Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: New pet

Dear Virginia,

My partner wants to give our son a puppy for Christmas. He's only seven but longs for a dog. I feel he's too young and the walking and feeding will all be down to me, as I work part-time. They promise they'll look after it, but we live in a flat and I dread it becoming lonely and unwanted after the puppy stage. I have no interest in animals – but I'm not cruel. I fear it's just a craze that my son and his dad share. How can I dissuade my partner from getting him one?

Yours sincerely, Susie

I have to say I can't imagine how you've even got to the point of discussing this. The moment the subject was broached, you should have put your hands over your ears and just screamed: "No! No! No!" Normally I'm all for rational argument, but yours will only be met with promises of things in the future that will never get carried out. Heavens, even if your son and partner did take over all the walking and feeding and taking to the vet – which is highly unlikely – the dog would still have a miserable life, stuck on its own most of the day in a flat, with only someone indifferent to animals for company part of the time.

And we still haven't addressed all the other problems – what would happen if it had a road accident, or, heaven forbid, snapped at someone else's child, all quite likely to happen now and again in a dog's long lifetime? Some dogs, you might point out, live for around 15 years, by which time your son would be 22. I doubt if he'll be returning from university daily to care for his dog, however much he loves him.

If I were you, I'd turn the argument around and say, simply, that to have a dog would be cruel to the dog. Not only that, but it would be pretty cruel to you, too. A loved dog becomes a member of a family, and when it dies most people go into full-blown mourning. You are a member of that family and you don't want a dog living in your home. Your partner might as well suggest his sweet but smelly jobless brother comes to live with you. You just don't want him in your living space. And make no mistake, a dog, unless you find one the size of a matchbox, will take up an enormous amount of room in your flat. It'll bark, it will always be bumbling around, sniffing at you and shoving into you in the corridor, trying to get on your bed. A dog is a major presence in anyone's life, not just an accessory. It's a family member, not a new suit.

Not only that, a dog is expensive. It's worth working out exactly how much it might cost you each year, not only in dog food, but vet's bills and kennelling if you ever want to go away and leave your pet behind. It's estimated a dog costs around £20,000 during its lifetime.

If I were you I'd compromise. Say you might consider a puppy but only once your partner and son have proved themselves with, say, a hamster. If, after a year, you've seen that they take responsibility for everything, including cleaning its cage out every single week (again, highly unlikely) and letting it have a proper run about the house every day so that it's not just confined to its cage, then you might think again.

With any luck, they'll either have realised what a tie and drain having a pet is – any kind of pet. Or they'll have changed to wanting something different. Hopefully, it won't be a crocodile.

Wait until he's older

I know how Susie feels, as I had the same problem many years ago. I told my husband and daughter they should wait till she was old enough to take responsibility for the dog herself. We got her a puppy when she was 12 and she looked after him very well. When she went away to college I had to take over, but by this time I had got very fond of him! He lived for 17 years.

Pam Cohen

By email

Borrow a dog

Your local cat and dog shelter will have lots of dogs that need walking on a regular basis. Most shelters welcome volunteers for this, and signing up is relatively easy. Why not suggest that your partner and son walk a dog from the centre every Saturday and Sunday, come rain or shine, for a set period (say, about four months)? You can agree to discuss the issue again after that time, if they're still keen.

I'd suggest you discuss this with your partner first, then both of you talk to your son, so that you're presenting a united point of view to him. If he is mature enough to have a dog I'm sure he'll jump at the chance to walk a number of friendly, different types of dog and will learn a lot from the experience.

Debbie Jones

By email

Try a virtual pet

Some years ago our child asked for a pet. Fearing, like Susie, that the responsibility of caring for a pet would fall on the stay-at-home parent, my husband bought our child a Tamagotchi – the electronic toy pet. If, he said, that Tamagotchi is still "alive" in a month's time, we will get a real pet. It wasn't, and we didn't.

Laura Windisch

By email

They're ganging up

I'm afraid the two men in Susie's life are ganging up on her and making her feel guilty (though probably not deliberately). But Susie must resist. Apart from the burden being hers to accept or reject, it would be bad for the puppy, and it would be bad for the boy for to give in to demands that he must know are unreasonable. So Susie will have to convince her partner first, and they must convince the boy together.

But also, I wonder why the boy wants a puppy so much. What gap in his life does he think it is going to fill? Perhaps the parents could address this need, and come to some other way of satisfying the boy's longing.

Dorothy Erskine

By email


Dear Virginia,

I'm really worried because I'm not really that interested in sex. At school, I always felt left out because my friends were always boasting about girls and what they'd done with them, but somehow it all seemed to pass me by. I'm now 36, living on my own, and although I enjoy seeing pretty women, I just don't seem to have much of a reaction. I'd be just as happy chatting to a girl and watching TV than going to bed with her. I have had sex in my time, so it's not as if I'm impotent. It's just that I didn't rate it a lot. I can't go to my doctor. What's wrong with me?

Yours sincerely, Simon

What would you advise Simon to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas, or go to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucer from the wine website Naked Wines (

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