As I write this, my cat, Magnolia, is sitting on my lap, cleaning her face with her paws. I love every bit of this precious little creature: her dainty white face and boots, her chocolate “Kitler” mustache, and sleepy green eyes. I think of and treat her as if she were my own daughter; after all, I adopted her and promised to care for and love her just as I would any tiny, helpless creature, human or not.
But I’m also aware that not everyone loves Magnolia (Maggie) as much as I do. My friend Sarah is allergic to cats, for example, so I shut Maggie in my bedroom with some food, water, and toys whenever Sarah comes over. And if anyone else visits who obviously doesn’t like cats (there are such people, though I can’t say I understand them), especially if it’s someone new, I do my best to respect his or her boundaries.
Being a pet owner is as much about caring for your pet as it is negotiating the space between people and animals. Adhering to these eight manners will get you on your way to doing just that.
1. Accept that not everyone loves your pet as much as you do.
Believe me, I understand that overwhelming affection for your pet that leaves you using baby talk and pureeing chicken livers for her dinner (even though you’ll probably just order pizza for yourself). But not everyone loves your pup or kitty to bits, and that doesn’t make them bad people. Just think of that friend who annoys you by always talking about her boyfriend; the people around you (especially the single or petless ones) don’t necessarily always want to hear about the beautiful flowers Johnny sent you at work, or the cutest thing Princess did the other day.
2. Respect allergies and fears.
Animals are cute and cuddly, but having an allergic reaction to one is neither. Avoid taking your pet into public when he or she will be sharing an enclosed space with humans (i.e., airplanes, theaters, etc.). When you invite people to your home, ask about pet allergies and how best you can accommodate them. And if all else fails, just go out to dinner. It’s pretty easy to tell if someone with allergies is uncomfortable—the bright red nose and wheezing are helpful cues—so change venues right away if you notice these signs.
The same goes for fears. My ex-boyfriend was attacked by a dog that bit a chunk out of his thigh when he was a child. It’s taken him years of therapy to deal with his crippling terror of even the tiniest pup. Yet when he came to visit my family members who had a dog, they assured me that he would “get over” his fear right away as soon as he saw how cute their golden retriever was. Their insensitivity caused us to decline the invitation and we all missed out on a nice barbecue together simply because they couldn’t respect boundaries when it came to their pet.
3. Always ask before bringing a pet to people’s homes, and be gracious if they decline.
Few animals like being left home alone. I used to have a standard poodle, Apricot, who would chew the walls and trail garbage throughout the house every time we left him alone. One way to avoid this problem is to bring your dog out with you, but remember that the above rules about fears and allergies apply.
I’ve thrown a few dinner parties where guests wanted to bring their dogs. A couple of them didn’t even ask, but instead threw me a, “By the way, we’re bringing Spot with us,” at the last minute. Not cool. I invited you, not your pet.
Not everyone is okay with dirty paws on a white sofa or fur flying everywhere. Hosts may also be concerned about other guests with allergies. The bottom line—no one is under any obligation to entertain or care for your pet except you, so you shouldn’t assume Fluffy is welcome or take offense if someone declines your request that she tag along.
4. If you are allowed to bring your pet, remember that he/she is your responsibility.
As with a baby, make sure you arm yourself with everything you need so that your little guy doesn’t become a burden to the other guests and host. You wouldn’t take a child into someone’s home and ask your host to change his or her diaper, so don’t expect hosts to provide food, toys, or anything else that your pet needs. Those are your responsibilities as caretaker.
5. Keep your pet clean and pest-free, especially if he/she will be in close quarters with people!
I use an exclamation point here because this is my own bugaboo. My boyfriend’s dog stinks, yet he thinks it’s adorable when I come over and she rubs herself all over me. I mean, I want to get cuddly too, but I don’t snuggle with him if he’s filthy and smelly, why should I feel any differently about his dog? Cats usually keep themselves pretty neat, but if you have a dog, make sure he’s presentable for company so that no one has to hold her nose or take a flea dip the following day.
6. Clean your cat’s litter box and vacuum up all pet hair/smells if you’re expecting company.
Even the mildest allergies can be triggered by a little pet dander. And though we love them, our pets do leave little smelly presents all around our homes. The problem is that we become desensitized to the smell, and don’t understand why people who enter for the first time grimace as they walk through the door. Clean everything, just to be on the safe side, and ask for someone else’s opinion on the stink factor if you must.
7. Curb your dog.
Kind of goes without saying. Have you ever stepped in dog poo? It’s not so precious.
8. Dogs belong on leashes.
Unless you’re in a dog park that allows dogs to go leash-free in a controlled area, you should always keep your dog on a leash when you go outside. Most states have leash laws that require this anyway. Had the person whose dog attacked my ex-boyfriend years ago put him on a leash (the dog, not the boyfriend), he wouldn’t have been scarred physically and emotionally by that trauma. Even if your dog is a cuddly ball of fluff, we all need to follow the rules.
These guidelines are all about exhibiting good manners for you and your pet, and respecting the wishes and boundaries of others. Follow them and you’ll both be welcomed more places by more people and everyone will have a better time.