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Love Triangles: And Kitty Makes Three

When pets and relationships collide, there are better answers than dumping one of the feuding parties.

Every so often, advice columnists receive letters about one of the most complicated love triangles in existence: people, their pets, and their significant others.

“My boyfriend doesn’t like my cat.”

“My dog pees on my girlfriend’s side of the bed.”

“My fiance says I have to give up my dog or the wedding’s off.”

The path to true love isn’t always smooth when a pet is involved. Dogs and cats can become territorial when their people begin a new relationship, and people who have never had a relationship with a pet can be dumbfounded by the amount of attention and care their loved ones give their animals.

When a pet-centric ménage à trois causes raised hackles and ruffled fur, the two-legged and four-legged parties can experience anger, resentment, fear, and that old green-eyed monster, jealousy. When pet and lover show their claws, the result is often fussing and fighting, snarling and peeing.

Breaking housetraining is a common reaction when cats and dogs are anxious over the presence of a new person in the household. Cats, especially, make their displeasure and discomfort known by urinating or spraying on items that belong to their owner, such as bedding or clothing.

Why the owner’s belongings and not those of the intruder? The pet feels comfortable with the owner’s scent and makes itself feel even safer by marking that person’s belongings with its own scent. It’s a compliment, of sorts.

Other troublemakers tend to be pampered pets who are used to having all of the owner’s attention. When someone new enters the owner’s life, they try to stake their claim by refusing to leave the owner’s lap, growling or snarling when they’re removed, or pawing or barking unceasingly for attention or treats.

When cats don’t like people, they usually run and hide, but some dogs turn into canine chaperones, nudging people apart so they can sit between them, growling at them when they try to get into bed and even barring them from the bedroom.

It’s not always the pet whose teeth are bared. People who have never had pets may not understand the benefit of animal companionship, and they resent the affection for and attention given to pets. If they can’t overcome their animosity, it can spell the end of the relationship.

How To Keep Your Two Best Friends

If your best friend and your lover are feeling left out, irritated, jealous, resentful or insecure, you don’t have to start calling moving companies or divorce lawyers. Instead, create an atmosphere of hearts and flowers that will enable them to build a relationship and share your love.

Encourage a lover to court a fretful feline or crabby canine by becoming the new master or mistress of the food bowl, treat jar, toy box, and walk time. Meals, treats, playtime and walks all come from the new person, with the understanding, of course, that the pet’s schedule is maintained and that those good things aren’t withheld as punishment.

Fearful pets, especially cats, might not want to get close enough to receive a treat from someone else. If that’s the case, have the person toss treats to them from a distance. In most cases, the pet will eventually decide that letting the person approach is a pretty good deal.

If it’s a human partner who needs retraining, give positive reinforcement any time you see them petting or playing with with your pet—praise and a kiss work with people and animals. Explain why your pet makes you happy and what’s involved in taking good care of a dog or cat. A little education can help the person understand why you spend so much time with your pet. And it doesn’t hurt to develop a little understanding of your own, recognizing that some of a pet’s behaviors might be annoying to someone who doesn’t love him the way you do.

Most important, remember that all relationships require compromise, but some lines shouldn’t be crossed. If the person you’re dating draws a line in the sand—“It’s me or the pet”—think twice about whether this is really someone you want to be with.

After all, which one is giving you unconditional love?

April Josephson February 10, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Good article Kim. How do you recommend dealing with a jealous parrot? Birds often bond to one person and are very vocal about it.
Kel8856 February 12, 2012 at 03:17 AM
When people tell me their "person" can't live with their lifelong pet, I tell them it's easier to find a home for a signifigant other that a pet! I think people don't take pet ownership seriously. It's a lifelong committment, period. That includes who you marry, your baby, your homes, etc. You can find a way to make it work. I also think there are a lot of options out there. Allergy meds, baby-related items to help with nosey kitties, etc. I just like to get the ideas out there. :) Thanks for the article, as always Kim.
Kim Campbell Thornton February 17, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I turned to my more bird-experienced friends for advice for April. Kathleen Samuelson, former editor of Bird Talk, had this to say: "Two of Phil's parrots have been jealous of me from the day I first entered the picture--about 23 years ago! I feed and water them, clean their cages, talk sweetly to the, feed them delicious treats...and they still try to kill me. Parrots can be very stubborn. Best thing to do is just keep trying and not get your feelings hurt if they never like you. Love them for what they are--beautiful, smart, wonderful feathered companions!" Liz Palika, who's not a bird expert but has lived with them, says that giving the bird its very favorite treat only in proximity to the disliked person or pet sometimes works, but it takes patience.
Sarah de Crescenzo February 17, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Kim, thanks for taking the time to track down that information for April. You are a great resource for Patch readers.
April Josephson February 19, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Thanks, Kim. I appreciate it. This is very helpful. I've had my bird for 29 years, and he likes to talk to people, but has never been great around men, although he loves my vet. He also loves dogs. With basically a lifetime commitment that we make as macaw owners, it can definitely put strain on relationships.

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