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The Duel Role of Pet Parent and Good Neighbor: It’s More Than Just Picking Up Poop!

One thing you and I probably share is a deep love for animals. We’ll always have that common ground to chat about.  But what about people with whom you don’t have that immediate common connection? Not only do we regularly bump into pet people who treat animals differently than you do – there are also people who aren’t really all that keen on having animals around them at all!  

People find personal joy in different ways

Cats are absolutely a central part of my life. My cat is one of the first things I care for in the morning and before I go to bed. I spend a big chunk of my income caring for him. I can’t imagine them not being with me, so it’s hard for me to understand how other people live in a home where animals are completely absent. 

But people pull joy from lots of different things or beings. Travel, art, their children, spouse, human friendship, rare and beautiful belongings, music, the intricacies of a racing car engine, or the thrill of skydiving. While I share some of these joys, others I don’t get at all. 

Why do some people choose not to share their home with a pet?

There are lots of reasons people in your community choose to live pet-free, and it often doesn’t have anything to do with actually disliking animals.

Some people would love to have a pet, but their income, landlord, health, or lifestyle don’t permit it. If you ask people why they are currently petless, they’ll likely mention how they have to travel for work, are allergic, have a no-pets lease – not that they don’t like pets.

Some people have had a traumatic experience with an animal and now fear or avoid some types of pets.

Others simply have a phobia or unidentifiable anxiety about some species of animal. Honestly, spiders always make me jump. I don’t go out of my way to squish them, but I don’t exactly welcome them into my home. 

Cleanliness and order is top of mind for some people, and the extra chaos a pet can add to a household just isn’t for them.

Environmental or ethical considerations cause some people to forgo sharing their home with a pet. They may feel animals shouldn’t be treated as property, if they have eliminated meat-eating from their household, or are trying to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible.

Many people just didn’t grow up with personal experience around animals. If you didn’t grow up with a cat or ferret, trying to figure out how to safely lift one without getting scratched or dropping them can be daunting. I think babies are cute, but I go stiff when someone hands me theirs to hold!

5 ways to be more inclusive in a pet-diverse community 

While we like to say “we’re a pet-loving society,” we share our neighborhood with people who have other people and pastimes that are just as important to them as my cat is to me. We like to share that 66% of households in the US own pets, but that means there are a lot of homes that are entirely pet-free!  Those households are full of friends, co-workers, and neighbors who don’t deal daily with pet fur, poop, zoomies, barking, etc. Nor do they probably want to. 

Here are a few ways you can be a kind neighbor to your entire community – pet-parents and pet-free!

Be mindful of leash lessons -

Passersby don’t really want to have to fend off a bounding unleashed dog, unwrap themselves from a flexi-leash, or worry that a cinched-up dog is strangling when they are pulling hard against a short leash. Training our dogs to walk politely on a leash is the first rule of community-centric dog care. 

Wheeling a stroller-bound dog or cat doesn’t free us from responsibility, either. Make sure stroller pets are clipped into their rolling ride. Close the top if your pet seems anxious or barks at passersby. Be mindful of kids at eye-level on bikes or in strollers, or anyone who seems uncertain about passing your pet. A cat in a stroller or on a leash can make even other cat-lovers a little nervous, if they think the cat might escape.

Poop. Just. Poop.

We cat guardians scoop poop daily. Except for the first few years of parenting an infant or toddler, non-pet-owning humans maintain a reasonable distance from the stuff, and a pile of dog or cat poop on the sidewalk, lawn, or garden adds a big element of ick to their day. This simple ick can escalate into frustration or simmering rage if a pet-free neighbor has to scoop dog or cat excrement from their own property regularly. Imagine if your neighbor’s kid pooped on your stoop every day! Scoop your pup’s poop and consider a catio for your outdoor-loving cat.

Fur-free seating.

This suggestion might be a bit controversial, given all those mugs that declare ‘pet hair, don’t care’. But if you invite someone into your home, it’s simply polite to offer them a seat that’s not upholstered in pet fur. It’s simply: Just keep a clean throw in a nearby closet and toss it over a comfy chair for visitors or keep one comfy chair covered and whip it off to reveal a fur-free seat beneath. This will help suppress the silent shudders of visitors who just don’t get how you put up with it.

Start a conversation.

Pet guardians are usually alert to people who want to pet our dog or cat. We’re ready to say “sure, go ahead,” or “no, not now, thanks.’ But we aren’t usually as aware of people who are quietly avoiding us, or who go stiff when a dog settles down by their owner’s feet at the next cafe table. If you notice someone seems uncomfortable around you and your pet dog a quick “is it ok if my dog sits here with me next to you?” or ‘Are you allergic or uncomfortable around animals? I can move over there,’ is a conscientious gesture, especially when there are other seats you could move to. Or strike up a conversation if you see them looking at your pet dog. “Do you have a dog at home? I’ve had Hero here for six years, and he’s great with people.”

Be a community-inclusive pet parent

There will always be a part of me that thinks everyone ought to be as happy to see my cat as I am, or that visitors should accept that my cat has as much or more right to lounge on my furniture as they do. But if I want to really call myself a pet-aware person, I need to be thoughtful and inclusive of the people in my community who don’t own pets, too. 

I invite all pet parents out there to also think about some more ways we can all be a more community-inclusive pet parent!



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