Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

Dear Virginia, My much-loved dog died nine months ago, and after a while I thought it might be a good idea to get a new one. But now I've got one, I really can't bear it. After three weeks with him, I feel I'm about to have a breakdown. I can't go anywhere, and he's yapping and peeing all the time. The thought of another 15 or so years of this seems intolerable. Would it be mean to give him to someone else? Yours sincerely, Natalie
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I don't know if you know, Natalie, of a syndrome called the "frog in the pot". The thinking behind it is that, if you throw, heaven forbid, a frog into a pan of boiling water, he will spring out immediately. But if you put a frog into a pan of cool water, then slowly bring it to the boil, he will simply fall asleep and die.

When you had your first dog, you slowly became used to all the constraints that dog-owning put on you. You gradually accustomed yourself to the long walks your dog required, to the fact that you either couldn't go out as much as you used to, or you brought the yapping terror along with you, albeit constantly fearful that it would leave hairs on your friend's sofa. You had found someone who could care for it when you went on holiday, and as you had got used to it, it had got used to you, knowing, in some strange way, that perhaps it wasn't wise to wake you too early on Sundays, understanding that supper came only at six every evening, and so on. You grew into each other, like an old married couple.

But having had nine months without a dog, you've been without those pressures. You are free as a bird, you can go to the theatre six nights running if you so wish (well, you never know, you might be one of those people who like that kind of thing) without feeling guilty about the lonely, whimpering mite back home. You can sail off for the weekend without wondering whether your hosts have cats, or whether you'd better leave the dog behind. Who knows, perhaps your friends feel a certain relief, too, since your presence is not always encumbered by the pitter-patter of paws.

Small wonder, then, that when it suddenly all starts again, 24 hours a day, with a tiny, untrained (it sounds) puppy, it's far worse than it might have been if you'd got a new dog straight away after the last one's death. While you coped with the restrictions before as a result of years of habit and training, now it all appears like a prison sentence in Guantanamo Bay.

Natalie, give it away. And give it away at once. Obviously, it's essential to find an owner who is kind, loving, has a huge garden and preferably other dogs, but give it away you must. The longer you keep it, the more unfair it will be not only on you – because I'm sure you will feel some loss when it goes, even if mixed with relief – but also on the dog. It's young and, at this stage, can settle down happily with a new owner. Wait six months, and it will have bonded with you and feel very unhappy being dumped on someone else, however kind.

It's true that a puppy is not just for Christmas, as they say, and anyone who takes on a dog should be prepared for eight to 15 years of dog-slavery, but dogs aren't people. Dogs do allow you a little bit of leeway, a few weeks in which you can change your mind.

Don't think twice about it. Not only would keeping the dog make you unhappy, but what fun would it be for him having you as a mistress, seething, day in and day out, with resentment?

Readers say

You've made a mistake

Phone the RSPCA. You were on the rebound from grief and made a mistake by buying a dog that you can't love like your previous one. But you did buy him, and have a responsibility to him. Don't abandon him or pass him on to a friend or relative. The RSPCA will find a family that can give him the care he needs. It's not his fault, so do right by him.

Ian Laird, Birkenhead, Wirral

Don't feel guilty

A dog may be for life, but it doesn't have to be your life, Natalie. Your past successful experience of keeping a dog proves that it is only changed circumstances that make you less tolerant now; your happy stint as a caring owner will stand you in good stead when it comes to swiftly finding another home for him.

Unlike children, dogs can be sent back, and you should feel no guilt about acknowledging your feelings and acting upon them to restore your sanity.

Dinah Ellis, Weymouth, Dorset

He'll be fine

Please don't despair. It is an awful time. I know, because I felt just like you when we had a new puppy. I seriously contemplated trying to find him another home. Two years down the line, that same puppy is a simply wonderful dog and much loved. But if you really can't cope and decide to find your puppy another home, please don't beat yourself up over it. Dogs live in the moment. He will be fine!

Shelley Wagstaff, Hebden Bridge

Get him trained

This new puppy lets you see a dog as non-dog-lovers see it. Do you want or need the benefits of your pet's companionship? Probably you do. Now is the time to join puppy-training and obedience classes, which will turn your dog into a friend who will fit in with your life and bring you joy. Your friends will admire you and your obedient dog. They won't think much of you if you abandon it.

Michael Edwards, Blakeney, Gloucestershire

Do it soon

Natalie, if you are going to re-home your puppy, do it sooner rather than later. Once he has bonded with you, it will cause him more distress to be given away. It would be mean to keep him if you don't think you can love and cherish him properly. He deserves better than that.

Andrea Clyndes, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Please persevere

It never fails to amaze me how many people take on the responsibility of a dog without thinking through what this demands of them. As an experienced dog-owner, I would have thought you would know better. A puppy is dependent on you for all its needs, and you have to invest a lot of time and emotion at this stage. The rewards, as you know, are tremendous – a devoted friend and companion for years to come.

I'm on my third dog now, and I know how wearing a puppy can be. So why does this seem to come as a surprise to you? It makes me sad that you think you can hand the animal back as though it were a handbag. You have a duty to persevere. But your dog deserves a loving, caring owner. If this really isn't you, you should find your puppy a new home.

Lynne Palmer, Bristol

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