‘Love me, love my dog’: You and your pets come as a package.

July 4, 2012

As many single mothers will tell you, whether two-legged or four, is often seen as too much baggage. It gets worse if your dog is old and needs a lot of care. You’re suddenly on the “do not date” list. No one comes near you anymore. The perception is that you’re a nut because you’re so heavily involved in caring for “just a dog.”

Caring for your own dog is bad enough. Guess what happens if you are an animal rescuer!

I briefly dated a man who called while I was driving from Marina del Rey to Pasadena to rescue a dog. He suggested a spontaneous meeting and asked what I was doing. When I said I was going to Pasadena, that alone did not bother him, but when he heard what it was for, he was incensed.

It seemed that, in his mind, it would have been fine if I were driving to Pasadena to shop or meet with a friend for lunch. However, because it was for “a dog,” he complained that I was choosing the dog over him. It was the last time I spoke with him. Yet, had this man wanted to spend more time with me, he would have been welcome to come along on numerous rescue missions. Still, he wanted nothing to do with dogs, or with rescuing dogs, despite knowing that I am a well-known rescuer who is the head of Forte Animal Rescue, an established rescue organization. Did he think I would just change this huge part of my life in order to accommodate him?

I have known of many husbands and boyfriends who were displeased when the women in their lives found their passion in animal rescue. One hubby claimed that his wife chose to volunteer at adoption events to stay away from him. Another went out of his way to find a job on Wall Street to peel his wife away from Los Angeles, the mecca for rescue.

I fail to understand why so many men feel threatened when women are inspired to rescue animals. In fact, many of those anti-rescue hubbies and boyfriends are dog lovers and were even proud of their wives and girlfriends for their unselfish interest in volunteering for rescue groups, at the beginning. Then, these men eventually complain that their women are consumed. Why is it ok for him to be lost in video games or football, but the woman in his life cannot have passion for anything else other than for him or cooking?

On the other hand, there are women who would get rid of their beloved dogs if it means getting a husband. Rescue groups regularly receive calls from women who say, “My fiancé doesn’t like dogs, so I have to get rid of my dog.” A business acquaintance told me that, 20 years ago, she had to give away her dog, so that her boyfriend would marry her. She’s still married to him but also bitterly remembers the incident, somewhat feeling that she was forced to trade her pet for a wedding ring.

I happened to be reading a newspaper column, “Ask Amy,” and the letter writer wrote about his wife: “She is a person who is always helping kids. She is a teacher’s aide. As a family, we have taken in children who needed homes for the past 17 years. She helps pregnant, unwed moms by supporting and collecting stuff for them to use for their babies, such as car seats and baby equipment and formula.”

I was expecting him to say that he’s had enough and that it was his turn to be cared for, but he wrote the letter because he wanted to praise his wife, which was very touching. Yet, at the same time, it made me wonder how many husbands and boyfriends would ever say anything like this about their partner if they were saving dogs instead of people.

Relationship coaches warn women not to marry a man and then expect to change him. Yet so many men want to change their women when they feel they must compete with animals.

If your man is averse to your passion for animal rescue, run in the other direction — the direction of your nearest shelter and rescue an animal who will offer you unconditional love. A dog or a cat won’t criticize your compassion for animals or make you feel like you have to defend yourself for being who you are.

Whether your passion is rescue or some other good cause, instead of abandoning it for the wrong man, pursue your passion, don’t lose your compassion, and tell your suitor up front, “love me, love my dog” and say it’s not negotiable.

Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.