How A Dog Almost Ruined My Marriage

Who knew a 10 pound mini-dachshund could wreck a chair, a couch, a throw rug and a marriage?

Last updated on Mar 02, 2023

dachshund dog Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

When I took Harriet for a walk, men would stop and shout at us, ladies would slow down their cars for a closer look, then wink and drive away.

They were all looking at Harriet. Harriet was a ten pounds short-haired, mini-dachshund adorable. Once, a whole lawn crew stopped and wanted to pet her. She shrank back from their eager hands and growled. "Oh the cute ones are always feisty," said one of the men. He leaned down and winked. Harriet barred her fangs and lunged.


By now, I was used to this. I quickly yanked the leash and Harriet's growl gurgled in her little throat. "Geez lady, be nice," one of the men said. I had just saved him from 10 pounds of mini-dachshund fury, and he was taking her side. Everyone loved Harriet, but love was precisely the problem. 

Harriet was a gift from my parents. They found Harriet abandoned at the doggie hotel where they board their dog and immediately fell in love. When they called me, I said yes without even giving it a second thought, but Dave said no. I was starting school and wouldn't have time for a dog, he argued.

Plus, we were saving money for home renovations on our 80-year-old home. This wasn't the time for a dog. I fought back. That Thanksgiving, we boarded the plane back home with a pink polka-dotted dog carrier, Harriet was stowed inside.  


On the plane, a priest sitting in the seat across the aisle peered into the carrier. He began to tell me how he'd grown up with a dachshund, who had died tragically in a car accident, forever scarring the priest, who still longed to have a dog. "But of course, in the ministry, it's not possible. Can I pet her?"

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Of course, I said yes. The priest stuck his hand inside the carrier and let out a yell. "Goddammit! She bit me!"

"I'm so sorry," I said. "Maybe she's nervous," Harriet growled at the priest the entire trip home. This should have been my first warning.

At home, Harriet barked all night, every night, for the next week.


Finally, we let her kennel come into our room. We didn't have cable, so we had a friend record The Dog Whisperer on his DVR and watched 10 episodes in a row. None of the tricks worked. She licked our hands when we made her submit and growled when we let her go. "I can fix her," I told Dave. "She just needs love."

I got her to stop barking all night. This was my only victory and it was short-lived. Four months into dog ownership, Harriet was pooping and peeing on the floor and in her kennel. Also, she bit Dave. 

To his credit, Dave didn't get upset the first time Harriet bit him, or the second time, but by the third time he'd lost his cool. "The dog hates me," he said. "I can't live in a house where I'm afraid of a 10-pound, growling burrito!"

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I cried. 

Six months into dog ownership, Harriet had ruined a couch, a chair, a throw rug, and my marriage with her poop-eat-it-and-vomit-it-back-up routine. 

The house smelled of poop and my husband refused to let her out of the kennel if it was just the two of them at home. Harriet bit him again, and Dave insisted that she be sent to a shelter.

"Will you do that if we have a child who has problems?" I shouted. "Will you just send them away?" Wisely, Dave didn't respond, but that night we slept in separate beds. 

On one of my many trips to the vet, the doctor told me that Harriet had an attachment disorder. "Harriet becomes attached to one person and protects them from everything else. That's why she's biting your husband." I didn't understand. "Let's put it this way," the vet said, "if Harriet were a person you'd need a restraining order." When I got home, I knew it was time for Harriet to go. 


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Harriet stayed with us for a year and, in the end, bit my husband five times.

It's not one of my proudest moments of our marriage, mostly because it took me so long to see that while I was fixating on my need to be a good dog owner, I was being a terrible wife.

Marriage is about little sacrifices—choosing to pick up a sock rather than wage World War III over it, giving a back rub for the fifth night in a row, saying goodbye to an adorable dog because if she were a person she'd be Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  


Still, I don't count the Year of Harriet as a loss. Dave and I both learned some valuable lessons about balance and our relationship

Often, I find myself getting so myopic on work, hobbies, and my own issues, that I miss the fact that it's literally taking a bite out of my marriage. It's always a reminder to take a step back and not forget that I chose to share my life and my space with another person.

Also, I think we are fish people.

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Lyz Lenz's writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, and others. She is a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.