Dear Margo: Your Husband Wants To Do What?!

My grandmother is a snoop — help! Margo Howard’s advice

Your Husband Wants To Do What?!

Dear Margo: As a favor to my mother, I agreed to host her mother (my grandmother) for a week or two while my mother and siblings clean her house. I was the logical choice to do this because I’m a stay-at-home mom with a child in school and I live several hundred miles away, so Grandma can’t suddenly leave. (Her dementia is just bad enough that we can’t send her on a cruise.) I try to make things easy on my mom because she’s wonderful and does so much for my family and me.

However, my grandmother is controlling, hoarding, manipulative, narcissistic and a snoop. Seriously, she will go through every drawer, cupboard and box if left unattended. Going through the bathroom cabinet and cupboards is small potatoes for her; she’ll check your nightstand, file cabinets and hall closets. Whatever she finds she discusses with her sister and her bridge buddies. Since we don’t have anything to talk about, my husband and I were thinking of buying a huge sexual device (and I mean huge, like as big as my arm and anatomically correct) and leaving it in his top dresser drawer. My husband thinks the worst that could happen is she’ll try to use it, while I am concerned that she will have a coronary and I’ll have to explain it to the police and my family. What do you think? –Killjoy

Dear Kill: Forgo the fun and games, hon, and tell you husband, the jokester, that planting a sex toy is a bad idea. While I agree that it’s annoying to have anyone going through your things, I wouldn’t provide the old girl with anything more to talk about than your brooms, aspirins and check stubs. –Margo, maturely

Re: The Accessory Dog

Dear Margo: I never thought I would be writing to you, but I need an outside opinion. I have a friend who seems to like disposable dogs. She made the conscious decision to get a puppy from her mother, a breeder of miniature poodles. The puppy lasted fewer than two months before it was given back to her mother. That was a few years ago. Last spring, she decided to acquire a new puppy with her (then) boyfriend. They picked the biggest monstrosity of a puppy I had ever seen — a cross between a lab and a Saint Bernard! Fast-forward a few months: Her relationship ended, she got “stuck” with the dog, and that lasted maybe four more months before she got rid of this dog, too.

This is my dilemma: I am a responsible pet owner, and having worked in the pet industry for four years in my younger days, I know the responsibilities involved in being a “pet parent.” I was taught by both parents (and my experiences) that once you get an animal, “returning” it is not an option. So, I harbor some anger toward individuals who treat pets like disposable playthings. How can I continue to have a friendship with this person when all I can think about is how irresponsible she is? –Responsible Dog Owner

Dear Res: I suspect the well of this friendship has been poisoned by your feelings about her behavior toward her dogs. If she is responsible in other areas of her life, you might put the friendship on a better footing if you tell her of your concerns and perhaps try to educate her. You could point out that her history with dogs is not good, that animals are not to be tossed out like used toys, and that perhaps she’d be happier with no pets. I was going to suggest goldfish, but then I had a vision of them floating on top of the water. Just tell her everyone is not cut out to have pets, and you believe she is one of those people. If she gets what you’re saying, then I think you can be friends again. –Margo, conscientiously


Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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49 comments so far.

  1. avatar 137lbs says:

    LW2 – That’s so sad. Poor doggies. I would have a hard time remaining friends with that person, too. It might be good to avoid them for a while, and if they ask, tell them the truth, that you are having a hard time getting past how she treats pets.

    LW1 – AWESOME!! I am totally behind you on this!! Contrary to what other commenters said, I think doing that would definitely distract her from further snooping. Having been snooped on in a major way TWICE in my life, by a MIL and my uncle’s then-new wife, all I can say is that if grandma is shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you! – it serves her right.

    Some people have a LOT of nerve, though, and it might not necessarily stop them. My aunt, for instance, went through my clothes and then expressed concern to other relatives (but not to my face) about the fact that I had one lacy camisole (in RED no less!), which she only could have found by digging all the way through my closet. 

    The last time my MIL stayed with us (invited herself over for a week), I set up my closet on purpose so that no one could go through it without me noticing. Sure enough stuff was moved. She didn’t even try to hide it. She got really flustered and denied everything when I asked what she was looking for in my closet. That was 2 years ago, I have not let her visit since. We are moving even further away now, but if she should ever invite herself for a visit again, I decided I would let her come and I would be nice, but we will just lock everything without further comment.

    If she ever to be left unattended even for a minute (presumably you won’t have your eye on her ever second), locking stuff up is really the only thing you can do. Unless you lock her IN her room. Which would be mean.

    Oh wait, my kid just suggested using motion detectors (they make cheap toy ones at SpyGear) at “sensitive” places like file cabinets, etc.

  2. avatar Claire Saenz says:

    LW#1: I believe I smell a fake letter here. This one just doesn’t ring true.

    LW#2: Here I’m a bit baffled by Margo’s advice, as it doesn’t seem as though the “disposable pet” lady is currently showing any inclination to get another pet–the problem is the LW’s lingering sense of disgust over past actions that may never be repeated. What is she supposed to say?: “hey, in case you ever think about getting another dog, don’t do it?” LW either has to accept that this friend made a couple of very bad choices and let go of the matter, or end the friendship.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      “LW#1: I believe I smell a fake letter here. This one just doesn’t ring true.”-Claire Saenz

      O my. Obviously you’ve never lived with terminally nosy people. My younger sisters would snoop my room constantly, especially when I was going to college and working full-time, and therefore frequently absent from the house. They made it a habit to read my diary (which contained nothing of interest…poor babies), try on my clothing and shoes, investigate the contents of my drawers, and permanently borrow make-up items, the pricier the better. My mother would do the same thing…and continued in this thrilling occupation when she came to visit, always announcing after the fact, “O, I love these shoes (which had not yet been worn by me, had been dust-bagged and boxed, and in the middle of a small, ordered stack), or this blouse. I tried them on and they fit perfectly! I hope you don’t mind!”. We also have a collection of limited edition books, which are carefully bagged. We absolutely do not mind if people want to look at them…if they ask first, and wash their hands before handling them. Mom knows this, and surprise surprise, will cheerfully peruse them with her unwashed, cigarette reeking, nicotine and make-up stained hands.

      As for the enormous, realistic dildo…LW1’s husband only made the wry suggestion they leave one for Granny to find, and I would guess the LW’s letter was possibly a way to vent her frustrations at having her private life scrutinized and dissected in conversation by her grandmother, not a serious query as to whether or not they should stash a Gargantuan phallus to shock granny into appropriate behavior.

      O, another thought on the whole issue of sexual devices and reputations…should granny find even a Day-Glo Vibrating Pearl Rabbit of average proportions, and spew her news to all and sundry, the best response to the inquisitive might be a cheerful, “O, we put it there specifically for her to find…maybe she’ll stop prying now…but I doubt it!”.

      The humor-challenged abound on WoW of late.

  3. avatar Jon T says:

    I gotta say people like LW2’s friend really bug me. I can understand getting one dog and realizing that it’s not a good fit for you. But repeatedly? If for no other reason than for the next dog’s sake, please say something to your friend!

  4. avatar justice31 says:

    I have to say I am absolutly fed up with people who want pets but don’t want the responsibility of caring for them.  Case in point, my step daughter just had to have a miniture German shepard mix puppy.  I said “no,” daddy dearest said “yes” so we ended up with a puppy.  She loved this puppy for a week before moving out with a boyfriend, leaving the puppy to her daddy who also doesn’t get that a dog needs walked every day.  Needless to say, she only gets walked if I walk her.  Cuddle’s had two litters of pups and of course my step son had to have one.  His puppy turned out to be a huge dog who desperatly needs walked at least twice a day, but there is no one here to do it except me and the dog is too strong for me to walk for a long time.  My step son also is under the belief that since cuddles is not his dog, he doesn’t have to let her out while I am at school or feed her.  So we have ruined hard wood floors because we had to have dogs.  I don’t like dogs, but I do my part.  I walk them when I can, I feed both of them and read books on how to train dogs.  Cuddles had a litter of pups born on Valentines day.  They have just been weened.  Guess who cleaned up the poop last night?  Not any of the dog lovers at my house.  Now my step daughter is completly grown and has two pure bred rottwielers who don’t get walked and live out there lives in cages at the flop house where she stays at.  The day she moves back home with two rotts that I will have to care for is the day I need to pack up and move on.  She has tried to get places on her own, but no one wants pure bred rotts to move in too, especially since she is big on making sure her dogs are tough guard dogs, like rotts aren’t naturally territiorial enough.

    Did I mention that I am not a dog lover.  I only take care of the dogs because they are part of the family and it is what a good person should do if they take on a pet.  So it sucks to be me and have to care for these animals that I don’t even particularly like.  I like cats and birds.  Why? Because cats are mostly self sufficent, and the smaller breeds of birds are pretty easy to care for as well. 

  5. avatar Shirley T says:

    Am I the only one who noticed that LW1 stated that it was her and her husband who wanted to pull this prank?

    From first-hand experience dealing with someone suffering from dementia, it is a mean trick. Please reconsider and just lock the drawers. Or empty them.

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#2: I am an animal lover. I have twelve rescue cats (all spayed and neutered, all strictly indoor) and have had many, many others in my many years as a pet owner. I am not a member of PETA, because the organization’s stated goals are contradictory (no pets for anyone…but love and care for animals. If people don’t value their animals as companions and family members…the term “pets” is so easy to misconstrue and use as a pejorative…why would they value domesticated creatures such as cats, dogs and horses? I am a firm believer in the curtailing of the pure-bred industry due to the genetic monstrosities created by inbreeding, puppy and kitten mills, the thousands of “defective” animals that are casually destroyed each year by breeders as unfit for sale or breeding purposes (this goes on in the horse industry too), the sale of sick and genetically defective animals at chain pet-stores in malls, and “road-side” breeders who insist on mating their “perfect specimens”, refuse to spay or neuter, and provide buyers whose backgrounds are never investigated with Wal-mart papers for their “pedigree” purchases.

    All of the above is to explain that I truly value animals as living creatures that feel, both physically, mentally and emotionally, whether they are human or not (after all, we are nothing more than highly evolved…a sometimes dubious notion…animals ourselves). They can suffer in almost every way that we can…except that they are unable to rationalize, tell time, or understand how and why their human owners grow tired of them, or are incapable of, or no longer interested in remaining their friends. They really are not that much different than children, in that we choose them, and they have no choice in the matter, they are largely helpless as to what becomes of them, or as to how they are treated or trained (raised), and they can be abandoned with ease. The main difference between animals as pets and children would be that pets are, by law, considered to be physical property, and valued as such…while children are human beings, and considered to be living, breathing creatures with actual rights. If someone tortures, burns, mutilates and kills several dozen cats in a given area…he is likely to be brought up on charges of property damage, and may have some animal cruelty charges brought against him as well. In the first case, fines will be assessed based on the legal value of the animals (in the case of non-pedigree cats, this can be as little as $15), and there will probably only be probation and possibly community service. In the second, perhaps fines, a suspended, very light sentence, probation, and community service.

    Of course, the animals suffered hideously, and with as little understanding as a child would have, and their owners suffered as well. If the man had done this to even one child…I do believe the consequences would be obvious.

    Now, LW2, your friend initially attempted to raise a puppy that she got from her mother, who actually bred the dog she received. It didn’t work out (no explanation given as to why), and she returned the puppy…to her mother. She didn’t dump it at the pound, or worse, on the side of the road, or give it to a random stranger…she returned it to its original source. Strangely, I have heard of very reputable breeders who insist on a cause like this in their contract with a buyer: if the animal does not work out within a given time period, it is to be returned to the breeder rather than being irresponsibly disposed of in some unthinkable manner. I know our bull terrier we got when I was a child came with such an agreement, and so did the Himalayan cat I had years ago.

    Then your friend waits several years, gets a boyfriend, and ends up with a really huge dog that she and the man picked out. Unless you were a fly on the wall, you can’t possibly be privy to who’s choice the dog was, how much persuasion, coercion, threat, and pleading went into the conversation, and whether or not the guy made one of those, “It’s my dog, I promise to take care of it” speeches. Then, a few months later, he leaves, and he abandons the dog with her. I’d say she tried to keep up with it if she held on for four months before “getting rid of it”. Also, you don’t mention what she did with it, so it is hard to gauge just how irresponsible she was regarding the animal. She really might have been stuck with it…especially if the idea, and the type and size were primarily his idea, and then he ran off an left her to deal with his obligations.

    She hasn’t gotten another animal, so what, precisely, is troubling you? Animals are not disposable, true, but it also very true that occasionally, just as in human-human relationships, human-animal relationships do not work out. Saying that you never give up on a pet once it is yours can be a recipe for absolute disaster. We’ve had to give up one cat…he was sweet with humans, but he was extremely animal aggressive (hand raised with other cats and dogs, neutered at 6 months, never abused or mistreated). He left two of our cats with permanent scars, and made another so ill from stress we nearly lost him, and ended up with a $2500 vet bill to save him from collapsed intestines and heart failure. We kept Teddy for six months, and with many tears and much sadness, returned him to the organization from which we had agreed to take him on a trial run. He has since found a home as an only cat…after several owners. There are a number of circumstances in which even a much loved four legged family member may have to go to a new home…not because they’re considered disposable, but because you can’t explain, or rationalize, to a dog, or a cat, new or very different events or presences in the home. They are not human, and it is cruel to anthropomorphize.

    I would end my friendship with her, not because she is irresponsible (having two dogs, several years apart, under very different circumstances, responsibly returning one to the breeder, who also happens to be her mother…and giving up the other…after her ex-boyfriend apparently dumped the entire responsibility on her…to some unknown person or agency does not indicate that she considers dogs playthings or is irresponsible), but because you have problems with your perceptions and opinions of her. If you don’t know all of the facts of the second dog situation, perhaps you should ask her…it might clear the air. But clearly, your resentment of her and anger at her is doing neither her nor you any favors.

  7. avatar carol grzonka says:

    lw2-i’m curious.  if your ‘friend’ had a child, and a long-standing pet that became aggressive to that child, which would you suggest that she rehome?  that’s the problem with your aggrievement.  there are good reasons to have to send a dog to another home, not the least is for the animals own welfare, and you don’t recognise them.

  8. avatar Jane M says:

    Every single one of the behaviors LW1 bemoans in her grandmother can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps Gran has been ill longer than the family knows.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      True, but by your logic, my sisters both developed Alzheimer’s in their early teens, and my mother was afflicted in her early thirties. Not everyone who exhibits offensive behavior is suffering from a debilitating, progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s (not even the elderly) or mental illness…and, conversely, not everyone so afflicted causes others to suffer due to noxious behaviors.

      Old does not mean sweet, saintly and suddenly bestowed with halo and wings. If one was a wretch in one’s youth and middle years, there is a high probability that one will continue to be a wretch in one’s vintage years as well. Let the LW be. Neither she nor her husband has done anything unconscionable to Granny, it was merely suggested, and it was funny…and I would guess she was venting. She is allowed.

  9. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    Studies have repeatedly shown that people who abuse animals tend to abuse humans, and this forms the basis for the increased pursuit and legal prosecution of animal abusers.
    My mother and sister always treated pets as disposable objects, dumping them off at shelters at the first sign of inconvenience, where they’re almost certain to be killed.  Both of these women have mistreated me all of my life, as well as others, and I long ago distanced myself from both of them.  
    I was so happy when an old friend from college resurfaced in my life, but when she told me she euthanized her family dog because it would be too much trouble to move him across town with them into another house, I’m reconsidering if I want her as a friend.         

  10. avatar SHORESLADY says:

    Here’s a novel twist on the snooping great-grandma. Announce that you’ve decided to take advantage of her initiative and use the week for Spring Cleaning.  Sit down with her and go through cupboards, closets; finally sort out all the things you’ve meant to send to charity, or to your kin.  Make her bad habit your ally in doing something you’ve probably had on your list for a while (who doesn’t need to clean out the closets?).  Now her behavior is out of the shadows, you get to tell her stories associated with your family treasures and hear hers, and when she leaves you’ve got a clean house.  (When you’re done, send Gran to my house, I could use the help.)

  11. avatar Diagoras says:

    If I had a snooping grandma, I think I’d do this – on the inside of several cabinets and drawers she’s clearly not supposed to be into, I’d put some sticky notes in there that say, HEY GRANDMA, STOP SNOOPING THROUGH MY THINGS, YOU OLD BAT!

    The beauty of this is that she can’t get mad without revealing what she’s been up to!