to look at Wikipedia?

—Tooning Out

Dear Tooning,
Oh, what an animated discussion you must have had exploring the hermeneutics of Frankenweenie with a 5-year-old. I agree electronic devices and reading material should be put away when the family is gathered around the dinner table. But being a parent myself, it was my understanding cartoons were invented in order to stick the kids somewhere safe while the adults tended to other business. I’ve only known your girlfriend for one paragraph, but I’m already exhausted by her. If you enjoy second-by-second monitoring of where your eyeballs are focused and “relentless requests for help with tasks” to assure your full attention is on her, then no wonder you’re in love. But if you need some down time, as you indicate you do, then you should be reconsidering your decision to live together. Problems tend to get exacerbated once you’re ensnared. On the other hand, maybe you find yourself looking forward to the daily viewing and exegesis of Doc McStuffins.


Dear Prudence,
I am a divorced woman in my early 50s who signed up for online dating. Six months ago I was contacted by a somewhat older man. I was not interested and politely told him so. He continued to write me on the site, sharing details of his life. He had a son he was estranged from, and was in declining health. The letters were heartbreaking. I answered letting him know that while I wasn’t interested romantically, I’d be happy to listen. One day he wrote that he was going to the Mayo Clinic. He begged to hear my voice and I consented to a call. It nearly broke my heart. He went to the clinic and imagine my surprise when they called me to report his condition following surgery. He’d listed me as his only contact! I didn’t hear from him for months and I thought he may have passed away. Today the phone rang. It was him. He is bed-bound at home and will soon move to hospice. Then he told me God told him that he should love me and that my love would be his salvation. I had to tell him that I did not love him. The he cried and begged me to visit him in hospice. What should I do?


Dear Conflicted,
I wonder if that really was a nurse from the Mayo Clinic calling you with the post-surgical update. I have a slight suspicion this guy may be a reverse Lennay Kekua, and all he needs to make a miraculous recovery are your tender mercies. But let’s take as fact that this man who came into your life because of a data dump is ending his alone. That’s sad, but you have to decide whether because of your generous spirit, or your inability to say, “Just leave me alone,” you’re willing to be sucked into the vortex of a stranger’s last days. Given your description of his personality, it’s easy to understand his lack of companionship since he’s pathetic and draining. Fortunately, his decision to use hospice means he won’t die alone. The lovely people who do this work will be in frequent touch with him, monitoring his condition, and tending to him as his days dwindle. You have nothing to feel guilty about if you decline to meet at his deathbed the man you never had any interest in.

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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

Update, Feb. 21, 2013: This column previously included an animated video of a Dear Prudence letter titled “Girl With an Endless Appetite,” in which a child is portrayed as a pig. After consideration, the video has been removed.