Putting pooch before partner

KATHERINE FEENEY
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014

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Advertisers put dogs in ads because we love them. Animals visit hospital because they help comfort the sick. People own pets because there's something special about having your own creature feature.

But what happens when you start putting Cuddles or Sweetie or Fido or Frank before your lover, your partner, your husband or wife? Who - or what - should come first - man, or man's best friend?

"Must not have dog," is the tagline of my single girlfriend on her online dating profile. She is determined not to strike up a relationship with anyone who has another warm-blooded significant-other in their lives. 

"I don't mind if they love dogs, or cats, or animals for that matter," she qualifies. 

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"I think that having the capacity to love animals reveals a lot about a person's character."

Yet they shouldn't love them enough to want to live with them? How does that make sense? Wouldn't pet ownership be a logical extension of this attractive personal trait?

"Not when it might get in the way of me," she replies. 

"Loving animals from afar is one thing - actually taking them into your home, and loving them, and feeding them, and letting them consume all your time, is quite another."

Perhaps, at this juncture, I should add that this girlfriend has an ex with a cat. Well, several actually. And there was nothing especially wrong with the cats - by all accounts they were as well behaved as cats can be, they were clean, and they were fairly independent. Sure, there was a bit of hair-shedding going on, but nothing so unbearable.

"I wasn't allergic," she says. "I don't hate cats. I don't hate animals - as I said, I love them. And so did he. The problem was, he loved them more than me."

I was curious. How, exactly, did he love his pussycats more than he loved his, er, serious girlfriend? Did I need to concern myself with paraphernalia from Peter Singer in the search for an explanation, for example?

No, thank goodness. I did not. Transpires that by love, she meant that kind of love that is all devotion, and time, and care, and duty. He would feed the cats before setting down their dinner. He would groom the cats before going on a picnic. He would worry about the cats while on holiday, rather than focusing his attention on where he was and, more importantly, who he was with.

"He put their needs before mine, pure and simple," she said. "I expect having to compete with other women, every now and then, in the meet market, but having to fight for attention on the home-front against a bunch of pussies who were there first? Impossible. No thank you."

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And so, she screens. She screens potential suitors who pose with their pooch in their online dating photo. She denies the advances of fellows with feline friends listed in their ''likes''. Not even a bloke with a budgie - unless they're smugglers - will get a look-in. Is this the smartest or the stupidest dating strategy ever developed? Possibly. Though there is that whole ''negging'' approach, which basically consists of a bunch of ego-crushing opening put-downs softened by a vague note of flattering counteraction but ultimately ending in the psychological abuse of insecurity for the sake of ''picking up''. That's not so much stupid as insulting.

But screening people because they have a pet? Avoiding those who have already demonstrated a capacity for love beyond themselves? Swerving folks who understand and enjoy the responsibility of caring for another? Sounds crazy to me.

In fact, it sounds like my girlfriend is just being selfish. I told her as much.

"I'm not though, that's the thing," she explains. "Most people enter a relationship expecting that they'll be No. 1. That their partner will put them first. That's the approach I take - my guy needs something? He has it. My guy wants something? He gets it. I just want to make him happy, even if that means putting myself second. Isn't that what most people want? Isn't that how most people feel? I think so. That's why I think it's best to avoid pet-owners. You'll never be No. 1."

When she put it like this, I couldn't help but think about the conversations had with friends who were recent recipients of proverbial joy bundles. Husbands who all of a sudden realised their wives had someone else to care for. Wives who realised they all of a sudden had someone they would die for. I'm talking about kids.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that kids and pets are necessarily the same thing. But there are parallels, to a degree. Especially when you consider the screening method my male mate has.

"I'll never date a woman with children," he says.

"Your needs never come first."

- Fairfax Media

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