My daughter is allergic to my fiancee's dog. Now what?
October 18, 2013 4:39 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter, more detailed: My asthmatic daughter is allergic to my fiancee's daughter's dog. Now what?

Even more detailed: I have three daughters (14, 12 and 8) and a cat.
My fiancee's 17-year-old daughter has a long-haired dachshund.
We have separate households.

My 12-year-old is asthmatic, and immediately allergic to the dog.

My fiancee is not asthmatic, but she's immediately allergic to my cat.

How on earth are we ever going to live together?
posted by ZakDaddy to Human Relations (30 answers total)
Well, let me start off the conversation with the obvious solution:

You need to find new loving homes for the dog and cat, hopefully with nearby family or close friends.
posted by Reverend John at 4:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah, most likely, you're either going to have to get rid of the pets, or resign yourself to not living together for many years (until the pets die and/or the kids move out). With asthma, it's dangerous for your daughter to be around allergens. And depending on the severity of the allergy, it could also be dangerous for your fiancee to be around the cat. You can talk to everyone's doctors about allergy shots or other medical solutions, but if the allergies are severe, medications are unlikely to work in the short-term well enough to prevent discomfort. And you definitely shouldn't ask your child (or for that matter, your fiancee) to put up with uncomfortable symptoms in order to facilitate your love life. It's just not fair to the kids, and it's likely to harm your relationship with them. So, yeah, I'd start talking about the possibility of the pets living elsewhere, or else talk with your fiancee about how to manage separate households for the next six years or so.
posted by decathecting at 5:00 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

When choosing between family and pets, choose family.
posted by Houstonian at 5:05 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Prolonged exposure to allergens increases allergic and, in asthmatics, asthma symptoms. If your fiance wanted to put up with your cat, that would be one thing. But your daughter is a child, and shouldn't have your health put in danger without full agency.
posted by dovesandstones at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Does your fiancee's daughter have another parent who shares custody that the dog could live with? Just brainstorming other options.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

The cat has to go.
The dog belongs to your fiancee's 17-year old daughter. You could ask if she would consider it, but it seems unfair to force her to give up her dog. On the other hand, you can't have your asthmatic daughter living with the dog. Is the 17-year old daughter going to move out within the next year or so? You could consider waiting on combining households until then.
Meanwhile, is it possible you could find a pet that works for all of you that you could get as a combined household?
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is a fenced yard with an enclosed back porch for the pets doable?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:13 PM on October 18, 2013

Also, with that many people you're going to have to live in a rather large house, yes? If I were any of your daughters I would resent the bejeezus out my parent for what would seem in my eyes as choosing their fiancee's needs over their child's (being their likely love for their pet). So, given the assumption that you'll have a large space, designate part of the space as 'dog space' and another as 'cat' space, and keep the separation strict and pump the allergic folks with Claritin. Seriously, if my mom had made me dump the cat so her boyfriend could move in, I'd have resented her for a while.
posted by greta simone at 5:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [26 favorites]

I think this depends a lot on how attached the kids are to the pets. Would your kids be devastated if your cat found a new home? If not, then you rehome the cat and one problem is solved. (Presumably you love your fiancee more than your cat and would be open to this solution.) If your kids would be devastated, then you have to weigh their happiness against yours and choose between keeping them happy and moving in with your fiancee.

I'm guessing the 17 year old is not expressing willingness to give up the dog or you wouldn't be posting here. How close is she to leaving home for college or her own apartment? If that's going to happen in a year, it could be better to wait a year to move in together. If her mom marrying you means she's forced to give up her beloved dog, she's probably going to have lasting resentment about the marriage that's going to make life harder for all of you. Of course, if she's going to college, it may not be all that easy to take the dog with her. It won't be allowed in a dorm. She'll have to do something with it during vacations. If it doesn't seem like there's going to be any workable solution, then her mom has to weigh her kid's happiness against hers and decide whether it's worth moving in with you. You can give your opinion, but she's the one who'll have to make that decision.

You might want to consider what kind of bribes would make the kids willing to give up their pets (or at least lessen the resentment.) Another kind of pet? Riding lessons? An expensive electronic device? A car for the 17 year old?
posted by Redstart at 5:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

As an asthmatic who was made to with pets I was allergic to, I can tell you that it is terrible. It may not seem bad every-day but it builds and builds over time.

Even with drastic and annoying accommodations on the part of the pet owner.. it can be a difficult and dangerous thing. I had mild mild asthma (used an inhaler once-twice a year) and mild allergies, but eventually developed Hypoxemia. Which is six kinds of no-fun.
posted by French Fry at 5:21 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Long haired wiener dog? Shave it and bath it regularly. Same for the cat, if long haired, and bath also. See if you can cut a deal with a pet shop for bargain rates because you'll be doing it on a long-term regular basis.

The dog will only be with you for a year or so, and then daughter will be moving out and either taking the dog, or finding another home for it. Discuss this with her.

See about allergy shots for everyone. Remember that your bedding, mattress, carpets, and curtains are significant in allergies and asthma.

Have separate quarters for the pets. Maybe outdoors with a great heated shed for the doggie and an indoor room with a run out the window for the cat. Everyone takes care of their own pets, and the rule is to wash hands after.

bribes would make the kids willing to give up their pets

I would so be pissed if you told me my love for my critter was worth some sort of electronic toy or another pet. Critters aren't interchangeable. There may be better homes for some, and/or reasons to rehome an animal, but it should be done with a different mindset.
Or something.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:26 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If these kids are at all attached to the pets, they will probably hate you forever if you make them get rid of their beloved pets just so you and your fiancee can live in the same house. Please keep in mind just how powerless your kids are in this situation: they didn't make the decision for you two to get engaged, moving someone new into the house (maybe even moving to a new house?) is going to be a major adjustment even if everyone likes everyone else, etc.. Asking them to give up beloved pets on top of that would be really cruel.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:36 PM on October 18, 2013 [26 favorites]

Thinking as a kid here, I loved my pets. As an adult who's thinking about the health of his child, that love probably makes no sense. As a seventeen year old if you wanted me to get rid of my dog so you could move in with your kids, my response would have been to make your life a slow grinding misery.

The way you phased it, it sounds like you think the dog is the problem. (That's what got your top billing. Your fiancee's problem is way down at the bottom.)

Would you be willing to let the 17 year old and her dog live with her dad?
posted by 26.2 at 5:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Re: cats, unless your fiancee's allergy to cats is of the "Eyeballs swell and anaphylactic shock" kind, it is totally possible for allergic people to become accustomed to specific cats over time. When I got my first two cats my boyfriend discovered he was allergic to cats. Within a month or two at most (and provided I clean the bedding regularly) he was much better, and within 6-8 months it was like he wasn't allergic to them at all.

I also rescue cats. Every time I bring a new one in he gets symptoms and what not and initially takes Allegra. But with each new cat he accommodates to the new cat faster (i.e. when my new roommate's cat moved in, it took my boyfriend maybe a week or two to get over it). He even ended up adopting one of the kitties I rescued. She lives in his apartment, they cuddle, she's all over his furniture and bed and everything and it's no problem.

He didn't do any kind of exposure rituals or anything, he just dated a crazy cat lady.

As for your daughter and the dachshund, I don't know if it works with dogs too and that's hard on a kid.

I will say--if I were a kid, whether 12 or 17, and I was made to get rid of my pet because I was combining households with my new stepfamily I would be extremely resentful of the new stepparent for a very, very long time. I know everyone's knee-jerk reaction is "drop the pets" but do consider the effects that might have on the larger family dynamics.
posted by schroedinger at 5:41 PM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

Has the fiancee explored medication (Allegra/Zyrtec) for the cat allergy? It may take up to 1-2 weeks to kick in, but then it can be life-changing.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:45 PM on October 18, 2013

If your kids are attached to your cat, you're going to have a never ending resentment issue if their stepsister gets to keep her dog but they need to give up their cat. And a similar resentment if you keep your cat but your fiancee's daughter needs to give up her dog.

Is there any way you could have two households which are next door to each other instead?
posted by jeather at 5:46 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What do the kids think about this? I feel like they should have a say in the matter.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:06 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am an asthmatic who is allergic to both cats and dogs. I have five cats and a dog. I take several different medications daily for maintenance, but I personally find that after two weeks or so of allergic misery, I adjust to new animal dander and my reaction decreases. I know this is not everyone's response, but it may be worth trying daily medication for the allergic ones in combination with dander reducing baths for the animals before any drastic measures are taken.
posted by crankylex at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do they have a lot of duplex houses where you live? Buy one, cut a door between the two sides and put a glass storm door there to keep the air separate. (Find a double with two AC / Heating units.) One side is for cats and people who can breathe in cat air and one side is for dogs and their people. If the layout works, get two doors and have one joined room set off from the two halves for all the people and no pets. Okay, it's kind of a ridiculous idea, but I live in a double shotgun house that we converted to a single and it would work really easily. I'd just need a door.
posted by artychoke at 7:52 PM on October 18, 2013

You haven't told us how everyone involved feels, what they want, if they generally get along with each other, if the 17 year old is moving out for college, if co-parents or others can take the pets....

In general, people come before pets. I don't know if the children will understand that, though.

How long have you been dating? How long have the pets been in the family? Were the pets a comfort to the children through emotional traumas like death or divorce??

For example, if at 17 years old, my mom asked me to rehome my beloved dog I got for my 10th birthday for a guy she's planning to marry but has known less than a year.... That wouldn't be OK.

Too many details were left out to make answers useful.

Generally people come before pets. But not always. The example I laid out, above, clearly shows the circumstances and details matter.
posted by jbenben at 7:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

When choosing between family and pets, choose family.

not for nothing but there are those are of us in this world that believe pets ARE family. there are many options you can try to work on before you just get rid of a pet. they're not furniture or toys that you can just discard when things don't work out perfectly. they are living, breathing beings that we (especially children) often love dearly and they don't deserve to be tossed out of the family just because it isn't going to be easy to come up with a livable solution.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [21 favorites]

Have you consulted an allergist? It'll take a while, but desensitization therapy works wonders.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From the perspective of the child of divorced parents who was (THANK GOD/THE UNIVERSE/WHATEVER) never asked to give up a beloved pet as a result of either parent's subsequent relationships: You and your fiancée are much better equipped to take the longer perspective and delay gratification than your children are.

Your fiancée's daughter will most likely be moving out within the next year or two and will probably take the dog with her. Your cat is how old? Unless you adopted it recently as a kitten with known health history and you're keeping it indoor-only with platinum-level veterinary care (and it has no bad dice rolls in the genetic lottery), it will shuffle on from this mortal coil within a few years. (Relatively speaking.)

Hold off on moving in together until the animal-and-offspring situation is less complex.

If you do decide that your children's attachment to their pets is a lower priority to you than cohabitation with your fiancée, please do everything in your power to rehome the animals well. If a shelter seems to be the only option, be 100% sure it's a no-kill shelter.

FWIW, my now-husband was allergic to cats when we met. Now, 17+ years later, he's the first one to go face-first into snuggly purring cat-belly when it's presented for cuddles.
posted by Lexica at 8:31 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can't ask your kid or your fiancee to live in a house with an animal they're allergic to, and you risk damaging all the relationships by asking the kids to give up beloved pets. (But ask them. For all we know, the kids might be over doing pet chores and might be ok re-homing the pets.)

Assuming the kids will be very hurt if they animals are re-homed, I guess you need to wait to move in together. The pets' lives are finite, but your relationship with your kids is lifelong and easily damaged at household merger time, and remember they didn't choose any of this.

Good luck -- maybe you can find a nice duplex arrangement.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:02 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Along the lines of a duplex, do you have a basement with a separate entrance that you could turn intoa room for the teenager? That sort of freedom would have appealed to me at 17, assuming you trust her.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:37 PM on October 18, 2013

When choosing between family and pets, choose family.

I don't think it's as simple as this, seriously. I don't know what the relationship between all of you is like, but blended families often present special hurdles. If your fiancée's allergies force your girls to give up their family cat, and your daughter's allergies force your stepdaughter to give up her dog, I can see everyone basically hating both each other and the pair of you. For, you know, eternity.

What is the housing setup you two are thinking of for when you live together? What do either girl's allergists say?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:54 AM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Allergy and asthma are both words that cover a vast spectrum. One of the first things you need to do is sort our how manageable their conditions are.

Odds are, keeping the pets and furniture clean and have a pet-free common area will be enough.

When did this come up? Haven't the pet owners spent time with the afflicted?

As far as people first - which people? Certainly not the people being asked to give up pets.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:48 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry to pile on here, but I agree that you must exhaustively investigate allergy minimization options or consider waiting to combine your family.

When I was a child/teenager, if a parent had forced me to give up my beloved pet under these circumstances - a pet that had been with me through the emotional trauma of divorce or loss of a parent - my reaction would have been scorched-earth extreme.

Honestly, I would probably still have lingering resentment about it, and I like to think I'm a relatively well-adjusted adult.
posted by lalex at 1:00 PM on October 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Why is giving up a pet the first option? I have always considered pets as family and you do not give up your family members. Please consider all possibilities before abandoning your pet. There has to be many others who are in this situation and have used medication/precautions to make this work.
posted by ladoo at 1:19 PM on October 19, 2013

Response by poster: Some really great stuff here, everyone, thank you all. My fiancee is trying allergy shots right now, fingers crossed. Failing that, my ex-wife has the girls half the time, it might make sense to move the cat in with her instead.

The 17 year old is going away to college next fall, but may not be able to take her dog (freshmen in most cases are required to live on campus the first year, it's not clear if pet accommodations are available)

It seems pretty clear to me that combining households will have to wait a while, for some very solid, well-articulated reasons. Again, thank you all.

jbenben - You're correct, emotional context is hugely important. I deliberately left out that kind of detail in order to attract the widest possible variety of responses.
posted by ZakDaddy at 7:22 AM on October 21, 2013

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