I was sitting in church a few weeks ago when a guest speaker was talking about his family’s decision to give away their two small eight-year-old dogs. I could hardly listen to the story and the somewhat buried spiritual point because I couldn’t wrap my brain around giving away our family pet. When Teddy, our beloved miniature poodle, died at 16 years of age, the loss hit me hard. As the speaker continued to unfold the story of pet inconvenience, children going to college, and the lack of attention his pets were getting, I was trying hard not to judge, but to relate.
After Teddy died, I vowed not to get another family dog. Our family was too busy and often out of the house for long periods of the day. Having teenagers, I knew I would become the default caregiver despite my teens’ intentions to do their part. Against my better judgment, I conceded to getting a puppy. A few days in to it, I realized this was not a good idea and gave our dog, Zoe, to friends who had two of her siblings. The give-away lasted only a few days. I couldn’t do it. Feeling like Judas to that sweet little creature, we retrieved our dog. No matter the inconvenience, we were committed for life.
So I get this speaker who is trying to convince us all why his family wanted to give away their pets. But I couldn’t do it after a few days, and this family had their pets for eight years. It would be like giving away a child (two in this case)! OK, maybe not that intense. But what kind of person does this? (I’m judging again.)
Before I could confess my sin, redemption came. The speaker admitted that his family couldn’t do it. They cried, lost sleep, and rescinded the offer. I was so relieved. Now, I could take them off my prayer list.
Oh I know, some of you are thinking, we are talking animals here, what’s the big deal? The big deal is this: Attachment and commitment seem to be missing in our relationships (with pets or people). We find easy excuses as to why we want out or don’t want to commit.
Call me a shrink, but anyone who can give away a family pet for reasons of inconvenience has issues with attachment and commitment. You can certainly disagree and feel free to tell me your story, but the sermon made me think of how disposable relationships are in our culture.
When inconvenience and struggle are involved in any family relationship, are we too ready to cut the person off, get out of the marriage, or ditch our commitment? Working through the tough times of attachment and commitment are what lasting relationships require.
The next time you are completely frustrated with that family member, who you’d like to cut off, divorce or give away, think about all creatures big and small who need your unconditional love, patience, mercy, and grace to grow in intimacy and stay committed.
Honestly, could you give away the family pet?
~ Dr. Linda Mintle