Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Bad for pets: I love my girlfriend, and while she has a wonderful heart, she isn’t too practical. She will “rescue” animals—picking up kittens in free boxes and grabbing strays off the street— but can’t take care of them long term. She spends all her money taking these impulse-nabbed pets to the vet; I usually have to take care of her bills. Her current roommate is ready to throw her out over this. I make a little more money and share a house, but I can’t keep her rescues at my house anymore. My roommates have taken to a few of the pets, but my girlfriend upsets them by still referring to them as “hers.”
My girlfriend and I are fighting about this. She wants to ask my parents to keep the larger dogs she found in their backyard and says she will come over to take care of them. My parents live more than an hour away. I don’t know how to get through this. Every time I think we come to a solution, she finds another animal. Help!
A: I think it’s time to stop finding solutions with your girlfriend, and instead think through what you are and aren’t willing to do as an individual. I’m worried I’ll get a letter from you in a few years that reads, “My girlfriend moved in with me after her roommates kicked her out. Things are mostly great, but she keeps bringing surprise pets home and it’s destroying our carpets (and my peace of mind).” I don’t want that future for you!
If you can’t keep taking in her strays, then tell her so: “I won’t be able to look after any more animals you find, so you’ll have to come up with alternate arrangements.” Even if she doesn’t like it, you can still hold firm to your decision. You might also want to decide whether you think it’s a good financial investment for you to continue to pay her vet bills for every “free kitten” she finds. If you decide to discontinue this practice (and I think you should), give her a warning in advance that you’re no longer available to pay for these trips to the vet, and then hold firm. Either she will find other means of supporting these animals, or she will stop doing it.
Whichever path she chooses, you don’t need her permission or agreement in order to get out of the pet adoption game. Fighting with her over your parents is an unwinnable scenario. Instead of going back and forth over whether she’ll realistically be able to shuttle over to their house on a regular basis to care for more of her long-distance pets, say this: “I’m not going to ask my parents to foster these dogs, and I’m not going to help you rehome any more pets you find in the future. You’ll have to find someone else or call animal services; either way, this isn’t an argument I’m going to have with you anymore.” The fact that she keeps “finding animals” isn’t a problem of yours unless you agree to make it a problem. Your solution will work as long as you refuse to take responsibility for her manufactured emergencies.