By Nina Malkin
Who can resist a cute pet? Given America's enormous pet population of 86 million cats and 78 million dogs, the answer seems to be "Not many of us." But when animals and people mix, dicey social situations sometimes result. Here, some common ones - and the expert solutions.
1. When my 7-year-old's friend comes over, he's too rough with our family cat. Saying "Be gentle!" hasn't helped. What should I do?
It's possible that this kid hasn't had much exposure to animals and doesn't understand what "gentle" means with regard to your cat, so try making it a teachable moment, advises Gail Melson, Ph.D., professor emerita of developmental studies at Purdue University and author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. You can demonstrate, saying, "This is how Fluffy likes to be petted. Now she's purring!" But if the child is still too rough, put Fluffy in another room - no point in traumatizing your pet. Post-playdate, speak to the child's parent - but don't do it at the door. "Pickup time is often a rushed moment, so don't raise the issue then, especially not in front of the kids," says Melson. "Say, 'John's glad Matthew could come over. I want to talk to you about something - can I give you a ring tonight?' " Later, on the phone, stick to what you observed, without passing judgment: "I just wanted to let you know that the last few times Matthew has been over, he's tried to poke our cat with a pencil and pull her tail. I'm worried the cat might scratch or bite him if he keeps it up." Then, trust your instincts about future get-togethers; if the parent promises to intervene and help the child be more gentle, fine; if he is still too rough and you feel as if you're in a scene from Criminal Minds, drop him from the social calendar and help your child develop new relationships. If your son asks why the boy doesn't visit anymore, Melson suggests saying something like, "Matthew can't come to play because he's too rough with Fluffy, and Fluffy needs to be safe."
2. My dog got the worst haircut at the usual groomer's. I was so shocked, I just paid and left. What else could I have done?
Whenever there's a problem at the groomer's, don't pay without speaking with the manager. "That's the person who wants you to be happy and return to the salon," says Heidi Ganahl, CEO of Camp Bow Wow, a national pet services company. Be specific without being critical - not "You ruined my dog!" but "I wanted Brady's muzzle an inch long and his ears rounded. That's the way he's always been groomed here." Then let the manager suggest a solution, and keep negotiating. If you're told they'll groom your dog for free next time, you can say, "Thanks, but I need him looking his best by this weekend. Can someone else even his coat out now?"
In your case, though you've already left the scene of the crime, you still have recourse, says Ganahl. Call the manager and say, "I didn't realize it at pickup, but my dog's haircut isn't what I wanted, and I'm awfully disappointed." Don't hang up until you come to an agreement. If you don't feel satisfied with the salon's best offer, it's probably time to switch groomers. And wherever you wind up, take an extra minute to speak directly to the stylist. Precise direction - how long you want the coat, what shape you want the ears and tail - will help prevent bad hair days.
3. The last few visits to the dog park, my Yorkie has been bullied by a larger dog. The owner (who is always on her cell phone) is oblivious. What can I do?
"Most people want their dogs to behave well," says GH etiquette expert Peggy Post. To get the owner's attention, establish eye contact and hold up a finger in the universal "I need you for a moment" gesture. Then you can nicely say, "You might not have noticed, but your dog keeps taking my Yorkie's rawhide - can you help out?" Odds are, says Post, "she'll make an effort to intervene." If, however, the owner balks at this request, perhaps there are posted rules you could point out; most dog runs address aggressive behavior. (If the rules aren't posted, get a copy from your town government; you may be able to download one online. Keep it in your pocket for your next encounter.) Or, appeal to a park ranger.
4. A friend volunteered to pet-sit for a week, gratis. When I came home, my cat had an infected wound; the vet said it was probably from a fight, but Misty is indoor-only. How should I deal with my pal - and the vet bill?
"Before you blame your friend, ask yourself if you were completely clear about your pet's care," says Karen Johnson, D.V.M., client advocate for Banfield Pet Hospital, a network of more than 790 practices nationwide. Did you explain that the cat wasn't to go outside? Did you leave the vet's phone number?
Even if you explicitly said Misty was indoor-only, the feline's escape was probably an unavoidable accident. "A cat that's stressed about being left alone may bolt when the door opens," Johnson explains. And your friend might not have noticed the injury, since infection can take a few days to develop and animals, when injured, tend to hide. In other words, the responsibility for the pet (and the bill) lies with you, especially since the friend was doing you a favor.
If you feel you must bring up the matter because you need closure, Peggy Post suggests saying, "I really appreciate your minding Misty, but it was upsetting to come home and have to rush her to the vet. She had an abscess that had to be drained. Do you know what happened?" Most likely, the friend will express regret, and he or she may contribute to the cost of your cat's care. In the future, consider using a pet-sitting service. Not only are pros attuned to critters' potential quirks, but they also should have insurance for scenarios like this.
Related: Save Time Bathing the Dog
5. Our neighbors leave their dog tied up in their yard at night - and he barks nonstop. Help!
"Don't get to a point where your frustration shows," says Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals. Speak up soon: If you're friendly, do it face-to-face (but not mid - bark-a-thon, when you're hopping mad). Say, "I've been concerned - your dog's been barking a lot when he's left outside at night. Do you think something can be done?" If you don't really know (or care for) the neighbor, say the same thing in a note, and end with your name and phone number or e-mail address.
If your neighbor merely replies, "It's the breed - they bark," or you don't see an improvement within 10 days, it's time to take the next step. Keep a log of the barking (dates and times), and get others involved. If you live in a community with a homeowners association, explain the problem to the other members and see if anyone else is similarly concerned, suggests Louise Louis, pet expert and creator of the website toybreeds.com. Some communities require complaints from multiple households before noise rules are enforced.
You can also investigate what protection you have under the law by contacting your local sheriff's office or police department. Fourteen states and many municipalities have anti-tethering ordinances that make it illegal for owners to keep a dog chained, tied, or otherwise left outside without shelter. (For a full list, go to animallaw.info/articles/ovustetherlaws.htm.) Your last resort would be to make a formal complaint to the authorities; doing so won't win you a Neighbor of the Year award, but it may get you some relief.
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