SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: My Roommate’s Puppy Is Out of Control

Hi Auntie SparkNotes,

I have a tricky housing situation.

I’m a broke college student living with four other students in a house. Two of my roommates (a couple) have a dog they take excellent care of, and they’re training him to be a therapy dog because he turned out to have such a great temperament. Another roommate also got a puppy around the same time, with not enough money saved up and without really thinking about the worst case scenario (this is it).

She planned on training him to be a psychiatric service dog, but has not invested in professional training like she said she would. He’s six months old, highly energetic, very nippy, and very destructive. She refuses to exercise him with any regularity. Twice this summer I was asked to drop everything and watch him for the weekend, which I did. She leaves him alone for sometimes 8-16 hours at a time, during which time he howls constantly. He’s chewed up furniture, door jambs, paper, cords, and has bitten through several pairs of my pants. Her room is disgusting, smells, and is covered in debris which frequently blows into the hallway. He also got into her psych meds and racked up a $2k vet bill which she promptly set up a GoFundMe for.

We all feel bad because she’s struggling with school and mental illness and has trouble taking care of herself, but are also dismayed by her treatment of the puppy. When I was elected to confront her about these issues months ago, she got very upset, accused me of trying to passive aggressively “dog mom” for her, and threatened to move out—but when I found a replacement tenant, she refused to move. After that she frequently talked about me badly to our other housemates and mutual friends, which was hurtful.

We would help her out more, but the puppy is quite a handful and we all go to school full-time, and have jobs, partners (and antidepressants of our own) to juggle, and the howling and property destruction is really obnoxious. What should we do? (If it makes any difference, four of us are on the lease and although we got owner approval, it does technically say no pets allowed.)

Well, that’s easy. You should give your roommate a deadline: one week to either rehome the dog or hire someone to care for it during the day. And if she won’t do that, then you should take immediate steps to report her for animal neglect and get the puppy removed, because this is the kind of dire situation in which the common wisdom about respecting her choices and sympathizing with her struggles simply doesn’t apply.

And I know, I know: you wanted a solution to your housing problem, and this advice is all about the puppy. But that’s because your frustration and unhappiness, while valid and understandable, cannot take precedence here. Your living situation is annoying? You feel bad for your roommate? You were wounded when she accused you of overstepping and badmouthed you to mutual friends? Sure, okay — but for Pete’s sake, Sparkler, can you please add some urgent concern into the mix for the helpless, innocent animal who is alone and howling in a squalid room for sixteen hours a day, and whose survival depends on someone stepping in to do the right thing??? A dog that age can still be socialized, trained, and taught, but the clock is ticking; there’s only so much time before the neglected, untrained, exercise- and attention-starved puppy grows up to be a big, badly-behaved, unpredictable, unmanageable dog—and when your roommate surrenders him to a shelter because she can’t handle the responsibility anymore, what do you think happens then?

Hence, the deadline. And if your roommate won’t care for her dog properly, and if nobody in the house is willing or able to step in, then you’ve gotta start making phone calls. If she got the puppy at a shelter or breeder, try them first (your call should at least prompt a home visit, and many organizations will take an animal back if they learn that it’s being mistreated). If that doesn’t pan out, get in touch with the ASPCA, explain the situation, and ask what they recommend. And if your roommate gets upset at being called out for abusing and neglecting her dog—and let’s be real, she almost certainly will—please resist the urge to walk back your criticism for the sake of household harmony. The puppy is a living creature who needs help and can’t advocate for himself; if it makes your roommate angry to hear that, then so be it.

Meanwhile, although this course of action is centered primarily on the dog, it has a bonus benefit: dealing with the dog issue will necessarily bring the rest of your conflicts to a head, because this girl’s treatment of her puppy is a terrific microcosm for why she’s a terrible roommate. Force that issue, and you’ll force the larger ones, too, from her irresponsible behavior to her lack of consideration to her disregard for basic standards of cleanliness in a shared living environment. And while you cannot make her behave more responsibly, an acknowledgement of these issues followed by an ultimatum to shape up or get out would be a reasonable next step.

Assuming that everyone else in the house is as fed up as you are, that is—but if not, then maybe it’s time to move. And maybe you should kidnap the dog on your way out. Just kidding. Sort of.

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