Dear Jody: Her pets are a problem!


Q: My girlfriend "Sandra" and I have been together for seven months. Sandra loves animals; she has three cats, two dogs, a parrot and a gerbil. I think she has too many animals to take care of - plus, her house smells like a zoo. She doesn't seem to notice how her house smells. Don't get me wrong, I do like pets, just not so many and only when they are clean and the environment that they live in is well taken care of. Sometimes when I am over there, I feel like I have to breathe through my mouth so the smell doesn't gag me.

I usually suggest we spend time at my house so I won't have to put up with her dogs and cats climbing all over me, leaving pet hair. Being at my place works great, but if we want to spend the night together, it has to be at her house because she can't leave the pets alone all night. I have made it clear that when I am there the animals can't be in the bedroom, but that doesn't eliminate the smell and the hair that is all over everything.

At first this just seemed like a quirky little problem we had. I was willing to put up with it to be with Sandra. But as time goes on I am beginning to feel scared to get too serious because I just couldn't live like that. I mean, who wants to live in a zoo?

I wouldn't have put up with it this long but Sandra is a wonderful person. She is kind, loving, funny, smart and an all around great partner. I couldn't ask for more. We are compatible and have such a great time together. I have never felt so connected to anyone. I feel like I am falling in love with her, but part of me just wants to run because of the pet problem. I haven't really told Sandra how I feel, other than insisting that we not have animals in the bedroom.

I really think this relationship could be the one I have been looking for. Sandra always tells me that I am the soul mate she has been searching for. So, how do I tell Sandra how I really feel about her menagerie? Should I just keep my mouth shut, my nose plugged and hope that things will get better as time goes on? I don't want to lose this relationship.

Falling for a Zookeeper

A: You are fooling yourself if you think things will get better "as time goes on." I'd put my money on the situation feeling worse to you if you're in it 24/7. As it is now, Sandra is not bothered by this, so why would she change things? You will get more and more irritated by it - quirky little problems are like that.

It sounds like you and Sandra have a relationship worth fighting for, but you're going to need to bring honesty into it. Start out by letting her know your feelings for her. Then tell her your dilemma. Let her know how you really feel (delicately, as these critters are her babies); tell her that you like pets, but pet hair and smell are getting to you. She may not be able to smell the problem, having lived in it so long and/or her olfactory sense is not that keen. There are things she can do, like washing and brushing pets more often, pet deodorants, improved cleaning of home environment, as well as not getting or replacing pets (or at least cut down on the number of pets) as time goes on.

In order for this to work, she is going to have to be willing to work with you, and you are going to need to do some compromising yourself. It will be a good test to see if you both are relationship-ready. Good relationships happen when people honor each other's needs and work to compromise on issues.

Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The "Dear Jody" column appears weekly. Reach Jody at DearJodyValley@hotmail.com. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.
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