Carolyn Hax: Sister got her life back, now wants her dog back

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Three years ago, my sister gave me her puppy because she was in the middle of a breakup, was moving, couldn’t take the dog with her, couldn’t afford the dog and was generally overwhelmed with life. I took the dog because it was cute, I like dogs and I didn’t want it to be sent to a shelter. It’s my dog now, and I am very attached to it.

My sister has since gotten her life back in order, and now that the dog is an adult, trained and easy to care for, she wants it back. I told her that I couldn’t give it back to her, because I am too attached to it and because I don’t trust that she would care for it properly.

Now I am getting the silent treatment from her. It has been a month since we talked. My mom is telling me that I blew up my relationship with my sister over a dog. I told my mom that my sister is trifling because my mom never held her accountable for her actions and always bailed her out.

So now I am on the outs with them both. I don’t know what my question is, but at least I have the dog, right? Can a dog really be a good reason for complete family estrangement?

— At Least I Have the Dog

At Least I Have the Dog: Whether it’s a good reason is moot if you’ve made up your mind already, which I suspect you have.

For what it’s worth, I’d see it as technically her dog, but I don’t think I’d give it back to her, either, because it would be cruel to the dog. But, then, if I were your sister, I wouldn’t have asked for it back.

If you get into another family-wide tussle over a dog, I suggest more high road, less explaining. But a dog isn’t the reason you’re estranged; your resentment is.

· I would argue the sister either abandoned the dog or gave it to you, and your “consideration” (that’s Lawyer for what you gave her in return that makes it a legally enforceable contract) was that you would assume the care of the dog and not take it to a shelter.

· I’m totally for keeping the dog, but I think the mom is off base. The letter-writer blew up the relationship (if there really was one) with the sister by judging her. The descriptions of her mom and sister made me go, “Wow!” Perhaps those were just justifications for an action that didn’t really require extensive justification — she raised the dog, and it is hers — but I got a holier-than-thou vibe going on there.

Carolyn: Yes, your commenter is probably right about the holier-than-thou attitude, because I realize this isn’t just about a dog; it’s about a pattern of my sister making decisions that leave others to pick up the pieces, then wanting them to behave as if she’s a paragon of responsibility, and my mom aiding and abetting that. This time, a dog was involved, so I refused to pretend the abandonment didn’t happen. But other times, I have had to sweep it under the rug. I guess I am just tired of sweeping things under the rug.

It’s okay. I have found I don’t miss my sister — or my mother, for that matter.

— At Least I Have the Dog, again

At Least I Have the Dog, again: Pent-up truth-telling tends to come out with some velocity on it. Better it didn’t, but it’s done. Like I said, this sounded like a settled issue, and apparently it is.

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