Sunday, August 15, 2010


About two months ago a woman moved to Miami to take a new job. A month later her brother came to visit from another city, bringing with him his small dog, which his sister had agreed to take in for him temporarily. He travels a great deal for work and couldn't handle having a pet at the moment.

The sister didn't want a dog and wouldn't describe herself as a "pet person," but she wanted to help out her sibling, so she agreed to take the dog.

They did not, however, discuss when her brother might retrieve his dog. The unspoken agreement was that the dog would be returned to him at some point, although that could be months or years away. He left some food for the dog, but it soon became his sister's responsibility to care for the dog.

The sister soon realized that caring for a pet is "a pain" and not something she wants to do. The dog barks a great deal, she reports, and moreover she has a housemate who has her own dog. The two-pet household "can be a handful at times."

About a week ago the situation got even more complicated: Her housemate called her, out of the blue, to tell her that a mutual friend would be happy to take the brother's dog. The sister was taken by surprise, since she had no idea that her housemate was making any effort to have the dog taken off their hands.

It bothers the sister that her roommate brought up the issue with an outside party before discussing it with her, but the idea appeals to her because it would enable her to give up responsibility for the dog while still having access to it and knowing that it was being taken care of by their mutual friend, who loves pets.

While a big part of her wants to get rid of the dog, however, she doesn't know how or if to tell her brother the news, or even if she has the right to give away his dog, even though she is the one who is now spending her time and money to care for it.

She senses that, if she keeps the dog, her brother won't want it back for quite some time. She also assumes that, if he ever did want it back, the mutual friend would "probably" give the dog back to her brother. And then another part of her wants to keep the dog herself, simply to get even with her roommate for going behind her back to get rid of the animal.

What's the right course in this complicated situation?

The sister is asking the wrong questions in trying to figure out how to respond to the mutual friend's offer. Clearly she still thinks of the dog as belonging to her brother, so before doing anything else she needs to check with him to see what his wishes are.

Simply giving away the dog without letting him know should not be an option. It was placed in her care, but not given to her as a gift ... or as a curse. The brother is still the rightful owner, so it's up to him whether the mutual friend - who might well provide the dog a better home - should get that opportunity.

If he OKs the arrangement with the mutual friend, the sister should make sure that the friend understands the situation and realizes that the dog still belongs to her brother, who may well want it back someday.

As for keeping the dog to "get even" with her roommate, given that she doesn't really like caring for the dog herself, that resolution would be in nobody's - and no dog's - best interest.

The overarching lesson here is that it's important to be clear on the specifics when you agree to do a favor for a loved one, especially when another living being is involved. Having not done that initially, the sister needs to do so now.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

A dog needs to be loved, taken care of by someone who wants it. Clearly, no one is putting this animal first. Give the dog to the willing person, buy the dog all shots as a thank-you, and follow up with an email to the careless sibling stating that the dog has been given a better home. If the brother complains, send him a bill and have him donate money to the Humane Society. Shame on everybody!

Bill Jacobson said...

I second anonymous. The dog did once belong to the brother but I would argue that at some point the pet has been abandoned. Her brother has not seen fit to provide food, shelter, or companionship for the dog, nor even ask about it.It is unfair for him to place this continuing burden on his sister.

The sister needs to contact the brother, give him the opportunity to pick up or make other arrangements for his dog or else she will.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

The brother should be consulted about HIS dog. Careless or not, the owner of the dog is this woman's brother! Her first action should be to contact her brother and tell him she can no longer keep his dog, and ask him for a date within two weeks when he can retrieve his pet.

After doing that, she can tell her brother there is a potential owner, and explain how she learned of the potential owner. But she needs to work out details of a transfer of the dog to this potential owner (or ask her roommate to work out details). Ownership should be clear and in writing, so that if the brother and the potential owner agree on whether or not the transfer is temporary or permanent.

The issue of the roommate's working to arrange for the dog to move is another discussion point.

But whatever is done with the brother's dog should be done openly and with details in writing.