Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Stepmother won’t allow dog in house

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Sacramento Bee Staff

KELLY: My parents divorced four years ago, and my dad recently remarried. There is a big problem – she doesn’t like animals. She will say, “I’m not an animal person.” Who says that? I have an amazing dog I got right when my parents divorced that has become part of my family. When I switched houses every week, Bailey came with me until my dad’s new wife moved in and said she doesn’t like animal hair all around the house and would rather my dog just live at my mom’s place.

I feel like if Bailey can’t go to my dad’s, then neither will I. My dad and I are really close. He said he’s tried talking to Sherri, but she won’t budge. He doesn’t want to rock the boat too much since they just got married. I told my dad I didn’t want to come to his house anymore. I could tell he was sad, so I felt bad but I still don’t want to go there without Bailey.

I don’t understand why my dad would marry someone who doesn’t like animals. He loves pets and we’ve had cats, a turtle and even a rat (great pet, by the way). I don’t know if he realized what he was doing when he got married, but I’m afraid he made a big mistake. Is it OK for me to not go my dad’s because his new wife won’t allow my dog? I won’t leave my dog every other week just because someone doesn’t like dog hair.


DEAR LS: No, it’s not OK to stop going to your dad’s house. You are close to your dad and that’s a super important relationship that you don’t want to throw away because you can’t resolve something. Your relationship with your dad is worth fighting for. If you just stop seeing him regularly, the relationship will decline and it will be hard to recover from the distance that is created.

It’s a bummer that Sherri doesn’t like animals, especially with how much you do. I get it. Animals have a great way of bonding people but in your case, it is doing the exact opposite. There could be a variety of reasons why Sherri isn’t an animal person and it would be helpful if you understood why before you judged her. Was she not raised in a home with animals? Was she injured or attacked before so she has fear of them? An interesting study in Psychology Today (September 2012) suggests that it is actually our genes (not just our situations) that play a substantial role in whether someone is a “pet person.” Perhaps she has never been fond of animals and they make her uncomfortable and stressed. Talk to your dad or Sherri to find out what it is about animals that she doesn’t like so you can better understand the circumstances around her feelings and why they make her uncomfortable.

If Sherri is part of your dad’s life, it means she is part of yours as well. Developing a good communication with her is imperative if you are going to have any kind of relationship with her. Go talk with her and your dad. Tell them why Bailey is so important to you and that Bailey is not just a pet, but more a member of the family. Explain Bailey’s value to you without trying to make Sherri feel bad for not sharing the same feelings about pets. Remember, she doesn’t feel the same as you so your goal isn’t to change her mind but rather to enlighten her as to how you feel and the role Bailey has in your life.

See if she is willing to give Bailey a chance if you promise to sweep the dog hair or vacuum daily if that is her biggest concern. Let her know you will be responsible for Bailey’s feeding, walking and caretaking. Hopefully after hearing how meaningful and important your dog is, she allows Bailey to join you for at least a trial run.

If Sherri doesn’t budge, your dad needs to intervene. If uninviting Bailey prevents his daughter from coming to his house, he needs to work at finding a happy medium between the two of you. To be honest, this should have been talked about before they got married. I question why this is being brought up now when Sherri must have known before she married your dad that Bailey came with you when you stayed at his house. Shouldn’t this have been spoken of before? Did your dad know she has felt this way, or did this just come up?

This may mean you seek family counseling to help resolve this situation. I’m sure your dad feels caught in the middle, which is never easy. Not wanting to rock the boat with Sherri but losing time with his daughter because of it doesn’t sound like a healthy balance of priorities. And if this issue can’t be resolved, you will struggle with other issues around blended families.

I respect Sherri for being honest about not being an animal person. That’s not an easy thing to admit, and probably comes with judgment and criticism. But to know that this issue could cause a big wedge between you and your dad or your time at his house should be enough to cause Sherri to offer some kind of compromise so transitioning the two families goes smoothly. Don’t pull away from your dad before you give him a chance to find some resolution that satisfies all parties. Your love for Bailey is obvious and it reflects loyalty and compassion in you. To love your pet the way you do speaks volumes about the kind of person you are and the enormous heart you must have.