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What Do You Do When Your Life Partner Isn’t a Dog Person?

What happens when the person you love doesn't love pets the way you do? Can it work?

Crystal Gibson  |  May 3rd 2013

If my husband, Max, and I had seen each other’s profiles on an online dating site back when we were single, there’s no way we would have been matched up. We have absolutely nothing in common. I’m from Canada, he’s from France. My native language is English, his is French. I don’t eat meat, but he’ll happily cook up every single occupant of Old MacDonald’s farm –- snails and frogs included. My passion is animals, and more particularly, dogs and cats, while he’s obsessed with boxing, muay thai and fitness. I don’t mind picking cat hair off my clothes, but Max throws a fit.

I know, I know, a lot of couples don’t share the same interests, and it’s certainly true that opposites can and will attract. But in my case, my love of pets and the fact that I share my home with four of them has created some tension between Max and me. Pets are a big commitment and have an impact on day-to-day life. It’s easier when pet owners are equal in this commitment. Unfortunately, that’s far from the reality in my household.

When Max and I met, I had just arrived in France and didn’t have any pets. Seven years later, I have a little Dachshund/Miniature Pinscher mix named Pinch, as well as a big furry cat, two Sphynx cats, and a husband who is constantly lamenting that he “wish he knew what he was getting himself into.” I’m sure he would have preferred that I had an obsession for knitting or stamp collecting rather than four-legged friends, but when I fully unleashed the pet crazy on him, it was too late –- we were already married.

He calls me Brigitte Bardot and jokingly (I think) says that his next wife will be someone who fears dogs and is allergic to cat hair. (I respond that my next husband will be a handsome vegetarian veterinarian who fosters rescued animals.)

All joking aside, it really bothers me that, more often than not, Max sees our pets as mine and not his. When they are being cute and playful they are his pets too, but when Pinch is barking obnoxiously or one of the cats has tracked litter across the floor, they are always my {expletive} pets. He doesn’t understand why I talk to them in a squeaky voice or am willing to spend all my disposable income on premium litter, treats, and dog sweaters. That said, I know he cares about them, and he takes excellent care of all four when I’ve gone on a solo trip back to Canada. I think he knows just how much I need pets in my life and what they mean to me.

Max has always been very tolerant of my passion for animals (considering I have four at this point), but I secretly wish that he loved them as much as I do. He accepts them because he knows I love them — and he loves me — but I’m certain that if I left one day and took my fur babies with me, he’d never even think of getting another pet of his own.

As much as I’d love for him to share my pet-obsession, I know it will never happen. I think the difference in how we see the role of pets in our lives, and more specifically dogs, comes from our very different upbringings. I grew up in a midsize Canadian city with two parents who treated our family dogs as furry children. To them, a dog was an invaluable part of the family to be treated with the same love and respect as any human member. Our dogs were fed premium dog food and slept inside on cushy dog beds. They were fixed, vaccinated, and microchipped. They all came from responsible breeders and were taken to puppy classes and dog parks. When each one passed away, my parents brushed away my tears as well as their own.

Max’s childhood experience with dogs was opposite mine. He grew up in a small rural village in the north of France where most family dogs were either farm or guard dogs. His parents’ dogs were always mutts, given to them by a neighbor whose unsprayed female had had a new litter out in the barn. Max’s dogs slept outside or in the garage, and they were fed table scraps. His family dogs were not usually fixed or vaccinated, and they were allowed to wander around the village unsupervised, sometimes with unfortunate results. Basically, dogs were a passive presence in Max’s home growing up while they were active participants in mine.

Max and I might argue about letting Pinch sleep on the bed or keeping the cats off the kitchen table, and he often reminds me that we can’t just “go away for the weekend” because of our pets. Yet we continue to make the relationship work despite our differences. He would never spontaneously grab the camera to snap a shot of Pinch being adorable (while I’d stop whatever I was doing and take about 50), or squeal over a puppy we pass in the street, but Max has never stopped me from living my passion to the fullest. He’s one of those husbands who despises shopping yet will go along and hold his wife’s purse while she tries on clothes. (Or, in my case, he’d drive me to the pet store and carry around a 12-kilogram bag of litter while I check out cat trees.)

Max might not like or understand my passion for pets, but he accepts it, and ultimately, that’s good enough for me.

Do you and your partner agree about pet ownership? If so, are there any differences? If not, how do you make things work? Let us know in the comments!

More stories about dogs and relationships:

I Love My Dog More Than I Love My Husband
Can I Still Call Myself a Dog Person if I Have Three Cats and One Dog?
I Put My Dog’s Happiness First — And It Saved My Marriage