Dear Captain Awkward,
Last year, my neighbor and I helped to rescue a small dog from a bad situation (owner got divorced and for whatever reason, just stuck him in her dog-hating father’s backyard, where he may have been abused. I should note that I live in Cancun right now, and he was there for two months with no shelter or love). When I found out, I offered to foster him, and by that time he had a disease from ticks. He ended up staying with me for months, until I started talking about finding him a home. She then adopted him as her own. (I have reasons for not being able to adopt him)
Anyway, all was well and she was very attentive and caring to him and her other pets (extremely attentive) until her husband left her. Not long after that, she told me she had to work a lot for a couple of weeks. I agreed to take him back for that time. Well, two weeks became a month became three months, only one of which she provided some food for him. The rest, I paid for his food and other needs, including the Revolution for ticks. I noticed that she began dressing a lot nicer and wearing make up, causing me to believe that she had started dating again. I don’t judge her for this at all, but she could have been honest with me. I suspect she wasn’t because she knew I’d be upset that she was ignoring her dog so that she could date freely.
He had to go back to her when I recently went on a week’s vacation, and not long before that she told me that her “work” was coming to an end and she could also look after my dog – she was pushy about it, in fact. She also finally fessed up to having a boyfriend, but insisted she’d have the time. I went with my instincts and instead paid for boarding at a vet’s office where the staff are all very fond of my dog and vice versa. I should note that due to the initial arrangement during the rescue, she’s had a key to my house. While I was away, a friend was feeding my cats and called to let me know that little dude was back at the house for a day. This upset me and leads me to believe she only offered to “take care” of my dog so that she could have an excuse to keep him here too.
Well, after my return I gave limits as to when he could be here. She agreed, but I came home from work last Thursday to find him in my living room. When doing my customary post-walk “tick check” on both dogs, I found that he was covered in them. To say I was pissed doesn’t cover it. I ended up paying for a night of boarding and a bath as he couldn’t stay in the house, obviously. When I picked him up the next day, I was told he should see a vet as he was covered in red marks all over his body, only revealed with the hair cut. Yeah, he has yet another tick disease in less than a year. Turns out when he couldn’t stay with me, she sent him to a friend’s house – a house infested with ticks – and she was aware of this when she brought him to my house. I’m extra pissed now.
She is aware that he’s sick again (and yes, I paid about $90 for the vet visit and will need to pay even more for 21 days of pills) yet she hasn’t visited or checked on him. I suspect that she is so wrapped up in this new romance with a guy that seems to not like dogs, that she is putting everything else aside. She was even planning on sending him back to the friend’s tick infested house for her upcoming vacation!
I had the lock changed today, so the key issue is solved. But I’m wondering how to deal with this. I’m planning on telling her that until she has time to properly care for him, he’s staying with me, screw what I said about Monday to Friday. I don’t know if that’s considered pet-napping or not, and if she insists, I’ll probably have to give him back. But hopefully she at least lets him heal before, you know, farming him out to a tick-filled house again. Or maybe she’ll just be relieved that she doesn’t have to fuss with him and can enjoy dating.
I don’t know the state of her other dogs (five indoors and one outdoors that seems mostly OK) but there is little I can do about that. I do know (by her own admission) that her large outdoor dog hasn’t been walked for a long time, possibly two months. And that dog seems desperate for attention when I walk by.
My questions are the following: first, am I wrong to want to insist that little dude stays with me until she sorts her shit out and two, is it inappropriate to somehow bring up the fact that since she started dating again (sorry…working a lot, as she’s again insisting on now that I’m back from vacation) she’s providing sub-par care for little dude (at the very least) and seems to just be farming him to to wherever is convenient. I find her attitude hypocritical as she was very angry at his former owner. Even the vets office has noticed her declining care of her pets and it’s been mentioned more than once that they assumed he was my dog now. Fortunately, they know me and my dog well, so they are letting me make the decisions regarding his care.
I also want to possibly broach the subject of rehoming him, if she is really this uninterested in his well-being and may continue to be if she stays with this guy. I mean, I hate to say this, but I kind of hope this romance doesn’t work out so that she has to give her head a shake and learn for next time about balancing fun and responsibilities. As it stands now, she’s planning on moving to a different city with him, where the dogs will not be allowed in the house. She is Ok with this, which is miles away from how she used to regard her pets.
I should add that the reason my house is a convenient option is that both little dude and my dog have disk degeneration, so my living room is already arranged in such a way that they can’t access the stairs or furniture. Her argument for him not staying at her house has always been that he has to stay in the kitchen when she isn’t there, and he hates solitude (this part is true, he gets sad). Still, it’s all about balance.
I know this may seem like a minor issue, but despite her over-stepping several times (she even borrowed my fan without permission during my vacation) I don’t want to be hurtful or over-step myself. Do you have any scripts or advice for how to handle this? I know a new romance can be powerful, but she is definitely old enough to know better. (she’s at least in her late 40s).
Oh, and while I’d love to get the money back for the vet costs, I know realistically, I probably will not. Since my main concern now is the dog, I’m reluctantly accepting of this. Oddly, when I mentioned him being sick again, she had the nerve to ask what vet I took him to, as she only trusts one vet who is notoriously difficult to get in to see due to her skill. Blood tests were done, so I know the vet I went to (in the same office as the highly skilled one) isn’t just guessing. But her not really caring yet still questioning my choice of vet is very irritating. I suspect she knows that I’ll step up, so she feels liberated from worrying. Ugh.
Confused and concerned animal lover/annoyed neighbor
To me this all comes down to “Do you want to be right at her” or “Do you want the dog.” You’ve got to decide what is more important to you, what you are willing to do about it, and then communicate strategically. You say: “(I have reasons for not being able to adopt him)” so, can you have the dog stay with you even temporarily?
One script to start the conversation is:
“Hey, here’s a copy of the bill from the vet & his prescriptions. It lists all the stuff going on with Little Buddy.”
You may be tempted to verbally chronicle all of his issues but I recommend letting the bill/the notes do the talking for you. You know that she’s neglecting her dog and being a jerk about it, but, do you want to be right or do you want the dog to be okay?
Your neighbor will say some stuff. Maybe stuff about how you should have taken him to other vet or she’ll pay you later or how stressful this all is. It doesn’t 100% matter what she says. What matters is what you want & what you are willing to do.
If you want the dog:
“Howabout I hold onto him for a while/at least the summer? My house is already set up for his disc degeneration issues, my dog loves him, and I love him. Don’t worry about the vet bill! This way you won’t have to board him when you’re out of town, but you can still give him a skritch every now and again.”
If you want the dog, present it as a positive request, not a “because you suck” request. If she’s got a big move planned, she might be relieved that you asked and that she didn’t have to ask you. Now, what are you gonna do about this dog that you can’t keep? I don’t know and I can’t begin to solve that for you. I do know that the “I’m starting to look for another home for him” conversation is another conversation for another day.
If you just want to communicate “You are neglecting your animals. Please fix it.” your script might be:
“Hey, it really upset me to see Little Buddy all covered in ticks again, and it really upset me that you didn’t notice (because clearly you would not have put a tick-covered dog in my house). What is going on? It is not like you to neglect an animal like this.”
If you say this, she is most likely gonna get SUPER-defensive. My sense is: She’s involved with someone who doesn’t love or want animals and she’s choosing that person over her animals, and she feels guilty, but she hasn’t fully reckoned with the consequences or the idea of rehoming all her pets when she moves. People who feel guilty often double down on the bad behavior when they feel defensive. You can’t really do anything about her feelings or behaviors here, just, know that a defensive blurt of some kind coming and she will be unlikely to agree to anything you suggest in that moment. She will also likely avoid you for a while. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said, it just means, choose: Do you want the dog to live with you? If so, let all the other stuff go. Do you want to call attention to her poor treatment of her animals? If so, say your piece, short and sweet, and be prepared to nope out of any kind of relationship with her in the aftermath.
Do not mention her dating life, unless it’s to ask “Hey, how’s everything going?”
Do not mention her clothing choices, unless it’s to say, “You look great today.”
Most def. leave her age/”Old enough to know better” out of things, as well as her plans for her life in the future. Honestly, while I know you’re worried about them, I would leave her other pets out of it (unless you want to take them all in, too). One issue at a time.
“I’m not judging you, but…” = “I am judging the ever-loving heck out of you” 100% of the time. I know on some level what you want is for her to look at her life with some self-awareness and commit to doing right by all of her animals, but you can’t control that. People do not behave well when they are on the defensive and she might say “no” just to spite you.
Can you control what she’ll do? No.
Do you want to have an explosive discussion with her that changes nothing? Probably not.
Focus on this one dog, the one you can do something about right now and keep the conversation as brief as possible. Be simple and focused. You can judge her all you want inside your mind.