If you are an animal-owner it is to be hoped that you are also an animal-lover, happy to share a bed with your cat, thrilled by the tuneful twittering of your budgerigar, un-deterred by your dog’s sloppy chops. You may be blissfully oblivious to the relentlessly squeaking hamster-wheel, the pungent smell of freshly-opened cat food, the dawn barking ritual, or the dog and cat hairs that strew your cushions and stick, glue-like, to your guest’s clothes.
But you really must think carefully about all these phenomena before inviting people to your home and remember, above all, that not everybody shares your enthusiasm.
You cannot simply assume that your friends and relations will share your tolerance and – within reason – you should do your best to accommodate their reservations (e.g. open the cat food when the guests are out of the room, vacuum your sofa before the guests arrive, oil the hamster-wheel and so on.).
It is possible to ensure that your friends and visitors are not turned off by your pets, but it is essential that you follow some very simple rules. See below:
•Treat your pet with respect. No civilised human being should ever take out feelings of rage, frustration or inadequacy on a dumb animal.
•Monitor children very carefully – a tendency to treat animals as playthings can easily tip into unconscious cruelty and should be nipped in the bud.
•Check first, and if your visitors are hesitant about animals or confess to an allergy to dog or cat hair, don’t inflict your animals upon them. Nonchalantly remarking “she really likes you” as your visitor flinches from the insistent kneading of a sharp-clawed cat simply won’t do.
•If you have house guests, keep pets out of their bedrooms, unless enthusiastically requested to do otherwise.
• When you are out with your dog, keep it under control. Be aware that small children (quite reasonably) and some adults are actually very frightened of dogs. So make sure that – if there is any risk of an upsetting encounter – you keep your dog on the leash.
•Dog mess is an intolerable nuisance, especially in the middle of pavements and paths. If you have any respect at all for your fellow human beings, you will always carry plastic bags and remove it.
•Watch your dog’s dining etiquette. You may not mind him putting his paws on the table and licking the gravy from your empty plate, but many people will find this unhygienic and intrusive and will be looking at your dog’s antics with a very jaundiced eye. Only take your dog out to eat if he will lie quietly under the table, drink discreetly from a dedicated dog bowl and not upset fellow diners.
•Don’t anthropomorphise your pets in public: you may think of them as furry near-humans, but cloying ‘conversations’, complete with baby voices and mawkish endearments, will embarrass onlookers.
If you are not a pet owner, you may regard the more extreme symptoms of animal adoration with some scepticism – they’re only animals, and people are more important. But there comes a point when you have to accept the absolutely crucial role pets play in many people’s lives. Sometimes the reasons are blindingly obvious – the childless couple, the lonely widow, the elderly woman with no family living nearby. Or maybe the animal just enhances and enriches everyone’s life, and has become a much-loved part of the family.
It’s only polite, therefore, to treat the pet-owner’s passion with respect and sympathy. Ask after the dog or cat. Commiserate over its ill-health. Share in the owner’s delights with the endearing new puppy or kitten, or bereavement at a much-loved pet’s passing. Recognise that all these emotions demonstrate the important role the pet has played in its owner’s life and are a testament to the owner’s kindness and devotion.
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