Other People’s Pets

Copyright 2006 Vivian Banta

Whether or not you are a pet lover, you have probably run across issues with dealing with other people’s pets. Either you are getting mauled by someone’s huge, slobbering dog at a backyard barbeque or they have decided that it is appropriate to bring Mr. Tinky Woo to your house since he’s just an itty-bitty thing. The question is: how do you avoid such situations in the future? Put simply, it’s a matter of defining and enforcing your boundaries.

When It’s Your Place. The first thing you have to decide is what your boundaries are in regards to pets in your home. Do you want to forbid all pets belonging to other people from your home? Do you have pets of your own to consider in making this decision? Is your choice impacted by the type, size and disposition of the pet or by the type of event you are hosting? Clearly define what the rules are for your home.

Next, you need to inform other people of the house rules regarding pets. You don’t have to send out a press release or anything. You might choose to call a few of your friends with pets or perhaps include the information in your next e-mail invitation to a party at your place. The idea here is that it is difficult to enforce rules if nobody is aware of them.

Finally, when somebody shows up at your house and says something like, “I know you said not to bring pets, but I’m sure you didn’t mean my little Mr. Tinky Woo”, then you need to stand up for yourself and enforce the boundary you set. Practice what you will say ahead of time. So many times, clients will say to me, “But I was so clear! I couldn’t believe somebody would actually test my boundary and I didn’t know what to say or do, so the situation just happened all over again!” Don’t put yourself in this situation. Ensure your confident handling of the situation by determining what you will say and do when faced with a boundary violator. Perhaps in the situation described here you might say, “Yes, I did. Would you like to run him home and come back or did you just want to get together another time?”

When It’s Their Place. Of course, you say, it’s easier to set these boundaries when it is your place, but how do you do this when it’s not your home? If the problem is a pet at your friend’s place, there are two steps you can take. First, you can ask your friend to control or confine the pet in a way that doesn’t overly stress the pet but will allow you to enjoy your visit without discomfort or fear. If your friend is unwilling to do this for you or should you feel uncomfortable asking for this consideration or choose not to, then your next step is to suggest meeting in a neutral place, like a restaurant.

If your friend is still unwilling to meet you halfway, it’s time to consider how important this relationship is to you. They have clearly stated what their boundaries are so now you have to decide if their continued acquaintance is worth putting up with their pet.

As a child, I was chased down by a large German shepherd and bitten, and I still find large dogs somewhat intimidating. If we get invited to someone’s house and I know that they have big dogs, I check to see if they are willing to control them. If they are not, I decline the invitation and suggest something else. If they say they will but don’t actually do this when I’m there, I leave. These are my boundaries-what are yours?

What if Your Pet is the Problem? Having said a lot about defining your boundaries about other people’s pets, it’s probably a good idea to look at your own pets, if you have them. Do you inadvertently subject your friends to your pets? Perhaps you recognized that the big, slobbering dog attacking your guests at the barbeque was your overly friendly golden retriever. Keep in mind that the first rule of hosting is to ensure your guest’s comfort. You may view your dog with a benevolent eye but how are your guests perceiving his attentions? To what extent are you willing to control your pet or curtail your pet’s behavior?

Likewise, you might view your new pocket pet as the ideal shopping and traveling companion and enjoy taking her everywhere with you, but do you find that your friends are starting to avoid you? Again, you have to define what your boundaries are here.

As someone who actively despised cats for many years and is now the proud co-owner of one, I can understand that not everyone wants to pet my friendly kitty and go home covered in cat hair. While some people love her, some may even be allergic to her or to my apartment because of her presence. I make a point of informing potential visitors about her so they can decide for themselves. Depending on my guests’ tolerance level, I may offer to confine her in a separate room for the time they are visiting or we might choose to meet up somewhere else. Again, these are my boundaries-what are yours?

Conclusion. It is completely possible to enjoy your friends, your pets and their pets, provided you are clear about what your boundaries are and you enforce them consistently. Ambivalence about the topic and avoidance of the issue are the biggest reasons people continue to suffer these situations. If you want to enjoy future social occasions, then quit tolerating this and make some changes.