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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: September 9, 2009

Submitted by on September 9, 2009 – 12:02 PM33 Comments

Dear Sars,

Last year, I moved out of state to live with my boyfriend.The move was based on financial necessity; I was recovering from an operation and couldn't work.The boyfriend (let's call him Adam) had a fully-paid-for home in his family's hometown as well as work contacts to help us get back on our feet.The downside is that we share the house with his brother who is a horrendous slob.

The brother, Jake, turned the upstairs living area into his bedroom, which forces me and Adam to walk through there to reach the bathroom and our bedroom.The room is a pigsty; as I type this, there has been a trash bag full of garbage sitting by Jake's computer now for three months.

The biggest problem is Jake's dog.She has turned this bedroom/living area into her bathroom, and several days can go by before Jake will clean up the mess.If he's feeling especially lazy, then he'll toss a bath towel on the floor to soak up urine, only to leave that towel there for weeks.On one occasion, Adam and I were overtaken by a putrid smell only to discover Jake had been sleeping on a bed covered in dog vomit for three days.It's a detriment to our health and to my sanity — I cannot live like this.

And yet I don't know how to make it any more clear that something has to give.I've cleaned up after the dog, as has Adam.The only person who can get her to do her business outside is Jake, and a good fifteen hours can pass between backyard outings.Neither myself nor Adam are successful in getting the dog to go outdoors; when we let her in, she runs upstairs and goes on the floor.

We've both told Jake that this kind of behavior is intolerable.I've cried, I've pleaded, I've threatened to throw the dog out of the house.I have two cats of my own and use their litter box as an example of appropriate sanitation, but it's done little to help.

I believe there are two reasons why I've been unable to convince Jake to change his ways: 1) the brothers are joint owners of the house, and so Jake doesn't feel he needs to change anything for his brother's girlfriend, and 2) the dog belonged to their now-deceased mother.In a depressing and perverse sense, the dog has become the embodiment of all the things Jake cannot receive from his mom: comfort, affection, devotion, loyalty.I'm sure Jake could benefit greatly from counseling, and I've suggested this to no avail.When Jake lamely attempts to discipline the dog, he cannot even hold a firm tone of voice for fear of upsetting her.She is his baby, his girlfriend, and his touchstone.

The reek from this dog is taking over the house, permeating everything.I have to hold my breath as I walk through Jake's living area lest I gag.I welcome any suggestions on how to yet again discuss this problem with Jake and Adam.


Love The Dog, Not The Poop

Dear Dog,

Again with the Hoarders-type scenario…

Jake is sleeping in dog vomit.This is a bigger problem than you or Adam can probably solve, and in any case, it's Adam who needs to solve it.It's Adam who needs to tell Jake that he needs counseling, a dog-behavior class, and a professional clean-up crew, and it's Adam who needs to set deadlines for Jake to enroll in or arrange for these things and then call the Department of Health, and Animal Control, if Jake refuses or drags his feet, because the situation is a health hazard for everyone involved, pets as well as humans.

You can do those things, I suppose; you could tip the Department of Health anonymously.But the issue for you isn't just Jake; it's your boyfriend's relationship to him and to the squalid living environment, and your feeling, I suspect, that you can't really put your foot down because you owe Adam.

Enough.The house is disgusting to the point of health hazard; maybe you can't get through to Jake on that, but you can get through to Adam.Tell him you appreciate everything he's done to help you after your operation, and you appreciate the thought, but you can't live like this — and won't.Either something changes within a certain time frame, or you move out.And you'll need to research options on that front, whether it's moving in with family temporarily, dipping into savings for a motel, taking a job you don't like much so you can move out…don't make an empty threat.

Adam is stuck in the middle here, which I can sympathize with, but he really needs to take steps to get the house cleaned up, because the house isn't the problem.The house is a symptom of Jake's psychological disarray, and if Adam doesn't try to get his brother untracked — not to mention showing his girlfriend that letting her live in a fetid dump is not okay with him — neither of them is going to have much else left.

Make the point as strongly, but as compassionately, as you can that it has reached the point where government agencies will intervene.Then make it clear that you have your own breaking point, and you'd prefer that the situation not reach it.But if Adam's not going to take action, you should prepare to.

Hi Sars. I'm not sure how to start this, so I'm just going to dive in.

I've been with my boyfriend for almost 8 years, and we've been living together for almost all that time. I'm 32 now, and my boyfriend is 27. Yes, I knocked him clean out of the cradle, I admit it. Even though there was the age difference, for years it was the most fun, stable relationship I've ever had.

Over the last year, I've realized something really sad — that I'm not in love with him anymore. It's that terrible cliché of loving someone, but not being in love. I think we just kind of grew up, and grew apart. Those little things that used to be endearing — they're not anymore.And the differences that I used to feel were complementary are just widening the space between us.I've thought it over, thought about so hard I thought my head would crack open, but I've come to realize that I want to be on my own again.

The problem I have is that I have no idea how to tell him. I'm sure he knows that I'm not 100% happy — even though I think I'm putting a brave face on, I definitely can attest to some visible ennui. However, he is terribly co-dependent, so I think he may be in denial about how bad things are. Even though so much of the physical intimacy is gone that we're basically roommates that sleep in the same bed, he's still talking about our future together.

I've been in relationships before, but never this long. And the break-ups I've had were more of the "Argh! You cheated on me! Get out, jerk!" type. Big blow-ups that were painful, but mercifully quick. This is the first time when I still care for the person, but I just can't be with them anymore — and I have no idea how I can tell him that.

This is pretty much a divorce, without the legal fees. I need advice on what to say, how to make it as gentle as possible, what I should have planned in terms of living arrangements. I'm fine with him keeping the apartment and most of the stuff, but I'm not sure if I should find my own place before I break up with him, or if that seems like I've been planning it for a while. I mean, which I have been, but still. Also, should I give him a couple of months' worth of my share of the rent when I move out? Are these even things I need to worry about at this moment?

This is all further complicated by the fact that I don't really have any friends I can talk to about this. All of my friends are "our" friends, so I can't really get advice from anyone. This whole thing makes me feel incredibly lonely, and like the most mean-hearted girl in the world.

Anyway, I desperately need advice about breaking up with someone when simply throwing key belongings in a suitcase and driving away just isn't possible. Is there such a thing as a civilized break-up?

(At least I came to my senses about one plan: since we'd long ago decided that we didn't want kids, I was going to say that we had to break up — wait for it — because I really wanted to have a baby. If that's not a plan with potential to backfire, I don't know what is.)

Sorry for the parts of this that sounded like bad high school poetry

Dear Poet,

There is such a thing as a civilized break-up — but you may not get to enjoy such a thing if both parties don't feel the same way about said break-up, which it sounds like you may not. But that doesn't mean you can't conduct yourself in a civilized, kind manner, at least as far as breaking up with someone allows.

The first thing you should probably do is allow someone else into the cone of silence.I get that you share friends, but sometimes adult life requires us to pick sides or otherwise navigate break-ups between mutual-friend couples, and if you need to talk to someone about the situation, you should do that — not just because you need to feel less isolated with your decision, but also because that friend could conceivably provide a place for you to stay for a night or two following the initial discussion, which is not totally necessary but can provide a key fighters-to-their-corners time so that neither of you is making big rent- or stuff-related decisions in the heat of the moment.

Before you have The Talk, you should have a bag packed and another place to stay.It's not that he'll freak out, or make you leave, but if you have the option of clearing out for the night and letting the dust settle, you should avail yourself of that.

Once you've got that set up, tell your boyfriend that you need to talk to him and that it's important.Turn both the phones off, sit down, and tell him what you just told me.Tell him regretfully, and don't recite it, but don't pussyfoot around it, either; "I'm not in love with you anymore" is the shittiest thing to say, or hear, that there is, but you do have to put it right out there and not give him false hope.He needs to know what he's dealing with so that it…gets dealt with.

Do some thinking beforehand about how he might react, whether he would beg you to stay or propose couples counseling, and whether that's something you want to try or whether you just want out.If it's the latter, don't agree to the former because you feel guilty — you will feel guilty, but you've spent enough time half-pretending everything's okay, and you need to end that now, unambiguously.

Tell him you can have the division-of-property talk later; try to resist any efforts to deal with it that day, and stick to negotiating the end of the relationship itself.Have a plan for moving out, and once you've had the talk, set that plan in motion as soon as you can.

But there's no way around except through.It's horrible, it's messy, it's not going to get done in one discussion, and it's going to make you feel like a black-hearted hag more than once, and I feel you, but try to remember that people do survive this, on both sides, every day — and that the alternative isn't any better, for either of you.

Find a place to sleep over for a night or two if you can, and then rip the Band-Aid off.The hardest part is not really knowing how it's going to play out details-wise, and often, you can't know until you start.I know it's hard and scary, but you'll both live.Start.


I know you've probably touched on this subject a million times, but I went through Vine archives, and can't quite find what I'm looking for.

Two years ago, I met "Debbie" as I started a new job. She started a week following my start, so we quickly bonded, being the new girls in a fairly cliquey office. We also discovered that we were fairly close in age, didn't particularly like our in-laws (does anyone really like their in-laws?), and had a similar sense of humor.

As we became closer to the other people in the office, we attended weekly office happy hours, but as a group. I did enjoy talking with her, but socially, it was always in a larger group. When she moved to another office in the same organization, I saw her less and less, but still at the weekly happy hours.

I found out through the grapevine that Debbie had been fired, which really upset me. I did not have any way to contact her (we never exchanged cell phone numbers), but did ask around for her number from one of my co-workers, who was unwilling to give me her number without getting her permission. Since we were all busy, he never got around to giving me the number, but I was always thinking of her, and was really upset about her losing her job.

When a co-worker planned a small gathering of friends, she invited Debbie and myself, and we reconnected. We exchanged cell phone numbers, and I spoke to her fairly often after that. I really felt badly that she had lost her job, and made sure that I took the time to hang out with her, both because I enjoyed her company, and also because I thought she needed a friend after losing her job. I also invited her to several networking events, to help her meet people in the industry who might be able to offer her a job. After several months, she found a job on her own.

A few weeks later, I was laid off due to the economy, which stunk, but was completely understandable since I was "the new girl." I let Debbie know, thinking that maybe I would be able to get a job where she had been working. She immediately went into blame mode, telling me that I should be very angry at our former supervisor, that he was evil, a snake, etc. Granted, I wasn't thrilled with losing my job, and I was slightly bitter, but what are you going to do?

Throughout the five months of my unemployment, she would call me to check in, which meant that I would listen to her badmouth our former boss, her current boss, and everyone she had ever known. It was exhausting. Then I get a phone call from the lobby of my building, she lost her job again, and comes up to my apartment in hysterics. I calmed her down, and after several hours, she finally went home.

Now we're both unemployed, and we're spending a lot of time together. I quickly realize that she's batshit crazy. She wishes cancer on her former employers (by the way, I find out later that she's been fired from at least four jobs in four years), yells instead of talks, is an expert on everything, and is generally unpleasant. Quite a few of our common friends have slowly moved away from her, and I was left holding the bag.

Here's where I'm encountering the problem. I decided that I was sick of the drama, holding her hand, cleaning up her shit, so I keep my distance from her. At first, I only answer the phone after she's called me a couple of times. I would never make plans with her, and when she suggested getting together, I would let her know how busy I was, maybe another time, etc. I slowly stop responding to emails, texts, and Facebook posts.

I think she has gotten the hint, and then, BAM! FIVE phone calls to my cell in one day, followed by a "I miss my friend" text at 11 PM. Several more phone calls, emails, texts, and posts over several weeks unanswered. PLEADING text messages, saying that she's "worried about me."

Now she's calling mutual friends, asking them if I'm mad at her, and if they can intervene on her behalf. I'm absolutely furious, but I just want her to leave me alone. My questions are these: do I call her, tell her that she's literally the craziest person on the planet, block her from my phone and Facebook, or hope that she'll finally get the point after all this? If I need to confront her, can it be handled via email, or do I have to meet her for a coffee somewhere? I have to admit that I'm not the greatest at confrontation, and had avoided her, thinking that she'd get the hint.

I also don't want my issues with her to interfere with the few people who include her in group gatherings. I'm not bad-mouthing her, and would never make anyone choose to hang out with her or me. It's a big enough group that I could hang out without really hanging out with her.

Thank you in advance for your sage advice,

She Knows My Address Fer Chrissakes!

Dear Addy,

You have two choices: continue hanging out with her, gritting your teeth and pretending the two of you have a friendship; or tell her that you don't appreciate the barrage of contact or the leverage of mutual friends, and you'd like some space in the relationship.Nothing's going to change if you go with the first option.Call it.

Yes, the second option is uncomfortable, and could cause some very mild discomfort for the others who still invite her around, but I wouldn't make that my focus here; that's their problem to manage.Your problem is that you don't want to continue your friendship with Debbie, and you hoped not to have to say so in so many words.You can't have it both ways, alas.

I don't think you have to have an in-person meeting to do it; a phone call or email should suffice.Tell her you didn't mean to worry her, but the flurry of phone calls and texts and whatnot made you uncomfortable; you don't appreciate her asking other people to intercede; and you'd like her to leave you alone.(I'd leave the phrase "batshit crazy" out of it.)Then you have to leave it alone.Don't apologize, don't defend yourself, don't let her guilt you into responding directly or through other people.Once you've said your piece, let her rage or whatever, and don't respond.

It doesn't make you a bad person; you just don't want the friendship anymore.But if that's the case, it will hurt her feelings, she will react, and you will have to tolerate it until it dies down; that's just how it goes.It's okay to break up with a "friend" you've grown apart from; you just can't expect the friend to be okay with it right away.

Maybe this is too much aggro for you, and you'd rather just socialize with her very occasionally and not poke the crazy; that's also fine.But if you go with the hint-free approach, understand that there's basically no way to do it where she'll just go on her way all "okay, then."

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  • noelie says:

    I agree with Sars, Addy, that a final "yeah, we're done" message should go to Crazycakes, but from a slightly different perspective. When someone just erases you – without saying anything – it's really, really hurtful. You wonder if you're imagining it. Are you just calling at the wrong time? Is she swamped, or did her computer die, or is is you?
    Knowing it's you is painful – and, granted, Debbie is probably not going to just accept the goodbye – but at least it's definite.
    Yeah, I had a friend dump me out of nowhere and I still have no idea why. I was employed and nowhere near as crazy as Debbie (as far as I know…). A quick 'we're not friends anymore' would have been way kinder, and it leaves you on the higher ground should it become an issue in your social group.

  • Grainger says:

    "Jake is sleeping in dog vomit. This is a bigger problem than you can probably solve."

    Another one for the T-shirt file!

  • Leonie says:

    To Pet: whatever you do, please be unequivocally clear to him. You two are over, there is no hope, so he should let it go.

    I was dumped over the course of six weeks of passive aggressiveness earlier in the year after a relationship of over four years, and the only reason I put up with the six weeks of purgatory was because I was desperate to try and work it out and he'd say he wanted that too and then… not do it. I didn't understand why suddenly, he was so un-OK with everything.

    Now, the reason I didn't understand would be cause he didn't have the rocks to come out and say "oh, actually, I'm not in love with you anymore, probably because I'm telling the girl from work that I love her", but that's a whole other story. The point is, he left it all so vague and non-closure-like that it took another six weeks and me coming over to see him to work out that, oh, he really was *that* done. I'd also suggest staying far away from agreeing you'll stay friends. You obviously don't have to tell him that you won't, because you might, but personally, I clung on to every last straw, including friendship.

    Be cruel to be kind here – set him free, truly and totally.

    PS. Just to make sure you know I get the difference – my ex turns out to be a gutless arsehole, you don't quite strike me that way :)

  • Cath in Canada says:

    For Dog: When you say the dog won't go to the bathroom outside, it sounds like you are just letting him out into the backyard to run around. Have you tried taking the dog for a walk? 20 minutes on the leash, and I think he'd be much more likely to go outside than just to let him run in the backyard. Dogs need a change of scenery too.

    This won't help with the much larger problem of Jake's unsanitary living conditions, but if you could get the dog to go outside, it might help some.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    If I were Adam, I would tell my brother Jake that he has two choices: Jake can either make the conditions livable for everyone, or Jake can buy Adam's half of the home. One or the other, and set a deadline for the cleanup. And for cryin' out loud, put in a doggie door! The dog will probably figure out how to use it – she doesn't want to live in her own toilet, but expecting anyone to wait 15 hours is completely unreasonable and cruel. Hope it works out, Dog.

  • Grainger says:

    Cath: The concern here is Jake, not the dog specifically. Presumably if he were not okay with SLEEPING IN DOG VOMIT then he would let the dog out himself.

  • SarahW says:

    Yeah I was wondering if they took the dog on walks too. Because it sounds to me like a situation from that Pet 911 show almost, where the humane society is called in bc an animal is being confined and living in its own filth.

    He may claim to love the dog and be very attached, but what he's doing is animal abuse. Dogs need fresh air and clean living environments. What a sad situation, I'm sorry you're dealing with it!

  • Candy says:

    Yeh, Addy, some people just can't or won't take hints. You don't gotta say she's the craziest girl on the planet, but you do have to tell her straight out that you don't wanna hang out with her or have her call you anymore.

    I had this guy who worked in the same building as me showing up at my work almost every day for about two months, chatting with me, asking me to hang out, before I finally came right out and said I didn't want him coming around anymore. And he was totally surprised! I thought I'd made it perfectly clear by ignoring him, giving him one-word answers, and brushing him off repeatedly that I wasn't interested and still when I finally said, "You can't keep coming here. I don't like it," he was all, "But I thought we were friends!" He was a nice guy and perfectly harmless, so I felt like a bitch for the rest of the afternoon but the feeling passed. Better being up front with him than dreading his appearance every time the automatic door swung open!

  • Aunty Pol says:

    To Addy,

    One of the best pieces of advice I've ever seen came from Sars herself. Some friendships have an expiration date..clearly this applies here . Tell her that fact…plain and simple. I suspect she may bad mouth you as is her proven habit..but what the hell….time to move on girl.

  • Jean says:

    I know the dog isn't the central issue, and she didn't mention size/breed, but small dogs tend to be really difficult to potty train. I've had tiny dogs who refused to go outside, even on long, regular walks, and despite every professional housebreaking trick I could get my hands on. But I've always been successful at getting them to go on puppy training pads (my current dog is pretty well housebroken, but I still keep a few down for him for emergencies – tiny dogs = tiny bladders that can't always wait for our schedules). It sounds like the carpet's probably already done for, but until Jake can get his act together, at least training pads would make cleanup a lot easier, not to mention more sanitary. And most of them have baking soda in them to help absorb the smell.

  • Isis Uptown says:

    Addy, your problem isn't that different from Poet's – you need to break up, and it's not going to be easy.

    Crazy people often don't get the hint, so you have to make a break. I like Candy's working above "You can't keep coming here. I don't like it." Adapt it to suit Debbie.

  • Matthew E says:

    Addy's problem: One of the main issues here is that Crazycakes is not just another friend having a conflict. Crazycakes has (probably) alienated every friend and relative she has ever had so Addy –who has been kind and considerate to her — is literally a lifeboat keeping Crazycakes from drowning in her own misery and solitude. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT saying this to make Addy reconsider her as a friend or help her out. She's Crazycakes; you don't keep her as a friend under any circumstances. But unfortunately Addy has fed a stray dog and now that dog isn't going away any time soon. Stray dogs don't take hints. You have to call the pound.

    Crazycakes clearly has a "you and me against the world" attitude with every friend she has ever had. As soon as Addy removes herself from the "you and me" club, she has become another enemy. I've been there myself. I've sometimes stayed in difficult friendships simply because, even though I didn't want to be friends anymore, I didn't want to be "the enemy" either. Unfortunately Crazycakes is going to hate Addy and wish cancer on her when she tries to reclaim her space. It's inevitable. Addy has no choice. Crazycakes has no "friendly acquaintances." There is no middle ground. She just has to remember that it's Crazycakes' problem, not hers.

  • Jon says:

    Addy, for what it's worth, I get along with my in-laws better than I do with my biological parents, most days. Not that that helps, but I just wanted to attest to the fact that it does happen.

  • Linda says:

    The only thing I'd add to Sarah's (excellent) breakup advice is this: The fact that you're not doing anything wrong by breaking up with him (and you're not!) doesn't mean he'll understand. I would encourage you to resist any urge (and Sarah has made this point before in other settings) to ask him to sign off on it. You don't need him to; don't try to get him to.

    I have no reason to believe you will do this, but it's a very common pitfall in situations like this, where people are so concerned about being fair and kind that they want to hear the other person agree that they are being fair and kind, which…often ain't happening. This is what I most often see nice and caring people do wrong.

    You have your own grief (which is clear from your letter), and you have a right to it, and "this hurts me as much as it hurts you" may in its way be true, but save that for your friends. This is my category of advice that, I guess, goes under the general tag of "You're the bad guy to him, even if you actually aren't the bad guy."

  • Isis Uptown says:

    More for Addy-

    As "The Gift of Fear" ( notes, women don't want to be seen as "mean" or "rude." I think, too, that a lot of us don't want to be seen as "mean" to another woman, like we're letting the sisterhood down. You can't look at it that way. Debbie is causing you a lot of grief, andyou don't need it. Sure, she's going to trash you to others, but that's her problem, not yours.

  • Bitts says:

    Addy, I think another of Sars' pithy gems is apt here: Just because Debbie put your name on the bag of rocks, doesn't mean you have to pick it up.

  • Bo says:

    I'm not sure how Jake gets back on track if he doesn't realize he's derailed. I don't get a sense from the letter that Jake has any self-awareness about the situation. And that may be the first thing Adam and Dog need to do. Not blaming, shaming, or yelling, but calmly sitting down outside of the dirty space and finding a way to get Jake to acknowledge that there is a problem. Until he does, he won't seek therapy and he won't address the disgusting conditions.

    But it's hard for me to see why Adam isn't the more active participant in getting the ball rolling. So yes, Dog needs to start with Adam. This is unlivable and it's your responsibility to resolve this with your brother. Paid for or not, the house is not a home for any of them.

  • Shissher (AKA "Addy") says:


    Thank you so much for your awesome advice … wheels are in motion.
    I was thinking that I might have to confront her in person, and instead, have taken your advice, and have sent her an email.

    Matthew … your perception is EXACTLY right. I've been talking with a friend who is friendly with Crazycakes (Sars, I am stealing this and will now refer to her only as Crazycakes), and is concerned that Crazycakes will eventually alienate all of her friends. Not my problem, obviously, but I still feel bad for my poor friend who hasn't reached the breaking point as I have.

    ISIS … I know that Sars has mentioned that book, and I'm definitely going to have to pick that one up. I agree that women generally do not want to be mean or unkind, and I definitely fall into that category. I have gotten a little better, specifically because of this situation. A girl that I just met unloaded on me recently, and I called her on it … I don't need a Crazycakes II!!

    Thanks everyone!

  • Kat says:

    To Poet:

    My boyfriend of several years and I broke up this past spring because he didn't love me anymore. Unfortunately, it took about five months of passive-aggressive, jerky behavior and picking fights for him to actually come out and say it. The thing is… on some level, I already knew that was what was actually going on. Our relationship just wasn't right, and it felt like he was going through the motions. I'm sure your boyfriend knows something is wrong; and even if he doesn't want to admit it himself, he might have an inkling that your feelings have changed. Constantly talking about your future together doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't have a clue… in the last few months, the more scared I became that things wouldn't work out, the more I wanted reassurance from him that they would – and so there were more conversations about marriage and babies than ever before.

    The absolute worst thing you can do is hold back on actually saying those words: I'm not in love with you anymore. Our actual breakup conversation went pretty okay, relatively speaking, because once he said that, I didn't want to be in a relationship with him anymore, either. It hurt like hell and definitely wasn't easy, but knowing there was no hope of a future helped me move on.

    And I echo what Linda, above, said… don't expect him to think you're a nice person, no matter how considerate you are of his feelings. And definitely don't talk to him about what you're "going through." I'm sure it's horrible for you, too, but he doesn't need to hear it.

  • Elisa says:

    Can I just say that there was a "Hoarders" marathon on A&E on Monday. I had never watched that show, but I was horrified and this everytime this guy said he was having a "level 8" panic attack, I started to panic myself! I can't take it! Cat skeletons! Poisonus bacon from three years ago! **shudder**

  • Jen S says:

    Dog, a few thoughts…

    First, how old and what breed is the dog? Other people have mentioned that tiny pups have tiny bladders, and the older dogs get, the more problems they may have. I really recommend that you take the dog to the vet immediately for a complete workup, and if you can get Jake to go along, an outside perspective may help.

    May, but may not, because Jake sounds, frankly, like Crazycake's long lost sweetheart to me. This level of disorganziation, filth, and depression is clinical. And Adam is abetting it with his behavior–whether it's because he's "used to how Jake is" or just tired of fighting the wacky, he's in on this too.

    You don't say if you have any freinds/relatives/parents around, but if you do, this is the time to swallow your pride and call anybody you are on good terms with. You are recovering from a major medical issue, and trying to do it in a setting that would be outlawed for an animal. Asking for temporary shelter, or a loan, is hard, but not as hard as deciding you deserve to live like this. Also, see if there's any social security, disablilty payments, or the like you are entitled to. Money is power.

  • Michelene says:

    Funny —  I immediately thought of "The Gift of Fear" when reading Addy's letter. Mainly because it provides excellent advice for getting nutty folk diplomatically, but firmly, out of your life. And then refusing to allow them to re-engage you in any way, shape or form.

    I actually love my in-laws. I've been lucky enough to get some very cool ones, though.

    If I've said it once in my life, I've said it a thousand times: sometimes the nicest thing you can do for someone when you're ending a relationship this way, is to allow said person the luxury of hating you. For someone who hasn't quite let go of the idea that things *might* *maybe* work out, ripping that Band-Aid off quickly is really the only humane option. Offering your continued friendship, however well-intended, is usually just a precursor to weeks and months of ambiguity and hurt feelings.

  • Grace says:

    @Elisa – Sweet Jeebus that Hoarders marathon was terrifying. I had never watched Hoarders, and I set my DVR to tape all three episodes. Bad, bad idea.

    While there's some comfort to knowing my packrat tendencies are not at this level (you can see my floors and walk around my house without risk of disease or injury), I do have a fair number of boxes that I just haven't dealt with. Kind of like the woman who had filled her apartment, garage and storage unit with "collectibles" and "gifts", and wouldn't throw them away. Hoarders definitely spurred me to tackle some of the more egregious boxes, and now that I've started, I think I'll be done with all of them soon.

  • DT says:

    Linda's add-on to Sars's advice about the breakup in the comments is really very good advice (as usual). It took me a long time to realize that when I was wanting to break things off with my ex-fiance. I let a year go by trying to figure out how to make it easier for him, and how to make him not hate me for breaking up with him. Of course there was no way for me NOT to be the bad guy in his eyes, and by the time I finally broke up with him, I realized that I'd be the villain as far as he, his friends and family, and some of MY friends and family were concerned. It wasn't fun but I don't regret doing it — just wish I'd done it sooner.

  • autiger23 says:

    I also understand that Dog's main issue isn't the dog, but that seems like the one that can most effectively and quickly be dealt with and frankly should be for the dog's sake. Definitely the dog could use a work up, but re-teaching the dog to go outside would help the situation quite a bit. Dogs tend to want to re-mark on areas that they have gone on before, so you're going to have to treat the floors to get the dog to stop. A friend of mine who had an incontinent dog found that a 1 to 4 parts vinegar and water solution did a better job on the smell than something like Nature's Miracle, but I say try both. It's likely the smell is in the subfloor at this point, so I'm not sure what is really going to work.

    Also, get a book about dog training and work on the dog yourself. You have to know how to handle a dog to get one with issues to be re-trained, you might also find it helpful to go to some dog training forums for suggestions on what to do. Breed specific forums are also out there if that might help more. I realize this isn't really the main problem, but it's the part of the problem that's way more readily solved than convincing someone to go to counseling.

    Also, basic dog potty training involves taking the dog out in the yard on a leash, staying with it until it goes, giving it a word that you repeat until the dog goes- 'go potty' 'good potty!' and then immediately treating the dog when it goes outside. Never assume a dog will go in a yard and do business by itself. Mine never have and probably never will. They like company when they take care of business.

    Really, though, I'd just find a way to get on your feet fast and get the heck out. And I'm probably a jerk for it, but I feel worse for the dog than I do for Jake. The dog can't exactly choose to leave the situation and I doubt it's a happy camper.

  • Wendi says:

    I recently had to end a "friendship" with someone that sounds almost like she could be Debbie's twin. I tend to be a rescuer and had tried for a long time to help this woman I worked with (she had co-worker issues, strong personality, know-it-all, crazy bitch etc.)

    Anyway, I tried to taper it off, then not answer her calls, make up reasons not to get together – and none of it worked. I didn't want to have the conversation and I was feeling like a rotten person for letting this whole thing go on so long. Finally, I did a wimpy yet effective thing…I texted her a note that said somthing like, "You take energy I just don't have to give anymore, I need to end this relationship. I hope you find whatever it is that makes you happy."

    Well, she called immediately and I didn't answer. She left a voice mail, which I deleted. Done. Have not heard anything more from her and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off me.

    After I did it, a few close friends pointed out that this was strictly self-preservation. I still feel a little sad for her because she is crazy, but not sad enough to let her drag me down too.

    Be tough, do what you have to do and don't look back.

  • Moonloon says:

    Solely on the topic of dog training, the fact dogs like to re-mark soiled areas can work to your advantage – just try and find some soiled paper or fabric (or even a bit of carpet) and place it in the appropriate outdoors spot. The dog will smell its own scent, and be prompted to use that area, at which point you can use reinforcing words as autiger23 described.

    And I second the idea of taking the dog for walks, my first dog would never poop in the garden, but there's nothing like a good long walk (with the scents of other dogs, as well as some soiled stuff with her own scent on) to encourage a dog to make with the al fresco motions!

    I've known people like Jake, who are pathologically disorganised (usually following a trauma or bereavement) and let's not demonise the guy, he's in A Lot of pain and all the worse off for having it buried, resulting in his behaviour. No-one WANTS to sleep in dog vom, and he's not doing this to piss you off – he needs help and his brother won't do him any favours if he lets this carry on.

    Dogs are (as many of us here know) tragically short-lived compared to us, and him pinning his entire emotional life onto his dog is a recipe for disaster when the inevitable happens – he needs to be making progress NOW, while he still has the dog around for support during the first few steps into a healthier way of life.

    I feel for him, and I hope he can get the help he needs.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Okay, the pet-hoarding lady? The kitten with one eye? Yeeeeeeesh.

  • Moonloon says:

    If I can double-dip on the training issue, there's another thing that's been niggling me re Jake & his canine comfort-blanket – you mentioned that "Jake lamely attempts to discipline the dog"?

    Now, I don't know too much about how Jake stands on this, but if his basic discomfort is with saying NO to the dog, and using punishment (even just harsh words) he MAY benefit from learning about clicker training, and the whole positive reinforcement training methods now being recognised as the most effective way to train animals.

    These are the methods used by the army, police, etc, even in zoos with potentially dangerous animals, so they're not some airy-fairy theoretical thing, but are based on solid behavioural science. And they work – as someone who's rehomed troubled and abused greyhounds for years now, I can vouch for that, so can a gazillion other people.

    Search up "clicker training" online, Wikipedia has a good introductory article, and if at any point Jake starts to be receptive to the idea of making changes, that might be a good start for him, because he'll be assured his dog enjoys the whole process as much as he does.

    Finally @ Sar's last comment, I'm in the UK so never saw Hoarders, but one aspect of pathological hoarding (which includes animal hoarding) is a kind of selective blindness to things that would freak most of us out – that's why animal hoarders do, with the best of intentions as they see it, often bring terrible suffering on the animals they collect.

    To generalise, animal hoarders are usually trying to protect themselves from facing their problems by taking on animals they see as victims (like themselves) rather than dealing with their own pain: and the affection or simple presence of the animals also provides the same kind of comfort as it would to any normal, caring pet owner.

    But when the animals inevitably fall sick or start to become undernourished etc, the selective blindness to problems kicks in, while at the same time there's often a level of guilt and fear that's unacknowledged, which adds to the person's psychological and emotional distress, and the whole cycle repeats on a never-ending downwards spiral.

    (And, obviously, some people are just plain batty and don't *notice* broken limbs, ribs poking through, and eyeless kitties. Which I agree – Yeeeeesh!)

    But it's all a reflection of the person's selective blindness to their inner pain, and while I'm not condoning neglect *at all* it's a far cry from conscious cruelty – but like I said, for the sake of both animals and the humans involved, it can't go on like that, and there's always a sound case for prompt and compassionate intervention.

  • Ix says:

    To whoever said that Jake doesn't want to be like this: I'm sure he doesn't want to be sleeping in dog vomit, but…well, he is. And, from the sounds of it, he's not making any efforts to *not* be sleeping in dog vomit.

    Sadly, that carpet? It's definitely dead, by now. And I'm pretty sure that, in the process of ripping it up, Dog, you're going to end up finding out that it's not just the carpet any more; it's also the floor, and the underfloor, and anything associated with that floor.

    It's time to find somewhere you can stay for a bit, and then pack your things up in a bag and say to Adam, "I know you love your brother. And I know that maybe the state of his living area doesn't seem that bad to you. But he spent a whole week *sleeping in dog vomit*. He has issues, and these issues are making the house a hazard to live in. This is well past the point where the government agencies would start getting involved, and I cannot live in this kind of environment. So either you start doing something about it, so that it's a clean house and the dog isn't crapping on the floor all the time, or I'm moving out."

  • Murgle says:

    Dear Poet,

    Just to let you know, it is possible. I was with my ex for five years and our break up was both civilised and … well, loving. It was the most painful thing I've ever been through, but we really put in effort to be kind to each other and support each other.

    There were a few key things that made this possible, and I hope these factors exist for you too. Firstly, the reason for the breakup was the same as yours: we had just grown apart. The passion was gone and we were more like best friends. Secondly, we both agreed that breaking up was the right thing to do. Even though he wanted to stay together, once I'd said that I wasn't in love with him anymore, he didn't want to be in the relationship either. Third, we tried to focus on the fact that this was still the same person we had loved and we were both still good people who wanted the best for each other.

    It's a few years later now, and we're still friends. Good luck! It is possible! I wish you both all the best!

  • Moonloon says:

    @Ix, yes, outside people need to be getting involved.

    Jake's not making efforts to NOT sleep in dog spew, because he's broken – probably temporarily, and almost certainly fixable.

    But he won't get fixed unless and until people step in, preferably people who love him and who won't ('scuse the metaphor) throw him to the hounds.

    I have not appointed myself Jake's online defender – but I do and have dealt with clients, and even family, for whom chaos became comfortable, and HELP is what Jake needs – not people ridiculing him, not people ignoring the visible signs of his distress.

    Sorry if I took this one a bit to heart, I guess I… just did!

  • Nina says:

    Is Jake on any kind of drugs? Is alcohol a factor? I can't imagine not noticing/caring that you're wallowing in vomit/feces or really being okay with it. If he isn't using mind altering substances then I'd mention concern that he is in some deep depression, because his brother really needs to open up his eyes. This isn't a weekend binge in college, this is Jake's daily routine.

    Regarding the dog, I don't get the sense she wants to take on doggy duty, and …well, I'm not sure she should have to. Yes, she could hijack the dog and take it for training, long walks, etc., but I don't sense any affection for the dog (hard to separate from the mess, I'm sure) and the underlying issue is Jake's disregard for cleanliness — and anyone else living in the house.

    Unfortunately, I don't think the axiom that a dog won't mess where he sleeps applies when he has the whole house to roam — it still leaves a lot of potty space. If Jake wont take him for training, what about your boyfriend. (Boyfriend training dog, not you training boyfriend…though that has potential as well.)

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