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Love Them, Love Their Iguanas?

Relationships: The truth about pets and the people who love them is that many share a bond so deep that another human could find it difficult to enter the picture.

March 09, 1997|ALISON BELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Monique Workman's best friend is always there for her. She's a good listener and would never, ever tell Workman that she's fat or that her bell-bottoms are too funky. She can't, of course. She's a pug-sharpei mix named Kica.

And no man--no matter how smart, funny or rich--will ever stand between Workman and her pooch.

"Love me, love my dog completely," says the 19-year-old from Torrance. "That's my No. 1 requirement in a guy--no ands, ifs or buts."

Mark Sherman, 45, goes a step further. Not only must the women he dates cherish his black-and-white springer spaniel, Winston, but Winston must cherish them. If Winston rolls his eyes at a potential date--his stiffest form of disapproval--the woman is history.

"It's as if I can hear Winston's voice saying, 'So what if she has blond hair and [other assets], think about the rest of the package,' " says Sherman, a writer in Marina del Rey. "And Winston is always right. He is an infallible judge of character."

Are Workman and Sherman hopelessly pet crazy when it comes to romance? Maybe not.

"People often have a stronger bond with their pet than to the person they're dating or even their spouse because the pet has been around a lot longer and shown them unconditional love and loyalty in a way that humans cannot," says Alan Entin, a clinical psychologist in Richmond, Va., who has studied the relationship between pets and their owners.

With the divorce rate skyrocketing and people delaying first marriages until later in life, "Pets fill the gap in singles' lives," Entin says. "They become family."

So, when Mr. or Ms. Right arrives on the scene, he or she had better be prepared to do some groveling.

When 36-year-old Andrew Wilson began courting his wife, Susan, he also wooed her black cat, Jamie, with "pretty kitty" compliments, saucers of half-and-half and handfuls of Crave.

"I knew I had to suck up to that cat to win Susan's affection," says Wilson, a real estate agent on the Westside.

Wilson also coached his 80-pound Dalmatian, Pongo, to "lick up" to Jamie--no growling, drooling or mistaking the 7-pound feline for a doggy hors d'oeuvre. His efforts paid off: "Now we're one big happy family."

As proof, check out their living room. Dominating it is a 5-by-5-foot oil painting of the happy foursome.

*

Of course, some animals are harder to win over.

When 20-year-old Todd Doty of Los Angeles started dating Ruby Goldenberg, he tried his darndest to charm her three prized iguanas, Greedo, Snootles and Jujubug, who roam freely about her apartment. (The menagerie also includes four turtles, three lizards and a dog.)

He attempted to pet them. He attempted to feed them bits of tasty mustard greens, but they only snapped at him and chased him. Three years later, they still do.

"Mornings, it's a race out of bed to get to my shoes in time before they try to bite my feet," says Doty, a student at Cal State Northridge.

Despite his trials, would he ever ask Goldenberg to oust the unruly reptiles, or at least confine them to their cages? "They are a part of her, and I accept and respect that," he says.

Besides, reject your partner's pets, and you run the risk of being ejected from the relationship. Animal owners are not known for their thick skins.

Lynn Adams once showed a man the door because he merely suggested she put her three cats in another room so they could be alone. "Anyone who dislikes cats that much is not compatible with me," declares the 39-year-old, who runs a dog exercise service called Puppy Pals in Pacific Palisades.

Dog owner Workman recently gave a potential boyfriend the boot when he made the mistake of calling Kica ugly during a phone conversation. "I told him to shut up, hung up the phone, and refused to talk to him ever again."

(And now a word from our resident psychologist: "Insult the pet, you insult them," Entin says.)

*

Of course, once a couple makes it through the courting stage, there's no guarantee the pet problems are over. Sometimes another animal rears its head: the green-eyed monster jealousy.

Moira Simpson, 36, admits that she's envious of the affection husband Greg lavishes on his cat, Bow Bow.

"Greg comes home from work, lies down on the floor and starts stroking Bow Bow. Meanwhile I'm lying on the couch getting no attention," complains the school counselor from Santa Monica. "I want to say to him, 'Hey, honey, come on over and give me some of that stroking.' "

But can a pet really be a romantic rival?

"I hear people say things like, 'You love your dog more than me' or 'You give the dog more kisses and hugs than you give me' all the time," confirms Matthew Margolis, founder and owner of the National Institute of Dog Training in Los Angeles and co-author of the book "Woof!" (Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994). Sometimes a partner feels left out because of the close bond an owner and pet share; other times the jealousy is sparked by a deeper insecurity in a relationship, he says.

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