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Q. A friend who loves my cat offered to keep him when I went out of town. While he was there he scratched up one of the wooden legs on her sofa. Do I have to offer to replace it?
A. You may not have to replace the entire sofa but you should offer to repair the leg, says animal trainer Darlene Arden. Show your remorse by doing the requisite research quickly and by reassuring your friend that you'll stop at nothing to right your kitty's wrong. If your cat is ever invited back, be sure to pack a scratching post and some old socks (to cover the furniture legs) in his overnight bag.
Q. A friend invites me over to dinner fairly often. She has three cats that walk all over the kitchen counters and the dining table. It's gross! Can I say anything?
A. You know the saying "cat got your tongue?" Pretend it actually happened. "Your friend already knows her cats are everywhere," says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "If she didn't like it she would've already done something about it." If you're compelled to confess how disturbing you find her freewheeling felines (maybe mentioning a recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control that showed homes with cats are eight times likelier to harbor a dangerous strain of staph bacteria than homes without), understand that speaking up could cause irreparable damage. If your friendship is more important than stating your hygiene standards, your options are inviting her to your place or meeting out for meals. Bon appetit!
Q. There's an owner at the dog park who never picks up after his pooch. Can I say something to him?
A. How you approach him will depend on whether the doggy daddy is clueless or calculating. Smith suggests treating him as the former on your first attempt: "Oh, it looks like Buddy just did his business while your back was turned. Do you need a bag?" While this would shame most folks into doing doo-doo duty, don't be surprised if the guy gets defensive or even angry. There are dog owners who actually believe that it's your job to watch where you are walking, not their job to make sure there's nothing to step in.
Q. My father-in-law is constantly slipping my dog table scraps even though I've told him that "people food" upsets her stomach. How can I get him to respect my wishes?
A. Your first move is to determine his motive, Smith says. If Pop is just looking for a fun way to interact with your dog, you could give him a bagful of preapproved treats to dole out as he sees fit or suggest a rousing game of fetch. But if you're convinced your father-in-law is intentionally ignoring your requests, you're better off putting your dog away -- upstairs or outdoors -- during dinner to remove the temptation.
Q. My sister treats her pets like family members. I don't have a problem with that, but recently she got mad because I didn't buy holiday gifts for the dog and cat! How should I handle this?
A. Buy presents for the pets! Not doing so -- especially after your sister has expressed how hurt she feels when her "babies" are ignored -- could come across as callous. "Pets are family members," says Arden. "They provide love and companionship." And don't forget to wrap the trinkets with pretty paper and bows. Your sister will certainly appreciate the kind and thoughtful gesture.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2010.