In my lifetime, pets have gone from the barnyard to the backyard to the backdoor to the bedroom. Put another way: from outside to inside, even to underneath the covers.
See also: 8 myths about pet care.
As an animal-lover and a practicing veterinarian, I love these changes, but I'm also aware that not everyone is happy with the transition. Differences of opinion regarding the proper place for pets can add strain to the already stressful holiday season, when large gatherings of friends and family are almost certain to include people whose views you don't share — on pets or anything else.
For some folks, the idea of bringing a pooch along on a family visit is incomprehensible. They don't like pets, and they don't want yours in their home. They may not even want yours in your home as a condition of their visiting.
Even those who don't mind pets may not be able to tolerate them. For people with allergies, exposure to a cat or dog can mean misery — or even a life-threatening event that may end up in an emergency room. Other people aren't allergic in a medical sense, but they're just as unwilling to share space with a pet because they're afraid of animals. Some people might think that animals are dirty and pose a significant health risk. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who consider their pets to be their "fur children," and simply don't want to go anywhere without them.
How to get through with everyone's pet peeves addressed? Four key words to keep in mind:
Plan. Never assume people feel the way you do about pets. Whenever you're hosting a holiday gathering or attending one, make sure everyone's on the same page about pets. If you assume your adult daughter is leaving the dog with a sitter before boarding a plane for a visit, you may be surprised to have her hound on your doorstep, too. Likewise, if you wouldn't dream of leaving your pet behind while you travel, you need to make sure the animal is welcome where you going. Discuss in advance, and leave nothing to chance.
Respect the ground rules. The person who has the ground sets the rules, and the decision to bend or break them is theirs to make. If you want to bring your pet to a family gathering but your son-in-law says absolutely no, you have to respect that. Arrange to stay at a pet-friendly hotel or leave your pet behind, boarded or with a pet-sitter. Likewise, the person who demands you remove a member of your family (the furry one) as a condition of his visit is barking up the wrong tree.
Negotiate. Negotiations can start when the boundaries are established. Pets may be welcome if they'll stay in a crate when unattended, for example, or someone with mild pet allergies could be accommodated in a clean room that's off limits to pets. Again, make sure nothing is left to misinterpretation. If you're hosting a pet, make it clear there are certain conditions to its visit. And if you're bringing yours, spell out your plans for cleaning up after your animal.
Compromise. While there's likely no compromise where health and safety are involved, everything else is up for debate. Moving a gathering to a restaurant may be the answer sometimes, as can be setting up visitors in nearby hotels. Accommodating a visiting pet who's happy to relax in a crate or carrier can work as well, even in a home not set up for pets, and if a host is gracious enough to allow pets on the bed, it's wise for the visitor to provide her own bedcovers, if possible.
Remember, assume nothing, anticipate problems and try to get along. If everyone does, the pet peeves of the holiday season will remain the old staples of politics and religion, with the animals blessedly left out as a topic for holiday strife.
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