Ask Amy: Toddler bites dog; aunt barking mad

August 25, 2012

DEAR AMY: My sister recently lost her job. I let her and her 21 / 2-year-old daughter, “Mariah,” move in with me while she gets on her feet.

I have a 9-year-old toy poodle, and he’s gentle and great with children. The problems began when Mariah started biting the dog.

My sister refuses to do anything about it. She says biting is a normal part of toddler-hood. And I know she lets Mariah be rough with him when I’m not around to stop it.

I thought I had a system worked out. I made sure he was always with me when I was at home, and I put him in his crate when I was at work. However, the last three days when I returned home the dog was outside the crate. My sister admits she let him out, though she won’t say why.

I understand this is a very hard time in her life, but something needs to be done now. She refuses to cooperate or compromise. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. What can I do? -- Worried

DEAR WORRIED: Biting is not necessarily a “normal part of toddler-hood.” It is, however, a very common toddler reaction to stress. You can assume that this little girl is very confused and stressed. It also sounds as if your sister is not doing a very good job with her. You should try your best to teach your niece appropriate behavior around pets. You are right that this is an important safety issue.

Teach her how to be gentle. Teach her to stand still while the dog dances around her legs. Teach her to pet the dog on the top of the head, and encourage her to help you by pouring water into his bowl.

Tell her, “Always be gentle. Never put your hand near his mouth and never touch him when he is eating.”

Always watch the dog and toddler when their paths intersect.

Your sister is a mess. It is up to you to decide how much of her own toddler behavior you can tolerate, but this matter with the dog should be nonnegotiable.

You’ll just have to tell her that unless she can respect your very reasonable boundaries, she’ll have to find another place to live.

DEAR AMY: This is about the letter in your column from “Not So Shallow Hal.”

Over the years you have published letters from people distraught about someone else gaining weight, and you always come down very hard on those letter writers.

Alcoholics have Alcoholics Anonymous and overweight persons have Overeaters Anonymous. So, as a person who sympathizes with those writers, I’d like to know what helpful suggestion (aside from, in this case, telling Hal he really is shallow) or resource there is for those of us who feel this way about obese people but, apparently, shouldn’t.

Overweight people have a huge impact not only on their own health, but also on those they have relationships with, as well as on the greater society and our health care system. And yet it is considered anathema to voice negative feelings about them. -- B in Colorado

DEAR B: If lecturing, challenging or voicing negative feelings were proven to have an impact on overweight people, forcing them into thinness, then I’d say go for it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work.

The Al-Anon model might work for family members of food-addicted people. This is about loving detachment and accepting that you cannot make choices for your loved ones.

But “Shallow Hal,” the guy who wrote to me griping about his girlfriend putting on a few pounds while he was so awesome? He was just shallow. And there’s no cure for that.

DEAR AMY: Is it inappropriate for a guest to wear a tuxedo to a wedding? I know some invitations say “black tie optional,” but what if there is no reference to formal wear in the invitation? -- Al

DEAR AL: Unless an invitation indicates “formal attire” or “black tie optional,” it is probably best to leave the tuxedo at home — unless you’re a member of the bridal party (or the wait staff).

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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