Dear Prudence

Help! I Want to Betray My Friend’s Last Dying Wish and Get Rid of Her Spoiled Dogs.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Three small dogs with an exit door behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by GlobalP/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: I’m back! It was great having a few months off to bond with my kid, and it’s also great to be here getting a peek into all of your lives. I loved reading Eric’s response while I was out and I know he’ll be missed. But let’s all pull ourselves together and get this chat started.

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Q. Tired of Shih-Tzu: A few years ago my wealthy, eccentric friend asked if I’d be willing to be the guardian of her three spoiled Shih-Tzus if anything ever happened to her. I laughed and said sure. Well, my friend must have been psychic, because she recently passed away from an aggressive form of cancer. I was surprised to find myself in the will as the new owner of the dogs, plus a hefty trust for their care, the remainder of which will pay out to me once they’re gone if they’re still in my care. It could potentially be enough to pay off my student loans.

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The only problem is that I HATE these dogs. I am not a little, yappy dog kind of person. They have stupid names (Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose) that I am embarrassed to share at the dog park. They are not well trained; in the past month alone, they have stolen a piece of Amish-made pie my sister brought me from the country; peed on my date’s shoes just as things were heating up (he did not call again); and ingested a shoelace, requiring costly surgery (the trust paid, but I still had to take time off work and administer meds to an unhappy dog).

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Some days I’m ready to give up the money and call a rescue, but I feel obligated to follow through with this promise. My friend even wrote me a lovely letter about how she felt at peace knowing her “golden girls” would be well cared for. I also suspect that if I gave them up they’d end up all going to different homes, and I feel guilty because they really are bonded.

Other days I feel like finding them good homes would be enough to fulfill the promise, but the potential money makes me pause. These dogs could easily live for 5+ more years. What should I do?

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A. The right thing to do would be to commit yourself to finding a Shih-Tzu lover who would adore these innocent animals as much as your friend did, and send all three of them to their new, loving home (along with the money from the trust, if possible). I actually think this would be possible without breaking up the Golden Girls. They aren’t mutts, they’re expensive fancy dogs. Someone would love to have them. And no pet deserves an owner who hates them.

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But, let’s be real: I know part of you would really like to care for them until the end of their lives so you can pocket that extra money and pay off your student loans. And I completely get it. Freeing yourself from that kind of debt could be life-changing. So the slightly less right but still OK thing to do here is to find a way to keep the dogs and make sure they enjoy the kind of life your late friend envisioned for them—without annoying the hell out of you.

This is going to mean spending some of the money on a really good trainer and a quality dog walker (the kind who will give them the love and affection they’re probably not getting from you). Surely their behavior can improve with a little work. And paying someone else to take them out for exercise every day will mean you won’t be embarrassed at the dog park when you have to introduce them. Your friend must have misjudged your feelings about these animals and the extent to which you’d want to engage with them. But you can live up to her belief that you’re the kind of person who will keep them safe and give them a good life.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. It’s Weird She Cared So Much Honestly: I look Asian. Chinese seems to be the go-to assumption. I am not, I’m of Irish descent, but I have a double eyelid fold and black hair, so I guess…?

That is fine to slightly awkward most of the time. I don’t care if random strangers get my ethnicity wrong. How do I correct people who I get to know a bit better though? I always feel a bit…weirdly racist? As if I am going ‘How dare you! CHINESE? The furthest thing from it!’ OR not being blunt enough and people are still laboring under a misapprehension.

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I mean, I have obviously been telling people for years. There isn’t a massive, but very specific conspiracy to unfold. I just had a weird second date with a woman who was really angry. I wasn’t Chinese (neither was she) and accused me of catfishing her. It was quite an unpleasant exchange. So it is just on my mind. (And yes, there are Chinese people in Ireland but my sister, who has the same eyelids, did one of those ancestry tests and we are very white people.)

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A. First of all, your date was unhinged. You did not catfish anyone by showing up looking exactly the way you look! It sounds like you know that but I just wanted to make sure to mention it.

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To answer your question about how to correct people, you don’t owe an explanation but depending on your comfort level, one of the following should cover it:

“I get that a lot. But as far as I know, I’m of Irish descent.”

“Oh, I’m actually not Chinese.”

“People say that all the time because of my eyes and hair but according to ancestry tests I don’t have any Asian heritage.”

“Nope, just white.”

I can understand why you don’t want to come off as mortified at the idea of being seen as a person of color, or weirdy enthused about being white, but as long as you don’t start ranting and raving about the great replacement theory or anything you should be totally fine.

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Q. Call You By Your Name: I have a name etiquette question that I think you’re especially equipped to answer! For folks whose name begins with an initial, would someone refer to them with the initial included? This is specifically for an in-person or verbal reference.

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Obviously, people should be called their preferred name/how they introduce themselves—so I would follow their lead in those situations. But if I’m reading from a list with no opportunity to verify preference, are first initials meant to be spoken? I wouldn’t use middle initials, but this feels different.

Example:

John Franklin Kennedy: “Welcome, John”

John F. Kennedy: “Welcome, John”

J. F. Kennedy: “Welcome, J. F.”

J. Franklin Kennedy: “Welcome J. Franklin/J./Franklin?”

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A. I think you hoped Substitute Prudie R. Eric Thomas would answer this, and I wish he was still here to weigh in from a place of personal experience. But since we call him Eric, I’m going to go with “Welcome, Franklin.” Initials that appear along with a first name are not said out loud, whether they come before or after it. I just made that up! But it makes sense to me and seems like a safe bet if you’re forced to guess on the spot. People with names that are at all unusual have already heard it all, so use this rule but then follow up in private. “I introduced you as Franklin but it occurred to me to ask if you prefer to go with J. Franklin? Or something else?”

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Update: I just sent Eric a note to double check and he said he agrees with me. “Many people call me R. Eric to start but I use the initial to direct people to my middle name and I think that’s the prevailing practice. That said, I know a couple people who go by the initial and the middle name as the full first name. But I think erring on the side of the middle is a safe bet,” he said.

Q. Sweaty and Worried: Should I tell my trans co-worker that my “problem” isn’t with their gender, but with the flare of my social anxiety and OCD? The current flare was triggered by a personal crisis and medication change, but as a result of a co-worker telling me I HAVE to make sure not to misgender “Erin” because of some past issues she’s had I latched on to the obsessive worry that I’ll accidentally misgender her. I don’t want to make my illness her problem, but I also don’t want her to think that there’s an issue around her gender in this department as well (I’m not her boss, but I’m more senior in the company).

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Every time I go to use her or her or her name my brain short circuits with these intrusive scenarios where her name isn’t Erin AT ALL, but her dead name was Aaron and I’ve got them mixed up and oh god she might quit or hurt herself or… They’re not likely scenarios, I don’t think I even know her old name, but in that exact moment, they feel likely. I’ve not said anything and I am trying my best to act normal with her through this, but I worry she can tell I’m a bit off.

My new meds and therapy should hopefully help me even out soon, but I just wonder if I should let her know that I’m having my own personal issues right now. And that it’s not anything to do with her or her work. Or just hope that she just thinks I’m sweaty and socially awkward (which I am at the best of times.)

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A. When I think of the possible things a trans person might have to go through every day— stares or harassment on the street, intentional misgendering, or alienation from family members—I completely understand why you would be so nervous about unintentionally becoming another source of othering or disrespect. But at the same time, catching your colleague off guard by dumping your personal crisis, medication change, and an explanation of how your anxiety manifests and how worried you are would be burdensome in its own way and could make her really uncomfortable. “I don’t want to make my illness her problem” is a very good instinct to have. I’m especially hesitant to have you be totally transparent with your colleague especially because you’re her senior and a conversation about how your brain is short-circuiting over her name could make her uncomfortable—or worse, make her feel like she needs to apologize for the stress she’s causing.

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So, can you think about how you’ve handled issues that cause flare-ups of anxiety in the past? For example, is there an exercise you do to calm yourself, a mantra you repeat, or a script you use when you have to go to a party and be around lots of unfamiliar people and worry about saying the wrong thing? Could you tap into some of that? If you find yourself in a conversation that goes beyond work or small talk, you might mention offhand something like, “My weekend was good, thanks for asking. I mean, I’m super socially anxious and I’m always stumbling and sweating around new people so staying home was the best part.” But you definitely don’t need to connect the dots and say, “The reason I look like a deer in the headlights for five full seconds every time I speak to you is because I’m panicking over saying your dead name that I don’t actually know.”

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Q. Re: Tired of Shih-Tzu: As a little dog person, this makes me so sad. Please remember that this breed can live for 16 years or more. But the good news is that means they’re probably still eminently trainable as the “senior dog” phase may not have set in. Also, losing their loving owner has absolutely taken a toll, and it has only been a month! Give yourself a reasonable timeline (at least six more months) in which to get them into a routine (with professional help) and if it hasn’t worked by then, commit to finding a loving owner. P.S. Just change the names. They’ll get over it. Seriously.

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Classic Prudie

I frequently see posts on Facebook or have people tell me in person about a health issue they or a loved one are facing, or a death, etc. Most people respond by saying they send prayers, but as an atheist, I am stumped by what to say.

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