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When you start putting your pet before your partner


Photo: Getty Images

Advertisers put dogs in ads because we love them. Animals visit hospital because they help comfort the sick. People own pets because there’s something special about having your own creature feature.

But what happens when you start putting Cuddles or Sweetie or Fido or Frank before your lover, your partner, your husband or wife? Who – or what – should come first – man, or man’s best friend?

“Must not have dog,” is the tagline of my single girlfriend on her online dating profile. She is determined not to strike up a relationship with anyone who has another warm-blooded significant-other in their lives. 

“I don’t mind if they love dogs, or cats, or animals for that matter,” she qualifies. 

“I think that having the capacity to love animals reveals a lot about a person’s character.”

Yet they shouldn’t love them enough to want to live with them? How does that make sense? Wouldn’t pet ownership be a logical extension of this attractive personal trait?

“Not when it might get in the way of me,” she replies. 

“Loving animals from afar is one thing – actually taking them into your home, and loving them, and feeding them, and letting them consume all your time, is quite another.”

Perhaps, at this juncture, I should add that this girlfriend has an ex with a cat. Well, several actually. And there was nothing especially wrong with the cats – by all accounts they were as well behaved as cats can be, they were clean, and they were fairly independent. Sure, there was a bit of hair-shedding going on, but nothing so unbearable.

“I wasn’t allergic,” she says. “I don’t hate cats. I don’t hate animals – as I said, I love them. And so did he. The problem was, he loved them more than me.”

I was curious. How, exactly, did he love his pussycats more than he loved his, er, serious girlfriend? Did I need to concern myself with paraphernalia from Peter Singer in the search for an explanation, for example?

No, thank goodness. I did not. Transpires that by love, she meant that kind of love that is all devotion, and time, and care, and duty. He would feed the cats before setting down their dinner. He would groom the cats before going on a picnic. He would worry about the cats while on holiday, rather than focusing his attention on where he was and, more importantly, who he was with.

“He put their needs before mine, pure and simple,” she said. “I expect having to compete with other women, every now and then, in the meet market, but having to fight for attention on the home-front against a bunch of pussies who were there first? Impossible. No thank you.”

And so, she screens. She screens potential suitors who pose with their pooch in their online dating photo. She denies the advances of fellows with feline friends listed in their ‘‘likes’’. Not even a bloke with a budgie – unless they’re smugglers – will get a look-in. Is this the smartest or the stupidest dating strategy ever developed? Possibly. Though there is that whole ‘‘negging’’ approach, which basically consists of a bunch of ego-crushing opening put-downs softened by a vague note of flattering counteraction but ultimately ending in the psychological abuse of insecurity for the sake of ‘‘picking up’’. That’s not so much stupid as insulting.

But screening people because they have a pet? Avoiding those who have already demonstrated a capacity for love beyond themselves? Swerving folks who understand and enjoy the responsibility of caring for another? Sounds crazy to me.

In fact, it sounds like my girlfriend is just being selfish. I told her as much.

“I’m not though, that’s the thing,” she explains. “Most people enter a relationship expecting that they’ll be No. 1. That their partner will put them first. That’s the approach I take – my guy needs something? He has it. My guy wants something? He gets it. I just want to make him happy, even if that means putting myself second. Isn’t that what most people want? Isn’t that how most people feel? I think so. That’s why I think it’s best to avoid pet-owners. You’ll never be No. 1.”

When she put it like this, I couldn’t help but think about the conversations had with friends who were recent recipients of proverbial joy bundles. Husbands who all of a sudden realised their wives had someone else to care for. Wives who realised they all of a sudden had someone they would die for. I’m talking about kids.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that kids and pets are necessarily the same thing. But there are parallels, to a degree. Especially when you consider the screening method my male mate has.

"I’ll never date a woman with children,” he says.

“Your needs never come first.”

What about you?


  • I had a beautiful black lab who stayed at my feet in the early morning hours as I wrote. If I got up, he got up too and followed me, only to return to the office with me to sit at my feet again. He actually kept them warm and was a constant presence no matter what hour it was--2, 3 o'clock in the morning. But then, I had an infant son and the dog grew jealous. He snapped at my boy, and that was it. I wanted him gone! What scared me most was the fact that my husband and in-laws thought I had overreacted. I held my ground. I loved Max, but I loved my son more. Max, I miss you, but the people in our lives ought to come first, and for me, this is law.

    All Heart
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 1:11AM
    • i had 2 German shepherds when my first was born and unfortunately had to give them away for similar reasons, 1 went to a family member and the other to a close family friend so it was an acceptable outcome.

      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 9:57AM
    • @Victorious Painter--I think it is easier to give up your pet(s) when you know they are going to a good home. My in-laws took in Max. I know of others who have had to put their dogs down for having attacked and severely injured their children. So sad. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Now if my husband complained about the dog ever, I'd have his head examined. He was the one who let Max sleep in our bed!

      All Heart
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 11:54AM
    • Pfft. And that's why people like you should never be allowed to own pets. Instead of discipline you get rid of the dog. Seems like the this companionship was one sided.

      What's next? The kid get bullied and school and you demand the bully get put in the gas chamber?

      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 12:35PM
    • @ WhatALoad,
      Aren’t you so sweet, you do know of the increased risk if a child is brought to a home where a dog is already established????, even more so if there are multiple dogs and one is the clear “leader”

      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 12:56PM
    • Please never get another animal, dog, cat, fish, whatever. Giving away your animal, like it's a posession, is completely selfish. They are not around to serve you or whatever purpose you have for them at the time. That dog was devoted to you and discarded him like trash.

      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 1:12PM
    • Same, I had shepherds. I have to admit to spending time with them, we worked security. Shepherds tend to get on very well with children, look after them well. Mine, if the kids were approaching danger they would sense it and stop them. They loved the kids. The kids loved the dogs. They didn't want to go anywhere without the dogs, would play together, sleep together.
      The wife - - I should have kept the dogs.
      (Eventually someone took her)

      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 1:16PM
    • @whatAload

      Well said people think animals are disposable one little thing goes wrong get rid of the animal.

      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 1:21PM
    • @whataloadofcrap and catlover
      1. Max was an older dog that had been abandoned.
      2. We did our best to find his owner.
      3. We should have named him Temporary, but he was a good dog, so we named him Max.
      4. After taking him to the vet, we chose to keep him.
      5. He was very well behaved and trained.
      6. Four years later, our son came.
      7. My in-laws adopted Max.
      8. I call this a happy story for Max as opposed to being placed in a position where he might harm our child and end up euthanized. I’ve seen this happen at least twice up close and personal with friends that not only lost their pet, but also ran the risk of losing a child in the process. One of the babies had to undergo several reconstructive surgeries. The other situation involved a baby that was attacked by a police dog that the owner trained for a K-9 unit. I chose to look at the reality of the situation and believe that I made the best decision for all of us.

      All Heart
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 2:24PM
    • A point missed by a few is that certainly dogs can be trained, families can be integrated - but some are by nature bad, untrustworthy with children. Fox terriers for one are common nice family pets, but notorious for being short tempered with kids. Attack them more than all put together. The nice corgi are little better and can be very jealous. Labs are a nice doting dog, but very possessive. The breed nature can not be trained out of them. Again a bitch that has had pups will behave differently to one that hasn't.
      Cats are similar. A Siamese very similar to the terrier. Burmese become over possessive if they like the child. Not all cats can be mauled and tolerate intrusions on their space.

      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 4:11PM

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