Care and Feeding

I Don’t Want My 10-Month-Old Near My Brother-in-Law’s Pit Bull

He doesn’t train or take care of the dog, but my mother-in-law says I’m the one ruining holidays.

toddler and pit bull
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Patryk Sobczak/Unsplash and David Taffet/Unsplash.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Eight years ago my husband’s brother took in a stray pit bull. “Beauty” is a gentle giant who mostly wants to snuggle and lets my brother-in-law’s parakeet nibble her head. She also got into a fight with my spaniel over a toy five years ago that left my dog with a 6-inch gash to the throat and me with an $800 vet bill. I hold no grudges over that.

My husband and I now have a 10-month-old. As the baby became more mobile, my dog became more anxious and snappy, to the point that we made the difficult decision to rehome her. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know it was the right decision to keep my dog happy and my baby safe.

When we visit my in-laws across the state, my brother-in-law wants to bring Beauty along. I have made it clear to everyone in my family that I don’t want a dog with that kind of lethal capability near my child. Grandma says we will simply keep them in different areas of the house, but during the first visit, Beauty was left right outside our bedroom door for extended periods, and during others, the dog bolted out of her room and right up to the baby before anyone could stop her. (Have I mentioned I’m seeing a therapist for postpartum anxiety?)

Complicating the issue is that my brother-in-law is generally irresponsible—he’s bad at holding jobs, managing money, and taking care of himself. He has never once taken Beauty to the vet because “he can’t afford it.” She cannot be boarded because she’s had no shots. He has no friends willing to dog-sit. So if Beauty can’t come to visit, he can’t come.

Grandma says I’m driving a wedge in her family and forcing her to choose between her son and her grandchild. I’ve offered to travel across the state, take Beauty to the vet myself, and board her at my own expense. My husband says we can’t afford that, and he’s right, but I would do it for peace within the family. The grandparents also live in a small town with no nearby hotels, so that’s not an option for us.

Is there another solution I’m not seeing here? Am I being ridiculous in my demands, as Grandma contends? I don’t want to cause pain in the family, but I don’t know what else to do.

—Pit Bull Problems

Dear PBP,

Ah, yes, “Are Pit Bulls Dangerous or Just Misunderstood?”—the third rail of professional advice-giving. I have a variety of opinions about pit bulls, many of which are in conflict and none of which actually need to play a role in how I answer this particular question. This experience, however, has led me to know that the comments will go BANANAS, and I will get thousands of emails over the next week, regardless of my answer. Three of them will be “What IS a pit bull, anyway?” and include a meditation on the variety of dog breeds more commonly associated with pit bulls.

The only generalization I will make here about pit bulls is that they are substantially more likely to be dog-aggressive than person-aggressive, they have always been solid canine citizens in my presence, and when shit goes very wrong, they do have the ability to inflict significantly more lethal wounds than many other breeds. All of this seems pretty much in keeping with your experience of Beauty, who—breed stereotypes aside—is a person-sweet dog of unknown background and currently crummy handling and who has almost killed a smaller dog.

Now, my answer:

Your brother-in-law sounds like a real loser. He’s gonna get that sweet girl put down! He cannot afford to care for her basic needs and is unwilling to supervise her adequately. She doesn’t have her shots! Sheesh.

And I’m so sorry you had to rehome your dog as your baby got grabbier. It happens. I am thrilled to hear you are seeing a therapist for your PPA. You seem like a reasonable enough person (especially considering Beauty almost opened your dog up like a tin can).

You’re not being ridiculous in your demands, but it’s Grandma’s house. I think you and your husband need to talk to your brother about the exact mechanics of keeping the baby and Beauty apart. Bring baby gates! Treat the dog like she’s sunlight in The Others! I truly believe that you and your husband can keep your baby safe in this house for a few days. I absolutely would not say this if I didn’t think it was true. I would tell you to flip everyone off and stay home watching The Family Stone in your undies eating Cheez Whiz from a spray can if I thought your baby was in danger.*

Cut your visit shorter than usual, and make sure Grandma knows why. Put the heat on your brother-in-law for a change, and maybe she’ll put some pressure on him to change his ways instead of you. You’re the gatekeeper of the grandchild, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next time you go, the dog stays in the basement.

I demand updates. I am cheering for you. And please talk to your therapist before, during, and after this trip.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’d like a ruling on when it’s appropriate to go all in on car seat safety. I’m pretty clear about what is acceptable for my children, whether in my car or being driven by someone else. We have a long commute to work and school, and cars are dangerous, so I’m pretty conservative: rear-facing past 2, harness until the child can behaviorally cope with a booster, booster until achieving safe height.

I’ve dealt with a lot of whining from my kids about being more strict than their friends’ parents on this issue, but I ignore that. However, someone who reports to me at work posted a photo of his 22-month-old in his car in a forward-facing booster seat. This is not the first time I’ve seen inappropriate car seat photos online, and I’ve never said anything. But this feels so egregiously unsafe.

Can I say something? Do I need to let it go? The employer relationship obviously complicates things, and it’s overall one more reason not to add your boss on Facebook (he made the friend request, and I should have turned it down). This feels like it’s in the blurry line between endangering a child and failing to do everything in the kid’s best interest .

—Car Seat Safety Evangelist

Dear CSSE,

I commend you on your attention to car seat safety. We are so fortunate to live in a time in which we understand so much more about the mechanics of crumpling and internal decapitation and all those other hideous accidents that have resulted in better technology and usage.

Don’t say anything about a 22-month-old in a forward-facing seat in general. It’s perfectly legal in lots of states, although I do encourage you to keep ’em rear-facing until they just don’t fit anymore (in various Scandinavian countries, they just cross and tuck their legs and rear-face until they can essentially move to the driver’s spot).

You didn’t say car seat, though. You said “booster,” and that’s pretty dangerous! It’s also hugely likely to be illegal, which makes the situation easier for you. As a reference point, you can pull up your state’s specific laws to see if what he’s doing is actively illegal. I do think it’s OK to say something to your report (though it’s unfortunate he’s your report and not just a colleague, but here we are).

I’m going to recommend a little white lie to you (I’m sorry, but lies can be hugely useful). Tell him: “Your Facebook picture of Otto reminded me that a friend of mine got pulled over and ticketed last week when the police noticed her baby was in a booster seat instead of a five-point harness! They really read her the Riot Act. Here’s a link to the state law. I’m warning everyone I know with babies.” Don’t go high drama with this, just informative, polite, and understanding.

There is really nothing else you can do. People get very touchy, especially about their parenting, and especially those who were essentially riding loose in the hatchback of their parents’ cars until college. Ideally, this conversation should last one minute and the emotional level should stay below a 4 out of 10.

Dear Care and Feeding,

It happened. Our daughter saw us having sex. Exciting sex. (I mean, kinky sex.) She’s 14. She refuses to discuss what happened. I want to die! Is everything lost?

—Nightmare

Dear Nightmare,

HAAAAAH. Oh, no. Oh, I am SO sorry. Ahhh. OK. It happened! It’s OK.

I’m thrilled you’re still having kinky sex. Way to go! And 14 is a good age for this experience, honestly, because a grimly silent smaller child might be quietly traumatized and deeply concerned about your safety and well-being, but most 14-year-olds are going to just be disgusted and embarrassed. Neither of which are terminal conditions!

I am famous in my friend group for warning parents of small kids to purchase a big opaque Rubbermaid bin that can fit a padlock, dump all their sex stuff in it, and lock that puppy up long before their children gain the ability to go through all their stuff while they’re napping on the couch. Kids don’t want to know this stuff.

Your daughter is going to get a riotously great story out of this to tell in college with a few drinks in her, and one day she’ll be vaguely pleased you two are still horny for each other. In the meantime, leave a physical note offering to answer any questions she might have, and do not expect her ever to respond to it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Do I have to join the PTA?

—Please Say No

Dear PSN,

You absolutely do not.

—Nicole

Correction, Nov. 5, 2018: This article originally misspelled Cheese Whiz.