Dear Prudence

Help! My Housemate Leaves His Elderly Dog Outside All the Time.

It’s getting colder, and I’m getting worried.

A dog next to a thermometer with a low temp reading.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by adogslifephoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Vitalii Barida/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

My best friend of 14 years and I recently moved in together after the purchase of my new home. One of his three dogs is 16 years old and has troubles with incontinence, using the steps to get into/out of the yard, and movement in general. The incontinence is no issue, as my friend is very tidy and regularly cleans up; however, recently as the dog has gotten worse, he has taken to leaving her outside most of the day and night. This was a questionable approach in the summer but as winter nears and temps are getting below freezing, I have been uncomfortable with this set up. I brought this up to my friend, and he said I need to mind my own business when it comes to his dog. I don’t want to lose a friendship over this, but I can’t sleep knowing she is outside when it’s 30 degrees with no shelter. Is there something else I can say to him?

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— Dog Woes

Dear Dog Woes,

You’re right to be concerned. Everything I’ve read suggests it’s a bad idea for most dogs to be kept outside when it gets below 45 degrees. It’s unfair that you’re in this situation, but I think the compassionate thing to do would be to let the dog inside yourself and take responsibility for cleaning up the resulting accidents. The inconvenience this causes for you will ultimately be less upsetting than lying in bed knowing an animal is freezing and suffering outside. Be honest with your friend about why you’re doing it, and share some of the easily available information that confirms that this isn’t really an issue about which reasonable people can disagree.

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If he pushes back, or taking this responsibility becomes unsustainable for you, you should reach out for help. I’m going to recycle some of the advice I received in a “We’re Prudence” column about a similar situation. This came from Monica Potts, the co-founder of an animal rescue in Arkansas:

I would say my first advice would be to seek out a local humane society, SPCA, or shelter, if there is one. There may not be! Lots of more rural areas don’t have one. She should try to find time to sit down with the directors, someone on the board, etc., and ask for advice. If she can get that far, they can come up with a plan to approach the owners. She can find out why they have the dogs, whether they want them, whether they could use help with them, and how amenable they might be to working with a rescue for rehoming them. If they’re on board, it’s better for everyone.

It’s always a good idea not to be judgmental in these situations. People have a wide range of ideas on how to treat dogs … If there isn’t a shelter or nonprofit, she should find whatever local group of people DO care about dogs there. There’s bound to be some, and there’s probably a Facebook lost and found group. They’ll know the contours, and maybe how to help the family and the dogs.

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So basically, there are undoubtedly people around you who dedicate themselves to giving animals better lives, and have experience nudging owners toward better treatment, and you should lean on them for support.

Finally, I completely understand that you don’t want to damage a friendship (and roommate situation) over this. But this isn’t about your friend taking bad care of his pet by, say, doing a poor job training him or feeding him too many table scraps. He’s actually causing this animal to suffer, and I have a hard time believing his indifference to suffering doesn’t show up in other ways. I can’t say for sure, but I would think about taking a step back and looking at this person’s behavior in other areas of life and asking yourself how much you really value the relationship.

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Dear Prudence,

Recently on social media, I got bombarded with accusations of being a childhood bully from a stranger. She accused me of destroying her mental health and even driving her to a suicide attempt as a teen. I was completely baffled and promptly blocked this person. I didn’t remember anything like that, but there were enough details in the messages that added up—like the name of the middle school I went to.

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I ended up reaching out to my mother and sister. My mother recognized the last name as one of our old neighbors, and it flipped a mental switch for my sister. It had to be the weird kid that rode on the same bus as her until we moved her freshman year. I asked if she had done anything to this girl, and my sister told me no. Other than not wanting to sit next to her and listen to her weirdness. She pointed out that the woman got us mixed up. We are three years apart, but have similar coloring and sounding names (think Ally and Callie). My sister told me this woman was projecting and couldn’t be bothered to get the right sister. She obviously had issues.

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Exactly what sane person hopes to get out of a confrontation like this on social media more than a decade later? The conversation ended with both my sister and mother telling me to just ignore it and go on with my life. It is still sticking to me though. My sister was pretty introverted as a teen, and while I can’t imagine her as being deliberately cruel, she could seem to be pretty cold. I know she would get up and move without a word if I annoyed her enough as a kid.

— Mix Up

Dear Mix Up,

I think I’m with your mother and sister here. Just ignore it. I don’t think a person who is in a state of mind that would cause them to rant on social media about a childhood bully is a person who is going to apologize or issue a correction.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence,

I just moved cities and met this guy on Instagram who seemed nice. He goes to the same gym that I go to and started following me. Now, I don’t know why, but I feel like I shouldn’t really be texting him. There are no red flags, nothing is off, and all that I have is this gut feeling that I should probably stop replying.

We haven’t talked about anything really, only our workout routines, and he let go when I didn’t give him my number. Like I’ve said, I only just moved, and he’s the first person I met. Plus, I do have some relationship issues and can be paranoid sometimes. I’m afraid to keep this going, and I’m also afraid to make things awkward. What should I do? Should I trust my gut or wait? If I do trust my gut, should I tell him or should I just ghost the guy?

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— Instagram Pen Pal

Dear Instagram Pen Pal,

Listen to your gut! I don’t know of any great love stories that begin with “my instincts told me to run, but I didn’t.” Even if your feeling is off, no huge loss. You just moved to a new city, and there are tons of other guys who you might meet and feel excited or joyful about. Imagine that! Plus, by deciding not to pursue this guy you won’t be missing out on anything. Would you really enjoy dating someone while battling doubt about whether it was a good idea?

And it sounds like he’s received the message that you’re not interested, so you can move on without making an announcement.

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Dear Prudence,

Settle a spousal debate. We live in the same small town as my wife’s sister (“Mary”), her husband (“James”), and their kids. Although we spend time with them at biweekly family functions where our kids play with theirs, the relationship ends there. Mary and James have dinner parties and don’t invite us, they recently bought a boat and have yet to take us on it, and they once rented a lake house for a week and never invited us over. On occasion, we support them (checking on houses while we’re away, taking kids to practices or camps, etc.) and they do the same for us. My wife talks to Mary every day, but James and I don’t have much in common, and I have never been out socially with him. My position is that we’re not actually friends with them, just family, but my wife disagrees. Who’s right?

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— Family, Not Friends

Dear Family, Not Friends,

I would lean toward “just family,” but different people have different definitions of both worlds, so I’m not sure why the distinction matters. It sounds like you want your wife to acknowledge that you don’t click with James and that he hasn’t been particularly warm to you—maybe because you’d like credit for that not-that-fun time you put in with him and Mary, or maybe because you’d like to find some couples who are actually friends with and both really enjoy. If so, tell her.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“What do you win if someone else says your wife and her sister aren’t friends?”

Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

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Dear Prudence,

What is the etiquette for excessive perfume in a restaurant? Last night my wife and I were dining outdoors, and a couple was seated about 7-to-8 feet away from us.
Even at that COVID-safe distance outdoors, the perfume was so extreme and excessive our eyes watered and we had difficulty tasting our food. It was like walking through the perfume counter at a department store and being assaulted by every salesperson spraying a sample in your face. My sinuses burned all night from it.

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Is the proper form here to just grin and bear it, or would it have been acceptable to ask for a different table. Or since there were no outdoor tables left, and we could only move indoors, would it have been within the bounds of decency to ask the chemical warriors to be moved?

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— Fragrance Stinks

Dear Fragrance Stinks,

Yes, you can ask to be moved to a new table. No, you absolutely cannot ask that the people wearing perfume be moved! Come on, you have to know that would be unreasonable. Part of deciding to eat in public is knowing that you might encounter others who are doing things that are unpleasant to you, but are totally within their rights. It sucks sometimes, but luckily we all have the option to enjoy our meals at home.

Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”

Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m a woman in my 20s living with a roommate. She’s mostly a good roommate, but she doesn’t have many friends, and seems to want me to fix that for her. Whenever I visit a friend or chat over Zoom, she’ll always hint that she wants to join. She also says I should invite her to more things so that she can meet people. Thing is, I do invite her to a few events each month, and we hang out in our apartment, but I can’t get any space from her. She never leaves our apartment except for errands, and sits in our living room all day where she can monitor my comings and goings (and guilt me as I’m walking out the door). I’ve suggested joining local groups or meetups (individually or together), but she refuses. What should i do?

— There Are Plenty of People to Meet in My City

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Dear Prudence,

A very dear childhood friend and I stayed close into our adult years, despite living across the country from one another. Growing up, she was always somewhat unpredictable and hard to depend on—we were kids/teens, so the stakes weren’t that high—but I noticed in the decade following college that she seemed to be gradually becoming more manic and unreliable. A few years ago, she stopped returning my text messages and calls. After several months of trying to get in touch, I came to terms with the fact that I must have done something to hurt her, and I sent her one last text telling her I would give her some space but would always be here. I’ve spent the months since that text trying to think of what I could have done and how I might fix it. The abrupt end to our relationship hurt me more than I thought it would—I lost a close friend of many years (albeit someone who hadn’t been a great friend to me in some time), but I also couldn’t get over the confusion of how it had happened.

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I have recently heard through a reliable source that this friend isn’t doing well. I wasn’t provided any details, but it sounds like I’m not the only one who hasn’t been able to reach her, including close family, and this behavior may be more indicative of a mental breakdown or diagnosis of some sort. While I couldn’t help feeling somewhat relieved to know that I may not have done anything to hurt her, I’m also kicking myself for giving up on her. I’m so far away, and if she doesn’t want my help or my support, I can’t force it on her. But is there anything I should have done? Anything I should be doing now?

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— Helpless Friend

Dear Helpless Friend,

When it comes to offering her support, what would feel good to you? Talking on phone once a week? Once a month? Offering her a place to stay? Helping her to identify the right therapist? Kicking in some money to pay for it? What are the conditions under which you would be happy to extend yourself? Would she need to be a good friend in return, or would you be okay if she was still unreliable and didn’t have much to offer you? I ask because I receive a lot of letters from people who feel completely overwhelmed and burdened by friends who are dealing with mental health issues, or feel resentful that they don’t get anything back. And I don’t want you to reach out and offer to help, only to discover that giving her the help she asks for is too much for you. So be clear in your own mind about what you’re willing to do, and then go ahead and reach out again, tell her you’re thinking about her, and see if she needs anything—but only within the bounds of what you can truly give.

Classic Prudie

My adult niece and nephew took my teenage daughter out of state to get an abortion. They told me it was a vacation, so I allowed it, but I wouldn’t have had I known its true purpose. My sister is pro-life, and might well disown her children if she knew about this. Telling her would be a good way to punish them, but I do love my daughter and don’t want her to feel responsible for whatever happens. Should I tell my sister or not?

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