Dogs chewing through table legs. Cats diving for the family dinner. Biting cockatiels. At a time when many people are scrimping on themselves to indulge their animals, the love is lost for owners of infuriating pets. Still, many can't bring themselves to dump their wayward animals in shelters. Instead, they pay sky-high vet bills for intervention that doesn't work. They endure in-your-face barking rants in the middle of the night or are startled awake by the routine hacking of hairballs. Some wish out loud their pets would just run away.
When Cherie Miller's 16-year-old cat, Kitty, goes out, he wants in. When he's in, he wants out. He whines relentlessly and refuses to eat unless a human stirs the kibble around in his self-feeder. The family calls it "whooshing."
"When it scratches on the bedroom door at 3:21 a.m. to have its food whooshed, it's enticing to imagine creative ways to ditch this cat. I'm a pet lover, but come on," said Miller, who lives in suburban Atlanta and was inspired to start a blog about pesky pets called pet-peeves.org.
So how does a human make peace with a problem pet? Venting helps, said an expert, though the griping may be more emotionally complicated for the humans involved.
"We all know couples who look like they like to fight. They let fights happen because, it seems, they're getting something out of it. Some people have that relationship with their pets," said psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, who specializes in the human-animal bond as senior director of counseling services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"Some people like to think they love their animals so much they're willing to be victimized by them," she said. "It's proof of how much they love that animal and proof of what a good animal person they are and what a good person they are. It's part of their identity."
There's no national clearinghouse for where and how people acquire their pets, but about 63 percent of all U.S. households have at least one, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Ten to 20 percent of cats and dogs come from shelters and rescue organizations, sometimes arriving in well-meaning homes with heavy emotional baggage.
Others, like Jellybean, just drop into the lives of their humans and stay a long while.
Jellybean is the nippy childhood bird of Jennifer Guild, who lives in Richmond, Va. The bird materialized one day, and Guild's parents took her in. After she and her siblings moved away, Guild took on Jellybean, despite a bird allergy.
"Jellybean has always been pretty mean. When you try to take her out of her cage, she tries to bite you," Guild said. "My husband has always hated her."
She tried her local SPCA with no luck, so Jellybean is confined to a back bedroom in virtual seclusion, at maximum volume. "Try sleeping in on a Saturday morning with a bird screeching in the next room," Guild said.
About 5 percent of the dogs and cats placed in homes by the ASPCA's adoption center in New York City last year were returned, said its senior vice president, Gail Buchwald. Allergies and housing problems are common reasons, but many people don't relinquish pets out of shame or fear of being judged.
"You can never predict an animal's behavior in a home 100 percent," Buchwald said. "To some extent, every adopter is expected to roll with the punches a little bit, to know that animals, like children, come with their personae and sometimes come with the sniffles and sometimes they might develop personality traits that we wouldn't have put on top of our list."
Taking a deep breath is a good place to start when strategies fail, LaFarge said.
"It's very hard, when the animal does something we don't like, to say why is he doing this to me, when in fact that animal may be just being an animal and fulfilling his own needs," she said.