Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I hope everyone who celebrated enjoyed/survived Thanksgiving with the family. Let’s get started.
Q. Not a Monster: My wife and I recently made the difficult decision to put our dog Luna down. We adopted her from a shelter during the worst of COVID. Within a couple of months, it was clear that the information they had given us about her was euphemistic at best, and outright dishonest at worst. Luna could be a normal, nice dog at times, but she had serious issues with aggression toward all other dogs and many humans. We tried very hard for over a year to make things work with her, at great financial and mental cost. We tried trainers and a behaviorist and followed their instructions exactly, but there was no meaningful improvement. Walks and trips outside to go potty were full of stress and anxiety due to her frequent attempts to attack others. Even in our own home, we were walking on eggshells to avoid triggering her.
The final straw was when we were on a walk and Luna dragged me (a fit adult man) to the ground trying to get at a family walking their dog across the street. I got pretty badly scraped up but was able (barely) to restrain her. We realized that it was only a matter of time before she hurt someone. After carefully considering all our options, we ultimately decided that behavioral euthanasia was the only responsible choice.
My sister, Amanda, is appalled that we did this. In the week leading up to the euthanasia, she was bombarding me with texts and calls begging me to reconsider, guilt-tripping me, sending me ideas for how to fix Luna, and offering to find her another home. The day of, she texted me that she was “disappointed and sickened” by what we were doing. Since then, she’s made numerous posts on social media that were clearly directed at us (stuff about how a pet is a commitment for life, a real pet parent doesn’t ever give up, etc.). Multiple relatives told me she trashed us directly to them.
I need to make a decision about buying plane tickets to go home for the holidays. I don’t want to deal with Amanda in person carrying on the way she has been. I can ask if she’s going to keep this up over the holidays, but I don’t know if I can even believe her if she says no. I’m inclined to just not go if she’s going, but I don’t want to put my parents in an awkward position where they feel as if they have to choose between us. Also, my grandma is getting old, and I don’t want to miss out on time with her. How do I handle this?
A: I normally turn to pet-loving readers for perspective on whether a letter writer has done the right thing with respect to a dog, and I’ll be interested to hear what people have to say about your decision to euthanize Luna. But it sounds to me like you tried absolutely everything, so for the purposes of this response, I’m going to assume you made the right choice. With that in mind, the way forward here is not to try to figure out a way to guarantee that Amanda won’t antagonize you. It’s to actually be OK with what you did so her words aren’t as upsetting. Really sit with your reasoning. Be able to articulate it to yourself. And believe it. Then Amanda’s comments will be less upsetting, and you’ll have a response that you feel confident in and that will not emotionally drain you when you have to say it across the holiday table. Something like: “Amanda, Luna was extremely dangerous, and we tried everything before putting her down. I’m sorry you disagree, but we made the decision in consultation with our vet, and it was the right one. This isn’t up for discussion.”
Q. Am I Trying to Buy Happiness?: Among a very dear group of friends that my husband and I have had for about 15 years, we are fortunate to be quite a bit better off than the rest. I think this means we could offer to shoulder a larger portion of shared expenses than the usual even split, allowing us all to meet more often and/or consider activities that we otherwise might not be able to afford as a group. My husband, however, thinks that adult friendships are maintained on the fiction that we’re all equally well off and that it would be insulting to our friends if we made such an offer, that it would be flaunting our wealth. I feel as if we’re shooting ourselves in the foot here, but of course my first priority is to keep these friends. What should we do?
A: I appreciate where your husband is coming from, but there’s a way to do this that doesn’t make it weird for anyone and doesn’t involve a lot of conversations about dollars and cents. You don’t want to get the check at dinner, start doing calculations, and look up and say, “We can afford to toss in an extra $43 because we make a bit more money than everyone else” or “Hey, guys, I know a weekend in Palm Springs is out of everyone’s budget, but can you swing it if we cover the hotel rooms and half the rental car?” The key is to choose experiences you can cover 100 percent, and do it in an upbeat, cheerful way, so casually that it almost makes it seem as if people are doing you a favor by taking part: “Dan wants to toast to his promotion. Everyone please have a shot on us!” or “We found this beach house to rent, and we would love to host anyone who wants to come stay for a few days” or “For my birthday, I’m treating myself to a wine tasting with the people I love—I hope you can make it.”
Q. What Is Love Worth?: My boyfriend is a wonderful partner. However, he is a terrible gift giver. This is by no means a deal breaker, and if nothing changes, I would still want to spend my life with him, but I’m wondering how I should address it, if at all. He has openly admitted that he hates giving gifts because he feels so much pressure to get them right, and just feels as if he disappoints people, so I know that he really gets in his head about it. But this also means that no matter how sensitive I try to be, there is little room for honest feedback about what he picks out for me. I don’t mind giving him guidance, but even when I do (whether with subtle hints or blatant suggestions), he doesn’t really listen. He is also very frugal and doesn’t like to spend a lot of money; I don’t mind that either, but I think there’s a fine line between frugal and cheap, especially because he is almost 40 and has a great job; in other words, he is by no means struggling financially.
For example, for my last birthday, he bought me a pretty rose-gold pendant. But when I picked it up to put it on, I noticed it was made of a very cheap metal, and then I saw that on the back there was an engraving that said, “Fuck that shit.” He explained that he thought I would think it was funny, especially because I am an anxious person, and that it was his way of saying, “Don’t stress about it.” I know it was a nice sentiment, but I can’t wear that! I am a public school teacher, and if the necklace slipped sideways and students saw it, that would be really inappropriate. It also irritates my skin because it is such a cheap metal. (I absolutely do not expect gold and diamonds, but it was probably about $10; it felt like something I’d get from a crush in middle school.) I love experiences (new restaurants, outdoor adventures), and I’ve suggested having a night out instead of buying gifts, but again, he doesn’t love going out, and that stresses him out as well. I appreciate that we find fulfillment in different ways, but I also wonder if he could make a bit more effort to show what I mean to him. Am I being unfair, oversensitive, and shallow, or is there some middle ground we could work toward? And if there is, how can I talk about it?
A: I can almost guarantee you that your boyfriend is not going around asking people whether he’s being selfish, or looking for ideas on how to talk to you about finding a middle ground. That matters. This isn’t about the necklace. This isn’t about gifts at all. This is about incompatibility. Hear me out: He’s cheap, he doesn’t like going out and having experiences like you do, he is overly sensitive to feedback, and he is unable or unwilling to make any adjustments to meet your needs. He is not a bad person, but if you agree to spend your life with him, you’re going to be doing a lot of compromising—the kind of compromising where you have a lot of angst and self-doubt and eventually settle, while he does whatever he wants.
Re: Q. Not a Monster: I am so, so sorry to hear you had to go through this. I went through the same thing with the family pet when I was in my teens. We tend to lean into this dog-centric culture where dogs can do no harm—only people can. This is wrong and hurtful, and you are obviously getting the brunt of that right now from your sister.
You literally did everything right with the specialist training and interventions. You have nothing to apologize for. Would your sister only have been satisfied if the dog took a chunk out of one of you or a child? That’s what happened in my house, and my dad nearly lost part of his arm for it after all the training, vet interventions, etc. (We were still chastised for putting the dog down, even after that.)
You owe your sister nothing, and frankly, I’d cut her off full stop until she apologizes and recognizes your heroic efforts to make this dog a happy critter. You did the right thing, and I’m so sorry your sister is compounding your grief in this manner.
A: “Would your sister only have been satisfied if the dog took a chunk out of one of you or a child?” Great question! The truth is, she would probably blame LW for not training her properly.
Re: Q. Not a Monster: The How To podcast has a really good two-parter on this that shows a lot of compassion for owners who made the decision that you did. Please listen to it and cut yourself some slack.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Oh, thank you for the reminder! That would be a great episode for LW to listen to.
Re: Q. Am I Trying to Buy Happiness?: My biggest concern in your question is you say that you want to “keep” your friends. Do you feel like if you don’t pay up, you’ll lose these friends? I think you maybe need to dig into where that feeling is coming from.
A: I read it differently. I think LW wants to pay for stuff because they can afford it and it would be fun, but her spouse has made her worried that doing so will alienate their friends (and, as a result, they could lose the relationships).
Re: Q. Not a Monster: Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for an animal is to take away their pain. And an aggressive, uncontrollable dog is in pain. Two and a half years of dedication (training, meds, intervention, vet advice) isn’t throwing away a “lifelong commitment” to a pet. Not all rescued animals can be safe, domesticated companions. Draw a hard line with the sister and process your grief.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I was pretty sure already, but I’m glad to get confirmation that LW made the right choice (and that the sister is dead wrong).
I have been married to my husband for 17 long years. I quit working when our second child was a year-and-a-half old. We now have four children and three of them have special needs. I have tried to return to work for the past six years but have been unable to get a job that would pay for child care. I have a master’s degree, but it has not helped me find gainful employment after such a long time as a stay-at-home parent. I want to leave my husband; I cannot.