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Family Matters

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Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books, a national expert on family issues and the psychology of food and weight. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a national speaker, writer, and news contributor.

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Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

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 They cried, lost sleep, and rescinded the offer.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

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, January 14, 2010 3:39 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

What a wonderful article! I didn't know what I was going to end up reading ... but I think you hit some nails on the head here. We had our Aimee for 16.5 years. When we were forced to send her on to glory (I believe animals will be in heaven -- otherwise where do the horses come from for riding back down with Christ in victory? or the Lion which will lay down with the lamb? Or Aimee who shall greet me with tail wagging! :)) was the hardest day of our lives. My husband said, "I never want to do that again." Yet, 3 years later we adopted two 5 year old miniature beagles who quickly became members of our family. What a gift from God! Yesterday, when our 12 year old was having a meltdown moment (as only 12 year olds can do), Hope (who we call Hopey) jumped up on the sofa and extended her paw in comfort. My daughter burst out laughing, then hugged her beloved pet. All was well. I suppose if God could talk through a donkey, he can comfort through a beagle. Thank you for this article!
Left by Eva Marie Everson on Jan 15, 2010 8:53 AM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

I'll speak from the side of the one who was given away. My husband of 20 years "gave" me away and didn't even say he was sorry. One of the many hurtful parts was, he's a Christian(?) I'm like you, I could never give away a family pet and had a very hard time when I was forced to put our cat down. So my divorce was even more hurtful because I couldn't believe someone in my family could throw me away like that. However, God is faithful and I have seen Rom 8:28 fulfilled and I look forward everyday to see even more.
Left by Annie Jay on Jan 15, 2010 12:00 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

yes, but not without a bucket of tears !!!
Our little yorkie had medical problems with high medical bills, she is 9 years old. My husband was unemployed for 5 months, moved to MD from west PA in May, just to have a job. just staying a thread above bankruptcy, then my mother in FL goes to hospital, 3 days after husband moves, my transmission goes out. so running 3 households, trips to see husband, got mom up here in August, straight to ER..she was in critical condition (they were letting her rot to death in FL) she had major surgery in less than a week but now has Alzheimers and a colostomy in a secured assisted living. So was it better to give my dog away to a loving person that can afford to keep her or leave her home alone hours/days on end or put her down.YOU BE THE JUDGE..not everything is black and white.YES I still love her. Do I want her, the circumstances haven't changed yet,and it wouldn't be fair to the new owners who have had her 8 months. hope 2010 is better!!!
Left by Liz1026 on Jan 15, 2010 3:07 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

also, years past I had a dog that was 12 years old and a cat that was 13 years old before they died. So I would have kept my dog had the circumstances been different.
Left by Liz1026 on Jan 15, 2010 3:20 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

I could not. I have a little dog that has been with me for 12 years through thick and thin. I, too, was "given away" when my "Christian" husband left me for someone else. My little girl was with me then and she is with me now. We recently went through a terrible time when I moved into a new apartment and for some reason she developed separation anxiety. It was incredibly stressful and took much prayer and a lot of money that I really didn't have, but we got the help we needed and we got through it. I can't even imagine just handing her off to someone else. I just know she would think I abandoned her and I will not do that to her. It would break my heart.
Left by Bcotting on Jan 15, 2010 4:25 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

We have had to put down three dogs over the years due to medical reasons. It never got easier. We currently have a 9 mo. old puppy who has tried us dearly. In our 70's, we were not expecting this, but he is in our hearts, we are committed to him, trusting God to "gentle" him some. I do believe there are situations when the kind thing to do is place a pet in a home where it will receive the attention it needs. Liz, who posted her comments is in a situation that is overwhelming. We cannot judge her, or know what we would do in that case. God bless you, Liz, and give you grace for your trials.
Left by Fritzie on Jan 15, 2010 4:40 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

Thank you for your kind words Fritzie, I really appreciate that, and God Bless you too. My dog was given to someone my daughter works with and we get daily reports. Buttons has adjusted quite well, the new owners has other cats and dogs, so she has them to play with now. Also,she has a new "grandma", and she gets to play in the pool in the summer and loves the snow. For me, emotionally, it probably would have been easier to put her down, I would know where she was and not feel guilty for "abandoning" her, but Buttons has a collapsing trachea which if she gets too excited she "gasps" for air, hence the choice to not see her again at this time plus she has canine cushings disease. This was a choice that was made by my family and it has turned out well considering. I am glad others were able to keep their pets though. Psalm 103

"Worry looks around, sorry looks back, Faith looks up."

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" - Albert Einstein
Left by Liz1026 on Jan 17, 2010 1:11 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

I am one of those people who has been given away many, many times. First when my parents divorced, my father gave up and gave me away. Now, after battling drug addiction, my father and sister have given me away (given up on me) again because I'm too much trouble. I get the point about attachment, commitment, etc...I pray that they would want me back.
I too have pets: two jack russells and a mutt, and they are members of my family. They are alot of work, they do things they shouldn't, they cost money to keep, but the love I get from them and the joy they bring my family are so worth it. And at this point in my life, when I'm penniless and near homeless, the easy thing to do would be to give them away. But love ain't always easy, is it?
Left by kendrakpt on Jan 26, 2010 1:00 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

Dr Linda, you crack me up. I just love your article and also from the bloggers. I could not do this, I had to one time and I will never do it again. I even had problems finding a place to live because of my animals, but they are my family also. Not only that unless you know who or where you are giving your pets to, they may just end up in the SPCA standing in line for the "NEEDLE". Its like why get a pet(s) if you do not make a committment to them? Would you give your kids up? Oh excuse me, ops, this is being done every day as well! Oh but the love from pets and kids...agape love, unconditional love, forgiving love. When I cry my dogs lick, when I am suffering with pain, my dogs lay close (if not on top of me) and when I am eating who else is going to finish my left overs. :) God Bless you Folks and thanks.
Left by Carol on Feb 01, 2010 9:50 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

God has not allowed me peace to do this since I have come to a spiritual understanding of their place in our lives. God says that He sets a difference between the animals of His people and the animals of the heathen and if we belong to God I believe He makes in the womb each of our animals just for meet our specific needs or to teach us lessons. I believe that there is a ministry in this area that God has laid on my heart. Most of the animal rights people are not correct but there is a little truth in every false doctrine and God has a doctrine concerning the animals. It has come to my attention over the past few years that Christians have not addressed this area of God's Will and have left it to the heathen to address. I am not saying one could never give up a pet but I am saying that the bond is more than often supernatural and God is will bring us the provision. .
Left by saundra on Feb 03, 2010 5:00 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

This article hit home and being a first timer on the community blog, I am certain God is here. I have a younger brother that I would like to "give away" sometimes. And the idea of not sticking it out through the hard times made me think. I have pets (four to be exact) and because we have no children, they are like our children. I wouldn't give them away at all, but I would like to give my brother away. Oh, God forgive me and thank you for this medium for exchange of ideas and ideals.
Left by danwstar on Mar 05, 2010 2:17 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

Recently, or should I say for a very long time now I have realized that I haven't been a very good friend. When I am with my friends I genuinely love the fellowship, but when I think of them I don't pick up the phone to say hello. I have allow condemnation to come upon me, which I have been resisting. Because I know I am not condemn in Christ. However, this was a very good article for me to read, a confirmation that I need to love my friends and family, not just when I need or want something. Thank you for sharing this story. \0/
Left by pennee4yourthoughts on Mar 06, 2010 12:06 AM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

I am saddened at the proclivity of so many to make idols of their
pets. Perhaps many of these dogs should not have been acquired and
spent lavishly on in the first place..esp when there are so many human children (and adults) needing food and shelter and care in our neighborhoods and around the world. What has happened to us when we spend billions of dollars on pets, and let humans die of need?
Left by Chicagoland on Mar 10, 2010 9:31 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

We rescued a little Yorky pup from people who had her for 9 months and kept her in a wire cage. They did not want her. She has become a part of us and we are in Love with the little ball of energy. Now my landlord says get rid of her. We cant move because we have a lease. I cant stand the thought of losing her.
Left by Anonymous on May 12, 2010 4:59 PM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

This subject is such a sore spot with me.. it makes me beyond angry that people take on pets then decide for whatever superficial reason to give them away. Being a dog owner i know how attached dogs get to their owners.. and dogs that have been through the adoption system ten fold.. I always grew up with pets and always had the mentality- till death do us part- I would be the cray homeless lady with the dog in the shopping cart if it came to that.. I honestly feel people who can just give away a pet.. especially after many yrs.. regardless of the sob story have serious issues with love and commitment.
Left by melinda on Aug 29, 2010 1:42 AM

# RE: Could You Give Away the Family Pet?

I took care of my niece's & her 2nd husb's dog on their honeymoon. My niece's first dog ended up with her mom. Then while she was in her first marriage she had two dogs & two children. When her husb. left she couldn't keep the dogs. 1 went back to its prev-
ious home & the other went to live with her mom. Then she met her 2nd husb. he had a dog that he got as a puppy. It slept with him. After she moved in, the dog was no longer allowed to sleep in bed. It started peeing once in awhile on the carpet. The dog is 8 years old. So she said it had to go. Then he decided he wanted another dog. A huge dog, she said if they got it then she would get her dog back that she had from her first marr. So the 8 year old dog goes to live with the mother. When they picked it up I told the dog it was going home. She was so excited. They took it straight to her moms. Your article hits home. I feel like they never commit to one animal. What does this show the kids. 1is too small. I'm upset.HELP
Left by Jane on Oct 29, 2011 8:14 PM