Dear Carolyn: I am about to host a family gathering — three siblings, our spouses and as many adult kids, spouses and grandkids as are available — for one Sunday this month. It’s an annual tradition that historically took place at my parents’ home. Because of isolation during the pandemic and the deaths of both of our parents, unfortunately, we’re regrouping this year and reimagining this get-together.
My home is the preferred location to gather because of our house being the largest. The problem is with my youngest niece and our dog. My niece is a teen and has been terrified of our dog for a decade.
Our dog does get excited (barks and wants to play) but has never bitten or harmed anyone. We have never even heard her growl. She absolutely loves when we have company over and plays until she collapses and falls asleep in the midst of everyone.
Although I don’t know the specifics, my understanding is that my niece has a number of fears and anxieties for which she is receiving both counseling and medication.
Here’s my problem: In the past, we have tried to make accommodations without actually locking up or removing the dog from our home. We keep her on a leash or in one part of the house while niece is in another. Niece has, of late, resorted to simply not attending events that take place at my home.
I have an inkling that I’m seen as prioritizing a dog over a person by not “fixing” this situation. From my perspective, though, my husband and I have made many accommodations — in addition to those related to the dog — for many family members’ needs, and this is where we draw the line. I feel that if we continue to contort ourselves to the unique needs of every person who visits us, then we’ve lost our autonomy in our own home.
Can you help me see this situation from another perspective?
Anonymous: You could take the dog off-site for one day.
You choose not to.
Of course you’re prioritizing a dog over a person. Having your reasons doesn’t change that. Call it what it is.
Though I suggest you don’t share with your niece how much your dog looooves to have company!!!
It is your home, so it is your prerogative, of course, not to kennel your dog — or send her to doggy day care or a play date at a friend’s house, or book her with a professional pet sitter who takes dogs in, or otherwise “contort ourselves.”
But, like any choice, it has consequences, and the consequence of this one is that your niece, your apparently fragile, adolescent niece, opts out.
I’ll hold up my bona fides as a dog person against anyone’s — but I’m not backing you here. Especially because you say yourself that you’ve accommodated others’ “unique needs” but “draw the line” at a child with mental health struggles. Because now, now, your “autonomy” counts?
Impact of exclusion on dog, negligible. Impact of exclusion on adolescent girl, ongoing. Have the guts to call it what it is. Then either own it, or make a different choice.
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