Touchy Subjects, Dogs

I got the following letter yesterday, on the heels of my latest column being published in our diocesan newspaper. This week and last week were a two-part series about the dog:

I simply cannot understand why you think your failure as a dog owner is newsworthy. Why broadcast to every reader your shortcomings in understanding the risks and responsibilities associated with having a dog; your failure to make the dog a “family” responsibility; your inability to cope with one of God’s helpless creatures who was totally dependent upon you for survival; your unwillingness to love unconditionally; and your self-serving attitude to absolve your guilt? Really, your credibility took a sharp dive! Thank goodness the dog has found a loving forever home. Unfortunately, too many don’t. You certainly didn’t help their cause. Suggest you stick to more church-relevant topics and less personal adventures in life, especially when it makes you look so…well, bad.

I responded to the reader that I appreciated what she had to say but, well, honesty and full-disclosure is sometimes part of the deal:

Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I always enjoy hearing from a reader — even in a heated situation such as this.
Why take the time to air my failings? Well, as a dog lover I’m sure you will appreciate that I’m trying to help another family avoid making the same mistake. I made a big mistake — I was very short-sighted and naive, didn’t think through what it takes to have a dog and give that wonderful creature the attention he deserves. How horrible for this to happen to another family. How sad! We were lucky because a family right across the street – a family with other dogs and older children — was able to take our wonderful Enzo and give him the attention he deserves. I’m sure other families wouldn’t be so lucky to have someone right there, ready to take on this huge responsibility.
I write about my victories and I also write about my failures. This is how I am honest with my readership. This is part of what I feel like I’m called to do, to encourage others, and specifically other moms. If I can help even one young mother in a similar situation as mine, someone who is considering getting a dog because she thinks it would be great (but who has no clue what exactly this will entail) then I am happy to air my shortcomings and failures. And I don’t really see this as a failure. I didn’t give the dog to the pound — no grave ill came his way. This was a life lesson and as a family life columnist, this is what I share with my readership.
I am so sorry my column this week rubbed you the wrong way. But I do appreciate your feedback.

And that explains to you, dear readers, why I write some of the things I do. Because it’s just the kind of writing I feel called to. Maybe it’s my journalism background (just the facts, ma’am), maybe I’m using this space as free therapy (my goodness I feel better when I get these words out of my brain). But ultimately, I write from a place of wanting to encourage — of wanting people (women in particular) to know they are not alone. I have an amazing support network, people I trust and can really share my heart with. And in the midst of these conversations with friends, we get to sharing about our highs and lows, and I always walk away feeling encouraged and cared for. For me, when I know the things I’m struggling with are not crazy or weird, it helps me and encourages me.

Right around the same time I got that first letter, I received another, more encouraging letter:

I didn’t see a place to comment on your Enzo posts, but I wanted to tell you I love to hear stories like this because to me it is inspiring when people give up and do what they need to do for themselves and their families!

I understand why you felt the need to defend yourself, but I was kinda laughing because the whole time I was reading about what you did I was thinking she ROCKS! She didn’t buckle down and make her life harder – she just gave up! Cool! Ha ha – I think sometimes as moms (sometimes I’m saying) it’s best just to be weak in the things that don’t really matter as much. It sounds like Enzo has a great home. Your kids can have dogs as adults! Good luck to them. πŸ™‚

So that’s where I’m coming from with all this. And I do find it funny that this dog issue ended up being such a hot-button topic when I so often deliberately avoid issues that I know will stir the pot. There is so much going on in the world, in politics and the church and society in general, that I think about and never ever ever write about because that’s not the kind of writing I do.

But talk about a dog and suddenly you find yourself at the center of the debate. It’s a very interesting place to be.


  1. I appreciate that you share your low-points as well. I think there’s a danger in only sharing the high-lights. We could all share simply the high-lights and deceive the world (and ourselves) that our lives are perfect in every way.

    Then, your readership would fade away because you’d be un-relatable.

    Thanks for your honesty!

    Peace to you!

  2. People (and not really you in this case) can be horribly thoughtless when it comes to animals and hurt them carelessly. Since many people also have and love pets, this is a pretty big sore spot. I know, since I was at a lovely luncheon following a baptism where I LOST IT when someone at the table casually mentioned that they never got their dog neutered/spayed and it impregnated the neighbor’s dog. My husband grabbed by hand when I went on a little too long about how irresponsible that was. I think my response was triggered by the knowledge of how many animals are euthanized in this country because of such thoughtlessness.

    If you change the frame, you can see how people are likewise affected when speaking about unexpected pregnancies and the abortion rate in our country. It all depends on what you know and what strikes you at a certain moment. Many people have no problem glossing over a culture of licentiousness, since they don’t link it to the sad outcomes. I’m not comparing these two different areas of concern, just noting that people get hot under the collar about what they care about.

    • I hear you Andrea. I do understand it’s where people are coming from. I suppose the flip side of that is I’d like to be given the same credit (hope that doesn’t sound whiny, don’t mean for it to). In this case, me trying to do the responsible thing and give the dog to a loving home STILL brings out agitation. I know we should not have gotten the dog in the first place, but I can’t change that.

      What I have learned from this however, is to be sensitive to where people are coming from. When I first wrote about the dog it did sound very glib to some people who saw it as me just tossing the dog aside. I know now to be very sensitive when writing about such issues (which I don’t plan to do again!)

  3. (sigh) I find it incredibly silly that you can’t tell your story (which you did in a fine and respectful way) on your own blog or in your own column without such repercussions. You never told anyone else what to do or what to believe. You just told your story (and your story was of making a decision that turned out well in the end!) Sometimes, I just plain get discouraged that so much of humanity fails to give grace and understanding. So many people just want to mouth off and argue. You’re doing fine. You are portraying your life and your story on your own blog or column. And you do quite well at it.

  4. This is the Rachel Balducci blog and I would expect nothing less than the adventures AND MISADVENTURES that come from the Rachel Balducci Life. I feel a sense of sisterhood and friendship in seeing that your life has ups and downs, moments of perfections and moments of bad decisions. You are more in tune with other Catholic mothers of large families (like me, for example) when you write the truths in your life and not just share “more church-relevant topics”. Thank you, thank you, thank you for showing the side of you that makes you look…. well, bad. πŸ˜‰ I, for one, welcome it!

    – a very devoted fan πŸ™‚

  5. Sometimes God needs us to be the punching bag for someone else. But He makes us better for it later on.

    And your column helped me explain to my boys (again) why we couldn’t get a dog, even a small one. It also helped me overcome the “what-ifs” that always come after I tell them no. What if it was a really small one? What if they really did do a good job helping with it? What if it is really what we need to be the best family we can be?”

    A dog is not in our future, for more reasons than I can list. You helped me be okay with that.

  6. About that first letter I am, well, speechless! You did a great job of responding.
    Dogs are an issue for all of us! I think you have done a service to other mothers by bringing up the subject. Personally while I had small children a dog wasn’t even a consideration for me for the same reason you ended up passing your dog on. When we finally did get a dog, he was wonderful. When he passed on I never could really bring myself to get another one. I guess you just have to admit that there is a proper season for everything!

  7. Wow, you were much more graceful than I would have been with that first letter!
    Good job! And I agree with some of the other posts-you’re the one with the blog, you’re the one with the column. YOU get to determine the topic!
    And I don’t see you as having “given up,” as another comment put it. You saw what wasn’t working in your family and you STOOD up for the changes that needed to happen. It couldn’t have been easy to tell a houseful of kids that Pup is going!

  8. Christine says:

    My thoughts on this…sorta scared to say them..because of all the backlash…but it is just a dog!
    Animals are meant to serve humans. We also hunt animals and eat them. There is a line of abuse to an animal you do not cross…but giving one to a loving home and people freak out about that? Not sure I get that.
    Anyhoo…you are honest and your writing is great.
    Keep the controversial topics flowing…makes for good blog reading.

  9. I loved the Enzo saga – for all the reasons you gave, and becuase I just love hearing about your family life! Boo to the naysayers.

  10. well, I loved hearing about your dog adventures. Mostly because you gave me words to put to how I’ve felt about pet ownership for a long time. I always think, oh yeah, it would be great to get a dog to teach the boys responsibility, they love petting animals and hanging out with them. But ack! There’s so much more. But when you brought up the point about dogs never growing up and needing less physical care, unlike children…well it was a huge lightbulb for me! That’s it! THAT is why I would feel very suffocated having a dog around. And now I know that I’ll never cave and think it’s a good idea. And if I do, I can kick myself and say, “shudda listened to that Mrs. Testosterhome lady, she’s so smart.” But all you dog owners, I’m in awe and appreciative of so many of you who make it work!

  11. It is better to have tried and “failed” then to never have tried at all!

    Halfway across the world in New Zealand, I for one Rachel, love to know that all is not perfect in cyperspace πŸ™‚ There are so many *perfect* homes and blogs out there. which I just cannot relate too. I love your honesty! Thank you for sharing real life,.

    Kia kaha! Stand strong!

  12. OHMYGOODNESS! You are the most gracious person I have ever (cyberly) met! How did you manage to be so kind in your response? I was livid having read that letter and had come up with all manner of responses, none of which made your point as beautifully as you yourself did. Well done.

  13. I think it shows your maturity and honesty as a writer to share these parts of your personal growth and development with your readers. And it just makes you all that more endearing and lovable to your audience. Who wants to read about perfection all the time? That’s not real or honest (and frankly it’s a little boring) because none of us are perfect. But to read and experience through their words about how a writer made a “message of their mess” – that’s what gives readers hope, guidance, shared wisdom, and food for thought about the reader’s own opportunities for growth and development. We’re all on this earth together … and none of us is perfect. But we’re striving for His greater glory, and your willingness to share your imperfections and how you worked through them demonstrates your love for your readers and their path to His greater glory.

  14. I guess this has been talked to death, but I just have to say, I can’t BELIEVE the comments you have gotten! For heaven’s sake, it’s not like you beat the dog or starved it or something. I’m sure that dog was very happy and healthy the whole time he was with you, and anyway he’s a DOG! You and your family are more important! You’re taking it all very well.

  15. allison gaskins says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of THANK YOUS for blogging all about Enzo. I am so thankful to know the whole story, and it made me feel more human. And humane. For continuing to say NO TO A DOG. Seriously, I am grateful to ya Rach. Well done.

  16. Imagine if we wrote something about a dog nursing. It would go completely viral.

    (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You, dear friend, needed a 100% lighthearted and humorous comment. Love you and your writing.)

  17. Rachel, I haven’t been to your blog in a few years but I found it so encouraging while I was pregnant with my first, for exactly the reasons that first writer was complaining about. You’re a real mom and you write about the real ups & downs! Being one of the first of my friends to have kids, I had very few models of authentic mom-hood (not the glossy kind you see so widely in the media). I will forever be appreciative of all the crazy and/or inspiring tales you have shared here (because I’m sure some were both). πŸ™‚

    And especially regarding dogs, good for you for saying how hard it is! We got a (BIG, hyper) dog before we had kids, and I will always love him, but so many times I have wished we hadn’t gotten him. He’s practically like another kid… it’s hard to realize how much effort they are before you have one. I think it’s very important to have voices out there saying, “Hey moms, you don’t have to do it all.” Thanks Rachel!

  18. Michelle says:

    I can’t believe how many people were offended by what you wrote. I think you made a great decision and I don’t view it as a failure. It was an experience. I think it would have been a failure if you had kept the dog. I mean, it’s not like you had a sacramental relationship with it and leaving it was a sin! You had a dog for a while. It didn’t work out. I have never owned a dog, but from readers comments it seems like there is a belief out there that once you have a dog you must have him till death do you part…I’m not sure where this belief comes from, especially from Catholics.

  19. I’m a bit late to the party here, but I wanted to let you know that your Enzo saga appeared in my life at the exact same time I was considering getting a cat. I am a young, single woman living on my own and moving into a new apartment this summer. I’ve been living close to my boyfriend, but I need to move to be closer to work. I was worried about being lonely & was really craving the companionship of a pet. Your frank and honest stories helped me remember all the reasons I shouldn’t own a pet at this point in my life. You have saved some poor creature from a less-than-ideal situation and myself from the grief and guilt that would come from being a lousy cat-mommy. THANK YOU.


  1. […] when it doesn’t involve me personally. People can find controversy in everything – like dogs. As an aside, I joked with Rachel that we should write a post about a nursing dog. Imagine the […]