Vet as Therapist: When a Client's Boyfriend Hates Pets

Sad dog on the couch with cat

After I've spent years getting to know their pets really well, I sometimes find that owners are willing to say things to me that are typically reserved for close friends. But I take it all in stride. In fact, I usually read a client’s willingness to reveal something personal — within reason, of course — as a compliment of sorts.

Nothing says “I trust you” like the question I received last week from one of my younger clients:

“Last night, my boyfriend and I got into a really big fight. We’ve been talking about moving in together and we finally got to the apartment-hunting stage. The problem is that it's hard to find an affordable place that will accept Rufus [her dog] and Milo [her cat].

"But instead of looking for apartments a bit farther away that take pets, he came up with a plan to give them away to my parents! All of a sudden, he’s saying that he can’t see himself living with pets, that he never really even liked them as a kid. What am I supposed to do? My animals are like my children!"

My short answer? Dump him!

Of course, I didn’t actually say that. A veterinarian has to maintain some professional distance, after all.

Here's how I did reply, using my very best Ann Landers voice:

"Darling, the trouble isn’t that you don’t know what to do. The trouble is that you’re still in shock after finding out that someone you’re in love with is not the person you thought he was.

Don't worry — you will find someone else, if that’s what you want. And you’ll be absolutely clear with that person about just how much you care for your pets, so there will be no possibility of a future misunderstanding on this crucial point.”

I know, easier said than done. What would you have said?

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