Let’s face it—not everyone loves dogs and cats. Some people even downright dislike them. And that can take a toll on even the strongest relationships. Clip this primer and pass it along to your dog-despising friends, feline-fearing family members, or anyone you know who simply doesn’t know how to act around your pet.
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(Note to you non pet lovers: Hey, we pet lovers know that sometimes we seem strange. But trust us—we love our dogs and cats, and we’ll love you for making the effort.)
1. DON’T call our male pet “she” and vice-versa. Perhaps the primary pet peeve of animal owners is hearing their four-legged friend’s gender bungled. Seth Mills-Cannon, of Portland, Ore., owner of felines Buzz and Crypto, says it drives him nuts. “I don’t like it when people assign the wrong gender to my cats,” he says. “Either don’t say ‘he’ or ‘she,’ or just ask.” And hey—why not go the extra mile and learn our pet’s name? Then all gender confusion is eliminated. P.S. Ix-nay on using the word “it” to refer to our pets!
2. DO include our pet in plans when possible. We know we can’t bring our dogs everywhere, but we’d love it if they were invited to canine-friendly events. San Diego–based speaker and author Susan L. Gilbert, mom to dogs Spencer, Sam, and Anabell, notes, “We all know families who like to bring their children with them to picnics and parties—well, some dog owners feel the same way about their four-legged kids.” Gilbert’s advice: “Be understanding. As long as a dog is well-behaved, housebroken, and not a shedder, what can it hurt?” And there’s a bonus, Gilbert says: “The four-legged kids and the two-legged kids will help amuse each other and allow the adults some adult big-people time.”
3. DON’T act disgusted. “You let your dog sleep on your bed?” “Your cat sits in the dining room while you eat?” We can hear that note of revulsion in your voice. And when you make a face and shoo our pet away? We notice that too. Even though you may not understand, we don’t think our pets are gross, dirty, or smelly (well, except maybe after they rolled in that dead salmon). Do us a favor and keep your “ews” to yourself.
4. DO be sensitive. If our dog is sick or our cat just had surgery, chances are we’re not in the mood to go to a movie. Or get together for martinis. Or hear the details about the gorgeous leather boots you just bought. “The relationship between pet and owner is deep and real, and it is important that the pet lover be able to worry or mourn openly-as one might for a human loved one,” notes Alexandra P. Allred, author of Dogs Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Historic Hounds, Professional Pooches and Canine Oddities. A little sympathy and understanding goes a long way.
5. DON’T break rules of discipline. Pet owners devote a lot of time and energy to training their dogs and cats, and unfortunately a few unintentional acts can undo a lot of hard work. Feeding a dog who is begging at the table, allowing a cat into rooms she shouldn’t be in are all serious no-no’s. Says Mills-Cannon, “A housemate of mine used to let my cat sleep on the coffee table when he was definitely not allowed to be up there. It didn’t set a good precedent.” Respect the rules we set for our pets, and if you’re unsure what’s acceptable, simply just ask.
6. DO ask before feeding our pet. In the old days it was considered appropriate to toss a pet any old table scrap, but not anymore. Our pets may have allergies, food sensitivities, or a few extra pounds. If you’d like to make friends with our dog or cat, ask us if you can feed a treat to him or her. We’ll appreciate it—and you’ll have a four-legged friend for life.
7. DON’T treat our pet like a toy. Though they’re cute and cuddly, dogs and cats aren’t here for your amusement—and they can be easily injured. Kathryn Gage of Birmingham, Ala., recalls the time a neighbor with little pet experience picked up Gage’s “tiny, spindly-legged Italian Greyhound”—and accidentally dropped the animal. “She broke his leg!” she exclaims. More recently with her other dog, Gage was horrified when she noticed a friend blithely allowing her little boy to “ride my dog like he was a pony.” When in doubt, look, but don’t touch—or touch very gently—and teach your children to do the same.
8. DO send a small pet gift on holidays. Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Kwanzaa—whatever the holiday is, many pet owners make their dog or cat a part of the celebration. And that’s perfectly normal: “Because the majority of people with pets consider their pets family members, it’s not unusual at all for them to incorporate the animals into their family rituals,” says Clifton Flynn, professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Spartanburg and chair of the section on Animals and Society of the American Sociological Association. “Doing this is an important way for people to define their animals as unique, reciprocating individuals.” It doesn’t have to be big or expensive—wrap up a small rawhide or a tiny cat toy and we’ll be thrilled.
9. DON’T mention money spent on “just a pet.” When my two-year-old yellow Lab had surgery on both legs, my husband and I forked out a whopping $6,000 for the vet bill. Molly made a full recovery—but I can’t count the number of people who exclaimed, “You’re crazy to spend that kind of money on a dog!” One well-meaning acquaintance even said, “I would’ve just had the dog put to sleep.” Excuse me? Euthanize a healthy two-year-old dog? The lesson: Never criticize cash spent on canine friends. After all, we don’t tell you how to spend your money.
10. DO ask how our pet is once in awhile. Sure, a pet’s not a spouse, or a baby—or even a human for that matter. But during a phone call or catching-up lunch, a small and simple gesture—“How’s Scout doing?”—can make our day and show us you care. Graduate to the “Give Buddy a belly rub for me” level and you’ll definitely be in our good books!