Would You Choose Your Pet Over Your Partner?

Couple walking with their dogA recent poll concluded 14 percent of pet owners would split from their spouse or significant other before they would give up their pet.

For uncoupled pet owners, the number is higher – 25 percent of singles say they would opt for Fido or Fluffy over a two-legged lover.

These statistics leave the majority of current pet owners firmly in the partners-over-pets camp. According to Pawnation.com:

"The majority of those surveyed in the AP-Petside poll agree with Montreal resident Sarah Licha, who would choose a partner first. Licha tells Paw Nation, "If one really questions the choice between a pet and a human being, he should seriously consider therapy!"

Dr. Becker's Comments:

I must confess this little survey gives me pause.

I’m left wondering under what circumstances 75 to 86 percent of those surveyed would be willing to give up their pet for a partner.

It seems to me there are really only a handful of situations in which it might be necessary to abandon or rehome a furry family member.

Unless, I suppose, a pet is viewed more as a possession or ‘optional detail’ than a valued, dependent creature you are committed to care for, for as long as the animal lives.

Is Your Pet a Part of You?

Results of the survey found that for animal lovers who would choose a pet over a partner, their pets are part of who they are. They can’t imagine life without at least one furry or feathered critter in residence.

For animal lovers who are active in organizations that rescue, care for and rehome abandoned pets, it’s a way of life they aren’t willing to sacrifice.

‘Pet people’ are typically very passionate in their commitment to the care of animals. This passion is not a passing fancy. For many of us it is a fundamental part of who we are.

We wouldn’t be us without our pets and our connection to animals, and in my experience, trying to be someone you’re not any relationship – and especially in an intimate relationship – is a recipe for disaster.

And pressuring a partner to give up a dearly loved pet can also result in irreparable damage to a relationship.

Are You as Loyal to Your Pet as He is to You?

One thing pet owners always point out as very important about their companion animals is their unwavering devotion.

Your spouse or lover, friends, relatives, co-workers, and other human types are bound at some point to get mad, frustrated or just plain fed up with you. It’s the nature of human relationships.

In contrast, can you think of even one time when your pet seemed disappointed in you?

No matter how you’re feeling … no matter if you wake up looking like ten miles of bad road … no matter if you’ve just said or done something incredibly stupid … your pet, if you let him, wants nothing more than to hang out with you.

Your dog or cat accepts you ‘warts and all,’ expects nothing of you, and is happy just to have the opportunity to be in your company. That is the very definition of unconditional love, and it is rarely replicated in human relationships.

Unfailing loyalty is one of the reasons given by those surveyed for choosing a pet over a partner. I would just caution pet owners to strive to always give more than you receive. Devotion should be a two-way street.

Return the loyalty your pet shows you by being the best pet guardian and caretaker you can be.

Gauging ‘Pet Compatibility’ in Relationships

I really have no advice for married couples or couples in established relationships who suddenly find themselves forced to make a choice between a partner and a pet. A lot depends on what’s going on in your relationship with each other.

I can only urge you to search exhaustively for an alternative to giving up your companion animal. Most problems can be fixed if:

  • Both of you are honest about your feelings and frustrations.
  • Both of you show empathy for the other person’s concerns.
  • Both of you are respectful and take responsibility for solutions.

If the problem is a pet that isn’t friendly with a new mate or family member, this is a behavior issue that can usually be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Or if your partner is allergic to your pet, there are many things you can do to reduce allergens in your environment.

If in the end you feel you have no choice but relinquishment, I hope you’ll work with a local rescue organization to find a new forever home for your pet. Do not abandon your pet unless your own personal safety is at risk.

For people who aren’t currently partnered, the best advice I can offer is to honestly evaluate how much having a pet means to you, then move forward with self-knowledge.

If a pet simply isn’t that important to you, don’t acquire one, and talk with prospective partners about their level of interest in pets to gauge your ‘pet compatibility’ score.

If on the other hand you can’t imagine life without pets, don’t assume you’ll ‘get over it’ if you find yourself attracted to someone who isn’t an animal lover or who is adamantly opposed to family pets.

A Personal Story

When I was just a year out of veterinary school, I had a first date with someone. We went to a movie at a theater that happened to be right next door to the vet clinic where I worked.

One of my patients at the hospital was a female baby cockatoo (a tiny ball of fluff). I was having trouble relaxing during the movie because I was worried the baby bird might get tangled up in her IV line. So I asked my date if he’d mind if we stopped in after the movie so I could make sure the cockatoo was okay. He agreed, but was obviously not happy about it.

As soon as I saw my tiny patient I knew my concerns had been warranted – she was indeed tangled in the IV line. I asked my date if he would hold the shoebox nest I’d made for her while I untangled her from the line. His response was, ‘I’m not touching that bird.’

And that was the end of the date. I told him I’d have a friend pick me up at the clinic and drive me home. I said good-bye to him and never gave it another thought. Why waste time with someone who was completely incompatible?

The level at which you are both committed to animals is important for your long term happiness as individuals and as a potential couple.

For example, if you believe pets are members of the family (with all the rights and privileges of living in your home), and your date believes animals are great, but meant to live outside, you are cultivating a source of stress and potential heartache down the road.

Knowing your level of pet compatibility is as important as understanding each other’s positions on more traditional issues such as having and raising children, money management, and career aspirations. I encourage you to take stock of this issue before you find yourself engaged to someone who has no intention of including your beloved pet in your future together.

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