February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Man bites dog

By |2018-03-21T18:25:50+01:00November 1st, 2007|Lifestyle Archive|
Just because your significant other makes fun of his/her mom doesn’t mean you can.

he Boyfriend has a new favorite hobby. He pauses dramatically in any conversation — some would call him careless, others tactless; I say he’s a risk-taker! — and opens fire on my dog Bella. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a serious meeting, such as seeing my parents for the first time, or a lazy afternoon drinking cheap beers with our friends.

The Boyfriend doesn’t just tease me, he pontificates. He preaches like Jimmy Swaggart on a hot Sunday, after a few martinis — eyes wide, finger wagging, and slightly off balance. He deftly avoids efforts to steer him toward more polite conversation and rambles on loudly about the pitfalls of living with Bella.


A few nights ago, while dining with Andi, first-time dog/house sitter chez Bella, the Boyfriend intervened. Andi was a little nervous about the “How To’s,” never having had the pleasure of cuddling with a warm pooch or having to wait politely while Cute Doggy leaves a personalized gift on church steps (“Scusi, ha un pezzettino di carta, per caso?” — or, paper please.)

With Andi, I cut to the chase. “It’s really easy,” I said. “Walk her three times a day. Feed her twice a day. Make sure she always has water.” Andi nodded. “Don’t let her on the bed or couch. Although she looks like a stuffed animal, she’s a real dog and she barks. She —” Enter the Boyfriend.

“Ha!” he barked. Followed by “Ha!” again. Then, “Bella’s noisy. And she pees. She’s not allowed on the couch because she leaks! What’s up with that? Bella, well, she’s anything but ‘good’. This dog needs discipline. She needs to be trained. She needs a f%@*ing diaper!”

The Boyfriend paused dramatically and looked at me. He was measuring to see how low my jaw could drop. It was dislocated.

Andi smiled politely. “Oh, is that all? What happens if the power goes out in the house? Where is the fuse box?”

At that instant I silently named her heir to my future Fortune 200 company, a tiny bionics lab that makes the male gender faster, smarter, tactful and (above all) mute — all at the clap of your hands.

Was the Boyfriend finished growling? No.

“Bella is the Alpha dog. She has Erica whipped just because she found her at the SPCA. Once, Bella stood in the hallway and you won’t believe what…”

At this point, I jumped up to point out the fuse box, while ferociously clapping. With unerring etiquette, Andi checked her watch and noted it was time to leave. (Note: Andi does not own a watch and I never did show her the fuse box.)

Had the Boyfriend and I been a start-up couple (as in, a few weeks into dating), I might have ignored the teasing, considering it a sign of affection. Boys do pull girls’ hair when they like them. But we’ve been together for almost a year. He knows my dog. He knows I love my dog. He knows his daughter loves my dog. And he knows I don’t like it when he makes fun of my dog. Finally, he has been privy to the usual comments, “Oooh, maybe you shouldn’t say that. Your girlfriend looks annoyed.” And, “Yeah, dude, you’re not getting anything when you get home!”

Maybe I should lighten up a bit, but I’ve learned three useful things about relationships:

  • Never make fun of someone’s cooking because you may never be invited over again.

  • Just because your significant other makes fun of his/her mom doesn’t mean you can.

  • Rule of thumb for the naïve: Never say anything about your significant other’s dog, child, accessories, and/or facial hair.

I’ve learned first hand (while teasing my sister about our niece — who is perfect, by the way) that jokes about someone’s child are close to involuntary manslaughter. I’ve dumped someone over comments about my shoes. I’ve also called down all my pet-owning girlfriends’ boyfriends about possible dog-teasing. Their response: “Why would I ever want to do that?”

I don’t have a clue why I’m so sensitive to the Boyfriend’s Bella teasing. Maybe it’s that at some level I’m aware I don’t discipline her enough. I also don’t know why he insists on telling the same jokes after I’ve squeezed his hand and leg and whispered politely in his ear, “Please stop or I’ll kill you.”

Pavlovian, he is not. Perhaps I’ll need to train him, too.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.