NEW YORK — Your sweetheart or your pet. Which would you dump if one had to go?
Most current pet owners said they would hold on to their spouse or significant other (84 percent), but a sizable 14 percent picked their pet, according to an AP-Petside.com poll.
Put Sally Roland, 53, of Omaha, Neb., down in the dog-first column. "I'm divorced, so that might explain it," she joked.
The unmarried, like Roland, are more apt to choose their pet over their mate – 25 percent among unmarried pet owners versus 8 percent among the married.
Count Fidel Martinez, 30, of Akron, Ohio, as forever loyal to Killer. That's his mix-breed, 100-pound rescue dog.
"I would absolutely give up my girlfriend for him," Martinez said. "I know it sounds insane but I've had numerous relationships with women. My dog has never let me down."
For the record: Martinez and Killer have been together for seven years. Martinez and his girlfriend have been together for four. The two-legged pair have no immediate plans to cohabitate, he said, but she does like the dog a lot.
Women are far more likely than men to say the human-pet choice would be a tough one (40 percent among women compared with 26 percent among men). Both genders were equally likely to go with their spouse or significant other, according to the poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.
There was also no difference between dog and cat owners: 35 percent of each said the choice would be a hard one and more than eight in 10 would choose their spouse.
Urban dwellers (47 percent) are more likely to say they'd have a difficult time choosing than did suburbanites (35 percent) or rural residents (25 percent).
Giving up a pet for any reason can be really tough – unless you are the owners of Princess the canine escape artist.
David Rosenthal and his family in Missouri City, Texas, were ready with what they considered an ideal fenced backyard when they welcomed the 2-year-old American Eskimo from a shelter. Then things went from pretty good to not at all.
"She kept getting away," he said. "She'd dig underneath the fence, sneak out through every little crack. It would usually take about an hour or so to corral her."
Even worse, the 49-year-old Rosenthal discovered the hard way that the bushy sago palm plants in the backyard were poisonous to dogs (and humans, too). Princess sampled them and nearly died. Treatment cost about $2,000.
"Plus she was nipping at kids," said Rosenthal, who has three. "We were told it was friendly to kids." So off Princess went, back to the shelter after a year. "It was sad but we knew there was already somebody there to adopt her."
The family now has two other rescue dogs.
About six in 10 adults (57 percent) have had to give up a pet at some point in their lives, with current pet owners (64 percent) a bit more likely to have done so.
The most common reasons had to do with the pet's health: 69 percent said their pet was too sick to live on, 52 percent too sick to be cared for at home. But there are other reasons as well, including about one in 10 (9 percent) who, like Rosenthal, said their animal was too dangerous to keep.
One-third (34 percent) of current pet owners said it would be "extremely" or "very" difficult if they were forced to choose between a pet and a family member who became allergic. Another 20 percent would find the choice somewhat difficult and 46 percent said it would be "not too difficult" or "not difficult at all."
Christopher J. Hampton, 67, in Bellingham, Wash., has loved Pembroke Welsh corgis since he was a kid. He had a 5-year-old he had raised from a pup when he and his wife realized 40 years ago that their year-old son's asthma was dangerously exacerbated by their pet.
"I couldn't give up my son, so that was it," Hampton said.
The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted October 13 to 20, 2010 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,501 adults nationwide including 1,000 pet owners. Results among all adults have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points; for results among pet owners it is 4.0 percentage points.
Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
Poll questions and results: om. http://www.ap-gfkpoll.c