Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
My husband and I have been together for 20 years. I grew up with a menagerie of pets, and he didn’t have any. (His mother hates animals.) Today we have two cats, though I desperately want a dog. We both work full time, but I permanently work from home so I would provide 100 percent of the care (as I do for the cats—I don’t mind; I’m the animal caretaker). He’s ambivalent about the cats, but he says we can absolutely not get a dog. He says they are too messy, smelly, and expensive, and he gets angry when I bring it up. But really … those are not good reasons to me to not adopt a dog! We have a huge property and both work in the tech industry, where we make good salaries. I’ve wanted a dog for 20 years and have never been able to get one, but Hubby spends freely on his incredibly expensive hobby. Is my marriage doomed? Is there any way to convince him to “let” me get a dog? (By the way, I know pets are generally a family decision that should be unanimous, but I consider myself a modern feminist, and the idea that I need my husband’s permission for anything really, really irks me.)
Is there any hope? I want a dog in my life, and I’d like to keep my husband too.
My family says I should just get the dog and let the chips fall where they may.
Please help me convince him that a dog is not the end of the world!
—Living in a Dog-Less Marriage
Dear Living in a Dog-Less Marriage,
Humans didn’t always like dogs. According to one widely believed theory, history’s greatest friendship began thousands of years ago when packs of relatively docile wolves began loitering near hunter-gatherer camps to nosh on the leftovers and trash. These proto-pups realized this strategy was far easier than hunting, and so the species began its millennia-long effort to enter our good graces. Wolves evolved into dogs, and nature’s supreme suck-ups now live inside our houses and eat specially formulated food that we invented just for them. Playing the long game worked.
Nevertheless, some Homo sapiens, like your husband, have managed to resist dogs’ charm offensive. You may find it annoying, but you should be happy he’s doing this now and not thousands of years ago. If he had been one of those hunter-gatherers hanging around the campfire, he might have chased away those affable wolves and changed the course of human and canine history forever. Who knows, we could all be snuggling with our domesticated possums right now.
I sympathize with your frustrations. You feel you are being denied something we both believe is great. The companionship that a pooch provides is special, and it’s hard for dog lovers to understand why some people wouldn’t want that in their lives. Hell, even the Grinch had a dog. But I don’t think your husband is a petty monster who lives in a cave and steals presents from the little wormlike mutants in Whoville. (Unless that’s the expensive hobby you allude to in your email.) Getting a dog is a big deal, and I imagine he’s more concerned about the general threat of change than the animal itself.
The “get a dog and let the chips fall where they may” strategy is pretty common. There’s even an entire Reddit page dedicated to dads who were once reluctant to get pets but are now helpless puddles of doting adoration. It’s insanely cute! Still, it’s a risky tack to take. A dog should be a source of joy, not resentment. You have the right to make this decision yourself, but the pup is going to have to live with everyone in your household no matter what. If this is going to drive a wedge between you and your husband, please think hard about that possibility—and about the furry wedge’s own well-being before you do it.
Your husband could become enchanted by the dog and turn into one of those adorable Reddit dads. But the opposite response is also possible. What matters most is that you are 100 percent confident that you can keep and care for the dog no matter the situation—and that any situation, including one that damages your marriage—is worth it.
You want me to convince your husband that getting a dog won’t be the end of the world, but I can’t do that. Only a dog can help accomplish this, which brings us to a potential solution. Shelters and rescue agencies are always looking for families to foster their animals. It’s still a lot of responsibility, but it might be easier to persuade your husband to give this a try because it is by definition temporary. (Though it can become permanent if you want it to be.) Think of it as a compromise with an option to convince.
This is not the simplest answer, especially with children or cats (make sure the shelter knows about them, by the way!). But at the very least, it’s a great way to help animals in need. With any luck, one of them might be able to turn your husband into a gushing dog lover, just like the rest of us.