Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Dog Days

Whenever my best friend comes to stay, she always brings her horrible, slobbery dog. Can I tell her to leave it at home, or is that just too mean?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

This may sound trivial but I have a very good friend who, two years ago, acquired a large dog. She dotes on this horrible beast and last year she came to stay for a weekend in my flat, bringing it with her. It howled all night, peed on my carpet, scratched the paint off my doors and slept on her bed, leaving masses of dog hairs. She’s proposed coming again – but do you think I could  ask her to leave the dog at home? I don’t like dogs anyway, but this one is particularly horrible. Or am I just being mean?


Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

Dogs. Don’t get me started, as they say. I’m with you on this one, so I can imagine just how you feel. I can just cope with small ones, but big ones, with their drooling mouths, their smelly breath and their great wagging tails, aimed always at clearing any low surface of all its precious ornaments, not to mention the way they’re always either sniffing up your skirt or licking all your make-up off with their slobbery, rasping tongues… yuck.

But: she loves him. And you love her. And we all have to put up with our friends’ obsessions, I’m afraid. If your friend had an appalling two-year-old who rampaged round your flat breaking things, kept you awake screaming at night, burst into tears whenever you approached and laid waste to all around him, would you ask her to leave him at home? No. If she had married a dreadful, ranting, prejudiced, burping, sexist and obnoxious man, whom she adored, would you ask her to leave him at home? It just wouldn’t be possible.

It’s easy to say, “Tell the friend to put it into kennels.” But it’s not that simple. You’re imposing on your friend not just expense, but you’re asking her, temporarily, to dump a whole relationship. The dog will be feeling abandoned and unhappy; your friend will be worrying herself sick about it. She’ll feel guilty at abandoning it. She’ll miss it. This is a big downside, I imagine, to a weekend with an old friend. You’re also saying to your friend: “I love you but not the things you love.” Can you make a friendship conditional like this? I don’t think so.

Either ask her again, but try to minimise the damage by covering her bed with an old sheet, getting some earplugs and laying down a few very simple ground rules such as no scratching at the doors. Ask her for advice, perhaps, on how to minimise the disruption – “to make it nicer for poor old Rover,” you could say, “who didn’t seem to have such a good time the last time you brought him.” Or, in future, make arrangements to see her on neutral ground between your two homes. Could you share a rented cottage in the country for a weekend perhaps? Or just make day trips together?

The dog may “just be a dog” to you, but to your friend he is a vulnerable child, a playful husband, a protective father and a dog. You either have to drop your friend or see much less of her, or lie through your teeth and, by the regarding the dog as some kind of disability, do your best to accept this wretched animal as part of her.

Virginia Ironside’s new book is No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses (Quercus £14.99)

Readers say... Be honest with her

As the owner of a largish, very friendly, supposedly short-haired hound and knowing the friends we have who are not really dog-friendly, I would suggest you are honest and ask her to leave her dog with a dogsitter or at a kennels. Dogs, like children, do need boundaries (I’m still setting these – as a male he answers more readily to my husband) and respond well to discipline, but it doesn’t sound as though your friend has the mastery of her dog and it’s unfair of her to expect you to have them both to stay if she doesn’t respect your home. I wonder, too, whether your friend’s dog was unsettled being away from home, which may give you a solution to the problem. You can suggest that her pet seemed unhappy last time and that she would be better coming alone.

C Hammond, by email

Try a white lie

Of course you can ask her not to bring her dog – it’s your house! You could come straight out and tell her the truth, or you could say you’d love to have her visit, but you’ve found you’re allergic to dogs. It’s one of these “white lies” we all have to tell occasionally, which harms no one, and may help preserve your friendship.

Bella Turner, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m 35 and I’ve had radiation therapy for cancer and the resulting scarring means that I find it very difficult to stop leaking urine at times during the day. I really need to be near a loo all the time and as a result my life has been severely hampered. I’ve tried pads, but I’m always worried about the smell. Because I can’t go out very far my kids have to stay indoors all the time and it’s not good for them. I’ve tried every doctor, but no one can help and they just say I must “live with it”. But I can’t. Do you have any suggestions? 

Yours sincerely,


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