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What It Takes to Convince Your Partner to Adopt a Pet

Can you spell “compromise?”

by Maggie Lange
August 16, 2022
A woman sitting on a couch sipping a cup of coffee and a man sitting next to her with a dog on his lap.
Sidney Morgan / Stocksy

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Here’s a favorite trope I never get tired of hearing: the person in the family who “never wanted a pet” but is now inseparable best friends with this dog or cat that again, they vehemently did not want. This person is usually the dad. And this is the conclusion that I’m anticipating for two of my friends — who were split about acquiring a cat — and are now the parents of an adorable gigantic Maine Coon kitten. 

This seemed to me to be a classic tale of something that could not be done: coaxing a pet-resistant partner to enthusiastically welcome a pet into their life. My friend Leah had wanted an enormous, docile Maine coon cat her whole life. She grew up in a house with smart, mischievous cats — of the general petite variety — but it was this special, fluffy gentle giant. She’s the friend that if you meet a Maine Coon or see a good photo or video, you send it to her.

But her partner, from the beginning, was generally opposed to pets. Kathryn grew up without pets. “I just don’t really understand the point of them,” I remember her saying, with a bemused indifference. She is also a very supportive partner, and might have gone along with Leah’s plan; except, what was really holding her back is that she’s also a considerate sibling (some people are just good). Her sister is actively allergic to pet dander. This decision would mean that her sister could never stay with them when she came to visit. 

For years, the pair seemed at (peaceful, but frustrated) loggerheads. And then, in the course of one weekend, they visited a litter of Maine Coon kittens. Soon after, while Leah was out on a run, Kathryn picked one up to surprise her. First, I learned that Kathryn was moved by meeting the kittens, and became truly enamored with one pointy-eared fluff, who marched right up to her while Leah was greeting another of the litter. Then I learned there was a fascinating negotiation at play. Namely, Leah had said that if they got a kitten, she wouldn’t agree to any work trips (unless absolutely necessary) for a year. A week later, they had a kitten. 

Compromises Can Work

It was the negotiation I found fascinating—and also potentially instructive. The resistant partner must be given the bulk of the respect for welcoming a new element, fairly selflessly. But she only relented when her partner promised significant changes that would be supportive both to their new pet and to the house in general. I don’t believe in a dynamic where everyone has to sacrifice, but making some big pledge highlights the intensity of your desire and that you can bend, too.

This reminded me of a situation with my friend Annie and her roommate before Annie got a dog. My friend Annie’s roommate was actually absolutely open to a dog in their Silver Lake craftsman, enthusiastic in fact. But Annie, like my friend Leah, was also deeply breed-oriented—and she really wanted some sort of Springer Spaniel mix, whom she knew would shed amply around the house. Annie’s roommate is a clothing stylist and generally concerned about textiles; she really didn’t want to run through a lint brush a month. That was her only request.

Give and Take

Annie did end up with her beloved white Spaniel, but she is now responsible entirely for cleaning the floors in their house (they got a robot floor vacuum and Annie’s also “deeply indebted” to her Bissell crosswave for the carpets). I think about how lucky Annie’s roommate is — no floor cleaning, and a Spaniel to hang with — every day. She knew and what my other friend Kathryn knew: You absolutely have the upper hand, figure out what you need to make this work and demand it. Also this Spaniel, Leggy, features in a lot of the roommates photos and is also quite the looker. They are, as the trope goes, new best friends. 

For The Wildest, animal behaviorist Dr. Karen B. London wrote a wise, strategic plan for convincing a partner (or roommate, in Annie’s case) to get a pet they don’t want. So many of my friends’ negotiations follow London’s advice. They had mutual respect and accounted for the new lifestyle changes. One of the things she suggests is a practice session: “Consider watching a friend’s pup for a few days or fostering a dog so you can try out what it feels like to have one in your life without the long term commitment. Even if they shed all over the place, the joy of cohabitating with a dog temporarily has convinced many people to get one of their own.” 

As it took Kathryn meeting a gaggle of these kittens to really fall in love, this advice, to gently try out some exposure—with no execrations or stakes—is really the ticket. You can’t fall in love if you don’t meet!

Recently, I got a text from my friend with the cat asleep on her shoulder/chest: “How could I ever think about moving?” Once again, the universal truth rings true: We don’t know how good something can be until we have it.

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maggie lange

Maggie Lange

Maggie Lange is a writer, editor, and columnist. Her work has been featured in New York MagazineViceGuernicaGQRolling StonePitchforkElle, and Bon Appetit. She lives in Philadelphia with her favorite brindle boy, Finn.