Dear Pepper is a monthly advice column by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.
My partner and I adopted Mary Poppins (we keep her shelter name) from Alabama during lockdown.
Dogs were a hot commodity back then (forgive me, Pepper, for calling dogs a consumer product), and it took us a long time to find one. Poppins was, shall we say, the bottom of Brooklyn’s adoption barrel. She was neurotic and shaky and often urinated on the floor as if to say “please don’t hurt me”.
She was, and is, sometimes also a bit aggressive towards strangers and strange dogs. We have hired coaches and her mood has improved. She just shivers sometimes, often wags her tail, and will happily chase a stick when we throw it at her. We have been slowly learning how to handle it and keep everyone safe. We don’t take the elevator when someone else is inside her, and we take her to the park for her long ride very early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. I assumed she was just a desperately nervous dog until we took her on a trip to a remote beach in Maine and she changed: she became totally calm, happy and confident. She spent the entire vacation chasing crabs, sniffing things, and lazing on the grass in the sun.
Ever since then, I’ve been feeling terrible for her. We give her just one hour of outside time every day and keep her cooped up in the house the rest of the time. Although she doesn’t seem terribly unhappy lying around watching us from the couch or bed, or occasionally playing tug-of-war, I feel bad for her. In addition to having her so much inside her, we subject her to scary city noises every time we take her out. And now that I know that fear can be avoided, I suddenly wonder if the most human thing would be for us to find a nice country house for her. To be clear, I don’t want to. I don’t mind having a dog that requires extra work. He’s going to tear a hole in my heart if we give her up, and maybe hers too. But I wonder if it would finally make her happier. And that’s what I want most.
wracked with guilt
I sat with your email for a month, thinking about how to respond.
As a country dog, I can kind of understand what Poppins is going through. I will never understand why humans choose to live in such close quarters in cities and keep so many layers of doors, elevators, noisy neighbors, more doors, crowded sidewalks, and dangerous street intersections between them and the nearest forest. (And such a small, dirty stain!)
I’d like to suggest that you and your partner move to the country so Poppins can have his family. other nice patio to sniff. But I understand that this is not how humans operate.
So my advice is this. It sounds like you’re sure you can stop Poppins (sorry, that’s such a ridiculous name) from being aggressive and putting you and others in danger. Yes? If not, my answer might be different. But assuming you are, there are three things a true red-blooded dog needs in the world: nature, love, and something to eat.
(I say red blood dog because there really are dogs that do just fine without nature, and I really don’t understand these dogs.)
But, since we live in a society where the odds are so stacked against nonhumans (look what’s happening to the monarch butterfly!), if a dog gets two and a half of the three things it needs, it’s doing pretty well, in my opinion. opinion. And it seems like Poppins got his love and something else, and his food, and helped nature from him. So please don’t hand it over.
But maybe consider moving to a quieter place. Even if it’s just a daydream, it will at least help you deal with your guilt, which is something else you should be dealing with. Also, I can’t imagine anyone being happy living in a city. Even a human being.