Help! Our Dog Has Incurable Behavioral Issues. Should We Put Her Down?

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 25 2014 3:39 PM

Either the Dog Goes …

Prudie offers advice on whether a pet with bad behavioral issues should be put down.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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. Pet Euthanasia and Can I Lie About It: I have a 6-year-old dog that has mental problems. (Yes, really.) We have tried everything our vet has recommended over the past few years: training, OTC meds, prescriptions, and treatment by a well-respected certified behavioralist. Unfortunately, she is not getting better. My own health is declining and I love her, but the subject of euthanizing her has come up at home and briefly in the vet’s office. Is this wrong? And if we decide to go down this path, am I obligated to be honest about why she was put down when relatives and friends ask?

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A: At the risk of inviting the “I hope you roast in hell “ letters, I will recap my own experience with my mentally deranged cat who we had to put down. I had a pair of feline littermates, Goldie and Biscuit. Biscuit is now a lovely elderly gentleman, but we had to put down Goldie at quite a young age because he was deeply disturbed. He urinated everywhere, howled all night long, and was a sad and miserable creature. We, too, did the medication and training route to no effect. I believe when you’ve done everything you can and your pet is living a hellish life and making yours hell, the humane thing to do is to end it in a humane way. Sure, there will be people who say you have to rehome such a pet. However, there are few who want to take in an animal who will ruin their house and life. More often people turn in such pets to the pound, where they live terrified for a short time, then get put down. If there is nothing left to do, and you make this choice, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Nor should you feel the need to give elaborate explanations to people you know won’t understand. You can simply tell a brief version of the truth—your beloved dog was very ill and there were no treatment options left.

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Q. Wife Still Being Fed by Her Mother: My wife has a strange habit, whenever she visits her parents, she insists that her mother feed her. Even more amazingly, my mother-in-law goes along! As if it’s the most natural thing for a doctor in her 30s to be literally spoon-fed at night. I thought it was a joke at first, but after several visits she shows no sign of stopping this practice. My father-in-law thinks it’s cute as it reminds him of when she was a little girl. I find the whole scene bizarre. Should I suggest some sort of counseling for her?

A: Ahhh, ahhh!!! No!!! Maybe you can leave a note in your wife’s bassinette, I mean on her pillow, explaining why you’ve left. Psycho may have left too big an impression on me, and I know spouses do a lot worse things than go home to be spoon fed by Mommy, but I don’t know how you witness such insanity and not be shaken profoundly about the person you married.

Q. Road Rager: I love my boyfriend dearly, but I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his level of road rage. Honking and bird-flipping are de rigeur on our afternoon commute home (we carpool to and from work). He’s not otherwise violent or prone to any other types of angry outbursts that I’ve experienced. I’ve tried bringing up to him, but he just says “It’s my outlet “ and changes the subject. I’m afraid he’s going to flip off the wrong person and wind up getting shot. Any suggestions on how to broach the topic again?

A: I think you broach it by finding another way home. Or, if it’s your jointly owned car, you insist on driving. I lived in L.A. for a few years and while I was there several people were killed in these crazed encounters. I saw some scary ones on the freeway myself. You’re absolutely right that you never know if the person you just flipped off is going to flip out and get the gun in the glove compartment. You’ve made your extreme distress at his endangering both of you clear. So now vote with your feet and refuse to let him jeopardize your safety.

Q. Teens and Sleepovers: My 14-year-old daughter is not at all interested in boys (or in anything of a sexual nature), which—as I’m her father—is perfectly OK with me. But she recently revealed to her mother and me that she “identifies as lesbian. “ That’s fine, too, if that’s who she is. But here’s the question: She has a close girlfriend who she is always spending her free time with. After school. After dinner. Sometimes overnight. Is it inappropriate for me to allow my 14-year-old to sleep over at a same-sex friend’s house if she identifies as lesbian? Or am I being ridiculous?

A: Dad, you say your daughter has no interest in anything of a sexual nature. Then you say she’s come out to you, and oh, by, the way, she has a very, very close BFF. Dad, whether or not she and her friend are having sex, your daughter has made it explicitly clear she has sexual feelings. Since she’s opened the door for this conversation, and she is very young, it’s fair for you to gently ask about her relationship with Marissa. It’s true that if she were spending all her time with a boy you wouldn’t allow overnights. But while I recognize it smacks of a double-standard, trying to prevent your daughter from having sleepovers with her BFF does seem both punitive and ineffectual. No matter her feelings for her friend, it’s healthier for any young person not to be entirely wrapped in one other person. So maybe you want to encourage your daughter to expand her social circle. But what you want most of all is to appreciate your daughter feels comfortable enough to talk about such things with you and make sure that communication continues.

Q. Re: Disturbed Pet: A very good friend and her then-fiancé wanted to adopt an older, friendly cat that enjoyed being petted and held. This is what they asked for at the shelter. Instead, they got a psychotic cat that seemed to be out to murder them. The people at the shelter assured them that the cat was exactly what they wanted, so when they called back to inquire what they were doing wrong to what was supposed to be a sweet, loving cat, the shelter confessed that the previous owner had surrendered him because he was unbearable. Attempts to rehome him had failed. My friend and her husband kept the cat, but grudgingly. He hissed at anyone who got near him, usually scratched them. After they had kids, they had to keep him in the garage so that he wouldn’t go after the kids. I visited them once while he was alive, and they had to accompany me into the garage to get something “so that the cat won’t attack you.” He died of kidney failure last year, and I don’t think he’s missed. At all. And I think he lived a pretty unhappy life, too.