Help! My 4-Year-Old Is Terrified of Our Close Relatives' Huge, Wild Puppy.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 21 2013 5:08 PM

Sit, Stay, Go Away

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose daughter is terrified of their close relatives’ large, undisciplined puppy.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Q. Fear of Dogs: I am a single dad. My late wife left me with our only child. My 4-year-old daughter is terrified of dogs, particularly large ones. Favorite relatives have just gotten a puppy that will be very large. She has begun to protest visiting. It doesn't help that my family members refuse to crate the animal. They are saying that the puppy needs to learn to greet people. They do supervise very closely, but that doesn't help my daughter become less afraid. When I said that we wouldn't be visiting anymore, they said they understood and would see us at our house or a restaurant. Complicating the matter is that these relatives are my daughter's designated guardians and my go-to babysitters. It worries me that they didn't think ahead about her fear before getting the pet and that they refuse to put my daughter above it. They will probably be reasonable about the guardianship and babysitting as no longer working for me, but where does that leave my family? Am I being unreasonable, or are they being unkind? My little girl's fear isn't a matter of just not being used to animals. She is utterly terrified just seeing the puppy at the door on a leash.

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A: Your daughter's early life has been marked by profound loss. Lots of kids are scared of dogs, but it may be that your daughter's terror is somehow connected in her young mind with the disappearance of her mother. Your family members are being insensitive and obtuse by not making sure your daughter is at ease in their home. All dogs need crates and the relatives with a new puppy have to teach it how to sleep quietly in one. If they won't, they are irresponsible in every way. It's remarkable they would prefer to lose a close connection with your daughter rather than make the puppy take a nap. I'm afraid you need a new set of go-to sitters. But for now, don't worry about changing guardianship. That's something you can think about more deliberately. Over time, you do want to figure out how to help your daughter get over her fear of dogs. If you know people with calm, gentle ones, you and your daughter can visit, and perhaps while she looks on from a comfortable distance, she can see you sitting with and petting the dog. That might allow her to move in closer on her own schedule.

Dear Prudence: Carpooler With Romantic Designs

Q. Porn at the Office: Let me start, Dear Prudence, by saying I'm not a prude. That said, I am so offended by some "art" a co-worker put up in our "office." We work in an open-concept space shared by about a dozen employees. He's with "hip" team, which is why I suppose they put up with it and haven't complained. Fortunately, I'm at the other end of the office and don't have to regularly view it, but when I do, my goodness—it's bad and doesn't belong anywhere near a workplace. And before you or someone else says it may just be a matter of taste, you will have to trust me—it isn't. We are a small company and don't have an HR department. If I speak up, I will surely be marked. Do I just close my eyes when I pass by?

A: If there is a pornographic piece of art hanging in your office, I can't believe you are the only person to find it objectionable. Hip your office may be, but if clients ever come by, your art curator may be seriously turning off people who conclude the sensibility of your workplace is not for them. This is the kind of thing you might broach in a casual way with people you think are like-minded. "You know that picture down the hall of the copulating couple. I don't think it belongs in an office. What do you think?" Then a couple of you might go to the head of the hipsters and explain they need art that's less edgy, because the picture they have up belongs in a private setting. If that doesn't take care of it, only you know the dynamics of the office well enough to decide if it's better for your career to just avert your gaze.

Q. Stolen Wedding Cash—How Do I Say Thanks?: At our wedding, many of our relatives and friends opted to give us cash gifts. The problem is that my brother stole most of the money at the wedding. The police are involved and we have painfully discovered he has debts and a gambling problem. Although we are no longer speaking, I still love my brother and I don't wish to advertise his personal demons to everybody else. But I find myself completely stuck when it comes to writing thank you notes. I am pretty certain some of our guests gave very generously, warranting more than a generic "Thank you for your presence and your present"—but I have no way of finding out who and how much. I really want to do the right thing and express my gratitude, but how?

A: You're right that the thank you note is not the place to explain the money went in your brother's pocket and instead of going to your towels it's gone to the craps table. But you can still write a heartfelt note without knowing exactly how much your brother stole. You say something like, "We are so appreciative of your generosity. We are looking forward to setting up our new household and your gift is going to help get us there. It meant so much to see you on our happy day and ..." It could be that eventually word gets out about your brother and what he did. If people start asking you if their gift was stolen, you can just say, "This is such a sad and painful thing, I appreciate your understanding that I don't want to go into it."

Q. How to Leave Boyfriend?: My boyfriend and I agreed never to have kids. Children have always been a deal-breaker for me and I was relieved to find someone who was on the same page as I am. Then recently his sister, a single mother, passed away in a tragic accident, leaving him the guardian of two young children. He is devastated and I have been here to support him. After much thought, however, I cannot see myself becoming a co-guardian for the rest of my life. It may seem callous, but this is how I feel. I thought of staying until my boyfriend has somewhat adjusted, but I feel like I'm being dishonest to both of us by making him think I'll stay permanently. I also worry about bonding with the kids when I know I'm about to exit their lives eventually. What is the decent thing to do?

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