For five years, Sassy -- a feisty poodle-terrier mix -- was the center of attention. "Sassy was my baby. I'd had her since I was a teenager and she was a big part of my life," says Betsy McFarland, director of communications for The HSUS's Companion Animals section.
Then Betsy met her husband Mike and, suddenly, Sassy and Mike had to learn to get along.
It's a common dilemma for pet guardians -- how to help their new partner and their pet adjust to one another. But many people have found that, with a little persistence, they can work through the differences and teach the two loves in their life to live with -- and even love -- each other
"When Mike and I moved in together, I don't think either of us realized just how challenging it would be to get Sassy to accept him," says McFarland. At first, Sassy was downright grouchy. But, over time, Mike and Sassy learned to get along. "To win her affection, Mike started helping with Sassy's care," says McFarland. "He fed her and walked her. He gave her treats. The more he did, the more accepting she became. Eventually, we all learned to live together happily."
Whether it's a weekend guest or a new member of the household, a sudden change in routine caused by an unfamiliar face can often spell stress for a pet. Since they can't speak, critters often manifest their feelings in seemingly bizarre ways, as Carrie Allan, assistant editor of Animal Sheltering magazine, realized after a few months with a new boyfriend. Feeling confused and left out, her new beau's dog reacted by munching on articles of Carrie's clothing that happened to be within chomping distance.
Chewing, marking territory and withdrawing from the situation are some of the ways that pets instinctively react to stressful situations. But pets aren't the only ones who may be strained by the new relationship. Maybe your partner is allergic to pet dander and is struggling to adapt, or maybe the idea of accepting an animal as a member of the family seems strange. Whatever the problem, there are several steps you can take to strengthen the relationship between your partner and your pet.
- Stick to the Schedule. Companion animals depend on stability. If you used to spend hours a day hanging out with your critter and, suddenly, you're not around anymore, it could leave your pet confused and anxious. As much as possible, keep the same routine or adjust it gradually.
- Take a Tip. If your new partner is allergic your pet, it can be hard for them to adjust. But sniffling and sneezing can be eased by medication and management of the environment. Similarly, behavior problems can be treated and managed. For more information, check out the Pets for Life web site for tips on dealing with pet behavior and other potential problems.
- Create a Connection. You can increase feelings of trust and affection by helping your partner establish a relationship with your pet. At first, giving your pet a special treat whenever your partner arrives can create a positive association. As time goes on, the partner may want to assume the responsibility of feeding the cat or training the dog. "It's great to get your partner involved in training your pet. It really allows your partner and your pet to get to know each other," says Keri Caporale, Humane Education Coordinator at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.
- Compromise. Balancing your pet's needs and your partner's wishes creates a relationship that will work well for everyone. It's impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, but always favoring your partner over your pet, or vice versa, will create tension.
- Take it Easy. Just because you love your pet doesn't mean that your partner has to adore her too. "Never push your pet on someone. At first, it's important to be low-key. Your pet shouldn't be at the center of everything you do. Give your partner time to develop his or her own relationship with your pet," says Caporale.
- Make Yourself Heard. Clarify the special needs of your pet to your new partner: how easily your pet could slip through an outside door and become lost or why medicines need to be stored out of paw's reach. In addition, explain why your pet is important to you. The more partners know, the better equipped they'll be to form a lasting bond with both your and your pet.
Relationships are never without their challenges -- and relationships with pets are no exception. But making the effort to help your pet and your partner get along will pay off. "It took time and energy to help Mike and Sassy see eye-to-eye," says McFarland. "But, in the end, it was worth it."
Rebecca Simmons is the outreach communications coordinator for the Companion Animals section of The HSUS.