Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog. “Amy” and I are both 32 and have talked seriously about marriage. I love Amy and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Since the beginning I’ve known her dog is a big part of her life, and that’s fine with me, though I’ve never had or wanted pets myself.
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The thing is, I’ve started wondering about her priorities. The dog was diagnosed with incurable kidney disease. He is 10 and had a good life and I expected Amy would put him down. Instead she’s spending insane amounts of money on “supportive care” (specialty vets — yes there is such a thing — meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good. She has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.
To me, all of this is just crazy for a dog who is going to die anyway. I can’t help but think of all the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who, as I said, is going to die anyway.
It’s gotten to the point where she has asked me to refrain from even talking to her about this and I wonder if this is a sign that she loves that dog more than me. Are Amy’s priorities screwed up or am I insensitive?
DEAR WONDERING: You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food?
Sure, it’s money for a “lost” cause, and it’s a reasonable discussion to have — for human health care, too. How much intervention is reasonable, at what expense, for what effect on duration and quality of life? These are ethical issues without pat answers.
On the other hand: The companionship provided by an animal is real. Obviously there are degrees of attachment, but I expect anyone who has ever bonded with a dog understands Amy, even those who’d opt for euthanasia.
Plus: She has her priorities, you have yours. Compatibility requires respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. No respect, no you and Amy.
Finally, you’ve made this so binary. Where do you get the idea that if Amy loved you, she’d euthanize her dog?! That’s just an emotional non sequitur. Her dog certainly isn’t saying, “It’s me or the guy,” though maybe he is in his way (good dog).
You had the very viable option to say, “It’s not my thing, but it’s hers, so I respect that.” It’s not either-or. It’s two individual sets of values you’re both entitled to have — and to try to reconcile.
But you leapfrogged to calling her “crazy.” Yikes.
RE: DYING DOG: I put a lot of effort into supportive care for a beloved dog with congestive heart failure, and she got an extra year of good-quality life. If someone had had the self-centered nerve to suggest it meant I loved the dog more, that would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy — I would immediately love that person a bit less.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Have I said lately how much I appreciate you guys? Readers who can write — you’re an education unto yourselves. Thank you.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.