Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where Kelly, Michelle and Beyoncé alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about letting a giver know when something’s wrong with their gift.

All-Knowing Muffle,

A family friend gave me a very generous gift of a wonderful dog, who’s been an amazing companion. However, after several months with him, we have discovered that he has elbow dysplasia. It’s manageable and he is still the best dog in the world (tied with all the other best dogs). The breeder is a friend of our family friend, and she specifically said she prided her lines on not having any elbow dysplasia. Is there any way to pass along that my dog is having this issue without sounding ungrateful or passive aggressive?


Sometimes Accidentally Rude

Man, what a great gift!  Why hasn’t anyone given me a dog?  Who did I piss off to live this empty, dogless existence?  Maybe I just got a little too cozy with Bastet in my last life, and I’ve been cursed with cats (and the parasite that makes me adore them) instead.  Jerks.

Anyway, I think the easy answer here is that you don’t actually have to involve your friend at all, and I don’t think you should.  Your letter implies that you know the identity of the breeder; why not reach out to her instead?  This isn’t an issue about whether the gift sucks or not, but of letting someone know that a representation she makes about her “product” isn’t quite true.  You don’t have to go at this aggressively, either.  You’re honestly doing her a service, by letting her know about this issue and giving her the opportunity to try to address it by altering her breeding stock.  It’s entirely possible that the breeder will tell your friend about your conversation, but this isn’t about your friend, and I don’t see why they would have any reason to feel badly even if word got back to them that you’d spoken to the breeder.  And if your friend brings it up, you can explain that you felt an obligation to let the breeder know to help future pups avoid this problem.

Forgive me a moment of sanctimony, but I’ve got to take this opportunity to sell my personal belief in “adopt, don’t shop.”  There are a lot of Best Dogs out there without homes, who 1. have a more diverse genetic background and so are less prone to physical problems like elbow dysplasia; 2. are often of a better, more even temperament for the same reasons; and 3. cost little more than the adoption fee, which goes to funding the operations of the place putting them up for adoption in the first place.  I get that dog breeders and pedigree enthusiasts have a million reasons why certain breeds should be kept pure for certain wonderful and amazing traits, but I’ve never found that persuasive.  Having a dog, to me, is about the love, not the breed registry.  And isn’t it cool to know you might have saved a life in the process?

Snark and tipples,


Got a question for Muffle? Send it to mufflemayi@gmail.com.