A Cat-lover’s Lament


Q. I’m 26 years old, have my own apartment, a good job, and I’ve been seeing someone for five months. We are getting along very well and things are getting serious in a “I think we may end up together way.” I haven’t had much luck with dating before this relationship so I’m very excited about it. My problem is that I have a very sweet, 4 year old cat who I love dearly and who, unfortunately, my boyfriend is allergic to. Therefore, we spend most of the time at his apartment or out, even though I love being home and miss my cat terribly when I’m away. He doesn’t dislike cats, but because he’s always been allergic, he hints that he could never live with one. Sometimes he throws out ideas as to who might be able to take her and give her a good home. I can’t imagine ever giving up my cat. She’s my baby. But the thought of giving up my only good relationship is heartbreaking, too. Was wondering about your thoughts on the matter?

A. Well, your story could practically have been mine, so today I’m speaking from personal experience. When I started dating my husband, I knew he was allergic to cats and had been all his life. In fact, he’d been hospitalized as a child from an allergy attack. This didn’t stop him from visiting my apartment despite the fact that my cat, Nikki, was always there to greet him. He came over armed with allergy medication, and when he needed a break from the dander, he’d step outside for a few minutes. This went on for many months, and guess what? Slowly but surely, he became more and more tolerant of my cat, to the point that all three of us eventually moved in together. My husband fared just fine, with some allergy issues here and there (always during allergy season) that he treated with medication. He also had a great attitude about it. Of course this may have been due to the fact that he knew there was about as much of a chance of me giving up my cat, as a snowball would have in you-know-where! But he also happens to love animals so I think his positive outlook helped, and believe it or not, we now have four cats and a dog and he no longer takes allergy medicine! Living with the animal you are allergic to is tantamount to having allergy shots (and by the way, shots are always another option.)

So my personal thoughts on the matter are these: Don’t you dare give your cat away! She’s your baby and she loves you, too! At this point, as much as you care for your boyfriend, you don’t know what your future with him will be. You’ve only known him for five months. And, if you eventually give her up, there’s a good chance you will grow to resent him for it. Let him know this might be the case, and let him read my story so he knows being allergic to a cat isn’t necessarily something that’s written in stone. When I think of the people who’ve given up their beloved cats or dogs for this reason, it saddens me that they do not realize there are other options and possibilities. Tell him you want him to spend time at your apartment, and with your cat, too (and have allergy medicine waiting!) Discuss all of this with him and examine how he reacts to your feelings. It might be very telling. In my case, seeing the sacrifice my husband made for me was one of the reasons I fell in love with him—and just one of the reasons I knew he was “Mr. Right.”


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Please leave a comment

  1. Nicky Wells Says:

    Bonnie, I totally adore your column and the dilemmas you unearth. Wonderful, sound advice as always. x

  2. Ali B Says:

    Bobbie – great advice and what a gorgeous cat photo – is it yours? Reminds me of one we had who passed away a whle ago – sob sob!

  3. Ali B Says:

    oops – I know you are called Bonnie!!!

  4. Bonnie Trachtenberg Says:

    Thanks so much, Nicky. I’m so glad you can relate! And LOL Ali! I know, the b is next to the n on the keyboard! No the cat isn’t mine, but I do have four furry felines at home. So sorry about your cat. I know the feeling!

  5. elizabeth cassidy Says:

    Bonnie – great advice. You nver know when an allergy goes away, i heard every 7 years our bodies lessen with certain allergies while we may take on others.
    Kudos to your husband for realizing that a love of a cat is just as powerful as the love of a man or a woman. Maybe even stronger! meow!
    I hope she takes your advice and her boyfriend looks for other ways to deal with allergies. that is why we have drug stores!

  6. Bonnie Trachtenberg Says:

    Thanks for the great comment, Elizabeth! I agree!

  7. Rachelle Ayala (@AyalaRachelle) Says:

    Hi Bonnie, I have severe asthma and have taken allergy shots for 15 years, including cat and dog. As much as allergy shots try to help, they cannot guarantee that you will not have a severe anaphylactic attack. My husband loves me very much and has decided to forego cats and dogs. He refuses the children’s begging and pleading. Even when I said it might be okay, and my children are looking with teary eyes, he says ‘no.’ He as treated enough people in the Emergency Room who have come in with irreversible asthmatic attacks. My daughter loves cats and as soon as she was 18 she got married to a cat lover, moved out of the house and got 3 cats.

    While I might be able to tolerate a visit or two, there is no way I can tolerate staying in a house with cat dander. It took us years before I stopped reacting at our vacation home, which was rented to someone who had a cat. My husband replaced all of the heating and air conditioning units and put in something that “zaps” allergens. A few years ago, my husband caught a bunny in our yard and all the children begged and pleaded and I said “no one’s allergic to bunnies.” So we kept the bunny. The allergies developed over a series of three years. Finally it was so bad my nose was entirely blocked and I had pain in my sinuses. My chest was continually tight and I had to go see the allergist. He took a test and determined it was the bunny. Fortunately, the allergy nurse had a bunny who died, so she took our bunny to her house.

    My mother always claimed my asthma was psychosomatic, that I didn’t want to visit her, despite her two furry dogs. But even with inhaled steroids and albuterol around the clock, I’d wheeze and have serious retracted breathing. So my conclusion is that no matter how much I love someone, I cannot be around their cats and dogs. If my husband were to choose between me and his cats and dogs, I’d tell him he can have his cats and dogs and walk out. Fortunately, I’m not allergic to birds, at least not yet. But I do think my husband will still choose me over the birds.

    I hope her boyfriend’s allergies are not life threatening. When you’ve seen people die in the emergency room from asthma, you have a different perspective.

  8. Linn B Halton Says:

    My husband always said he was allergic to cats when we met, between you and me he wasn’t but he was worried by them. He’s had an experience when he’d visited someone and sat himself down in her chair. Her cat came running in and literally jumped on his chest before realising it wasn’t his owner! The cat screeched, Lawrence screeched and claws were involved. Many years later, my father died four days before my birthday and Lawrence, with love and conquering his ‘allergy’, teamed up with one of my sons to buy me a kitten. Tiggs is now a member of the family and I swear he’s closer to Lawrence than he is me. Lawrence does have asthma, but had it a long time before we had Tiggs. Fortunately cat hair doesn’t affect him, even though Tiggs insists on sitting on his chest for his cuddles! It must be awful when there is a really bad ‘real’ allergy going on (as with Rachelle, sorry to hear that) and then of course it is very different. Sometimes it’s easier to say ‘allergy’ than ‘fear of’ and I know Tiggs has enriched our lives now that both our sons have left home. Wouldn’t be without the little chap and I love the way Lawrence has done a 360 degree turn!

  9. Bonnie Trachtenberg Says:

    Sorry to hear how allergic you are to animals, Rachelle. I know there are some people out there with acute problems, but I still think the majority of people who are or say they are allergic, are cases that are manageable if handled properly. My brother-in-law was one of the people who had a terrible attack after being around my sister’s cat and she gave the cat away. A year later I gave them a bed I wasn’t using and they never figured out that the bottom was covered with my cats fur. My stepson has allergies to everything and asthma, yet with meds is living with no allergic reactions at all to my four cats, my dog, and his mother’s four dogs. And then there’s Linn (thanks for the comment) and her husband’s case above. Those are just some of the reasons why I believe many cases are manageable, some probably psychosomatic, and therefore people should at least try to make the effort to see if they can along with a loved one’s pet, if necessary, with help from medication. To many animal lovers like me, giving away our pets would be like giving away our children.

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