Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: It's me or the puppy

This reader bought her young son a puppy for Christmas, now her partner claims he's allergic and has issued an ultimatum. Should she ditch the puppy? Or the puppy-hater?

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Dear Virginia,

My six-year-old son nagged me so much for the past year I gave him a puppy for Christmas. He loves it and so do I but my partner (not his dad) hates it. He claims to be allergic to it (he’s not) and I once caught him kicking it when he didn’t know I was in. He thinks it should live all the time in the garden, even when it’s freezing, and won’t let it on any bed or sofa. It’s causing real problems and last night he said I must choose – the puppy or him. But my son would be heartbroken. I wish I’d never got it. What can I do?

 

Yours sincerely,

Esther

Virginia says...

I’m not sure how you can live with a man or, indeed, anyone, who comes up with the line: “It’s the puppy or me!” Obviously, the remark would be forgivable if he’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown, he’s just been fired from his job, his mother’s just died and he’s been told he’s got some nameless disease. But unless there are extenuating circumstances, how can you bear someone who behaves like this? Next he’ll be saying: “It’s your son or me!”, and, indeed, I fear that this aggressive man might well, if you did dump the puppy, turn his aggression onto the next vulnerable person in your household. First it’ll be your son who’ll be in line for the odd kick, then the odd punch, and finally you’re the one who’ll be ending up in A&E claiming you’ve walked into a door. Or, dare I say it, worse.

Obviously, if you just inflicted this puppy on the household at Christmas without giving your partner a say in the matter, I can understand why he might be pissed off. If nothing else, it would make him feel small and out of control, in the same way as if you’d moved your mother, say, into the spare room to live there for 10 years, without prior discussion. To bring in an animal – which is like a member of the family, or should be – without consulting all family members first is an incredibly thoughtless thing to do.

If you really don’t want to give your partner the boot and if, far more importantly, your son is really fond of this man and would feel bereft if he left, then is there no way you could give your puppy to an elderly neighbour, say, so your son could continue to visit it when he got back from school? You could still pay for its food, and guarantee your son would exercise it regularly. Or are you in touch with his real dad? Would he be prepared to take it so that your son wouldn’t lose touch with it completely? Or would your son’s grandparents keep it?

Whatever you decide, I feel that having got this dog, it would be too cruel, unless your son would really hate your partner to leave, to get rid of it. Presumably your son has grown up with a loss – the loss of his father for one reason for another. Don’t pile any more losses on him if you can possibly help it. Your son’s happiness is far more important you than yours, your partner’s or, dare I say it, the dog’s.

Readers say...

Choose the dog

I’m afraid something rather ugly and evolutionary is playing out and you should be in no doubt about who is standing in for whom in this scenario. Your partner is kicking the puppy because he can’t (yet) kick your son, and he’s trying to banish it to the garden because at some level that’s what he’d like to do to your son. You have a duty to the puppy, who is defenceless and didn’t ask to be brought into your family, but if I were you I'd take a long hard look at your partner, because after reading your description of his behaviour, it seems extraordinary that you’re automatically assuming that the puppy is the one you must part with.

Hilary, by email

I don’t blame him

Presumably you didn’t bother to ask your partner about getting a dog, so you can hardly blame him for not liking being forced to share his home with one – I don’t like dogs either. You have to get rid of it; your son’s going to be heartbroken, but whose fault is that? You should have thought about it a bit more before being so weak-willed in the first place.

Nick, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My son, who is 24, has recently got married. He’s been living at home on and off ever since he was born, and this is the first time, apart from when he’s had the odd job abroad, that he’s really left home.  My husband says that it’s great for our son, and he says now is the time when we can do things “just for us”, but I feel so depressed I can hardly be bothered to get up in the mornings. I know I should be happy and I am in a way, but I just feel my life is over. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Karen

What would you advise Karen to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers.

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

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