Do Pets And Partners Mix?

What happens when your date doesn’t like your animal companion… or vice-versa? Here, advice on creating harmony.

By Sara Susannah Katz

he man who described himself as an “easygoing geek with a great smile” was also rather adorable, judging by his photos. I might have emailed him if it hadn’t been for the four little words he was honest enough to include in his profile:

I don’t like
“I couldn’t believe my cat disliked this guy so much.”

But I adored them. I volunteered for the animal shelter, helped start a pet rescue nonprofit, and was the proud owner of three dogs, two cats, and a pair of pet rats.

After the initial disappointment, I felt grateful for Easygoing Geek’s candor because pets, like children, can complicate if not completely destroy what otherwise could be a fine romance. Might as well know at the outset if my critters are going to be problematic.

When your pet gets anti-social
In my case, it was the prospective date who didn’t like pets. Sometimes it’s the other way around—pets who don’t like particular people. Christian Hawley in Aurora, CO, says she was mortified when Otis, her normally mellow Rag Doll cat, suddenly hissed and slapped her beau on the head as he knelt to tie his shoe. “I couldn’t believe he disliked this guy so much. Six months later, that same boyfriend appeared at Christian’s doorstep with her belongings stuffed in a trash bag. “I was completely blindsided, but Otis appeared to have known what was coming. The cat is obviously smarter than I am.”

Ignore your pet’s signals at your own peril, warns Kristen L. Nelson, D.V.M., of Veterinary Creative in Scottsdale, AZ, and a member of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians. “Pets are great judges of character. We are wise to pay attention to our pet’s opinion and to analyze how our date interacts with animals.”

Winning over a standoffish pet
What if your sweetie’s pet doesn’t like you? “That’s actually an opportunity to show how much you care about someone, that you’re willing to make an effort with their pet even in the face of growls, barks, pecks and gosh knows what else,” says Dan Collins, co-columnist of the “Single in the City” column for The Baltimore Examiner.

He once dated a woman who visited his apartment with her German Shepherd in tow.
“I have plenty of fond memories of that dog.”
Despite a fear of big dogs after being attacked as a kid and the fact that the dog was particularly possessive of his mistress, Collins set out to win the dog’s affection, starting by tossing mini-marshmallows in the air.

“It was clear that the best way to this dog’s heart was through his stomach. Once I was sure he was only interested in eating the treats and not me, I felt comfortable enough to start taking him for walks.” The two became good buddies and while “the lady and I have since parted ways, I have plenty of fond memories of that dog.”

Excellent strategy. “When dogs and cats are jealous of a lover, I recommend having the new person control the food, treats and toys,” says Dr. Nelson. “Before long, the pet will associate this new person with all of the good things in life. The objective is to change your pet’s point of view. We want them to think ‘Wow, now I’ve got two people to lavish attention on me,’ instead of viewing a date as competition for your affection.”

How much does your date love animals?
If you subscribe to the “love me, love my pet” school of dating, simply make it a point to date an animal lover. Watch for someone who’s willing to get on the floor to scratch your dog’s belly, someone who considers a lint roller a must-have, if unremarkable, fashion accessory.

If your prospective date’s profile doesn’t yield answers, ask directly: Do you like animals or merely tolerate them? Listen for the hemming and hawing. Pay attention if you hear any of the following responses:
  1. “I like dogs. It’s the constant shedding/slobbering/jumping/yapping I can’t stand.”
  2. “Cats are weird/scary/evil.”
  3. “Birds are fine, but it freaks me out when they fly around the room.”
  4. “Pets would be great if it weren’t for the mess.”
  5. “Hey, I was raised on a farm so I’m used to all kinds of animals. They’re fine as long they’re kept outside.”
As for me, I’m still glad I didn’t pursue Easygoing Geek. Instead of a dream date, I would have been this guy’s worst nightmare, and, frankly, he would have been mine. I don’t want to start any relationship feeling as if I have to apologize for my four-legged friends. I guess I’m more of a “love my pets, love me” kind of person… and fortunately, I’ve got plenty of company.

Single in the Suburbs column. Click here to read it. She’s also the author of Wife Living Dangerously.
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