Pet Parent or Pet Free? A Conversation on Inclusivity and Community Vibes About Pets

Pet Parent or Pet Free? A Conversation on Inclusivity and Community Vibes About Pets

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 dog 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


Dogs are absolutely a central part of my life. My dogs were one of the first things I would care for in the morning and before I went to to bed. I spent a big chunk of my income caring for them. Once they passed, I was then in a home with my partner’s dog, and she became my kid. Once that relationship ended, I became pet-free for the first time in nearly 2 decades. In my time with my lovely pet children, I couldn’t imagine them not being with me. So it’s an interesting experience for me, to now be living in a home completely without pets. It has given me more of an appreciation for the pure joy and companionship that comes with pet parenting, and how different life is without them around.


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, a love of dance. 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. I get a case of the icks when I’m around snakes. Even the most harmless snake can send me into an anxiety swirl.


  • 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. Personally I think babies are cute, but I go stiff when someone hands me theirs to hold!


10 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 others’ pets are to them. We like to share that 66% of households in the US own pets and 57% of UK households 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. 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.


  • Maintain cafe manners. Restaurants who have voluntarily opened their patios to pets have willingly accepted the extra risk and responsibility. Before bringing your pet to a brewery or cafe that welcomes pets, train your pup to lie quietly at your feet at home, parks, and other less-crowded areas. While it often seems like “everyone” is asking to pet your dog at the cafe, chances are almost certain there are others who are hoping your dog will stay put and not push their wet nose or sharp paws into their lap.


If your dog begins to get restless or starts to bark, take a page from the book of a polite parent with a ceaselessly crying toddler and wrap up your dinner to go, or take your furry infant for a brief walk until they settle down.


  • Just. Poop. Dog 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.


  • Distract from barking. Pet guardians can tell when their dog is just barking to say “I’m here!” or barking to say “back off.” People unfamiliar with dogs may assume every bark from a passing dog is a threat. While it’s not always possible to train a dog not to bark when they are out and about, we can train them to attend to us instead of passing dogs or other exciting distractions with proper positive training.


  • Don’t let your pets make their neighbor’s home their own. We pet lovers tend to assume most people find our dog or cat just as cute as we do. While some of us keep a close eye on our pets, some of us may not regard our dog’s occasional excursion over to the neighbor’s patio to say ‘hi’ or our cat’s tendency to stretch out for a nap on their car hood to be a big deal. But even if our neighbor welcomes a wandering animal with a friendly pat, it doesn’t mean they necessarily want daily unannounced visits or cat tracks across their newly washed vehicle.


  • 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. This will help suppress the silent shudders of visitors who just don’t get how you put up with it.


  • Zoomies. They make pet parents laugh, but a sudden case of the zoomies can startle someone who has never experienced this in a home or yard. If you can tell your dog or cat is about to erupt into unrestrained, joyous activity, do give your visitors or dog park companions a heads up, because sometimes a dog’s all-out run in your home or at the dog park isn’t just alarming, it can even knock people down.


  • 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, a quick “is it ok if my dog sits here with me next to you?” 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. “Do you have a dog at home? I’ve had Hero here for six years, and he’s great with people.”


  • Be self-aware. Is your dog really a good citizen? Not many of us have a perfectly trained pup, after all. Does your pooch swerve toward every passerby when you’re walking on a leash, or bark at every dog they see? Do you ever let your dog off-leash even though they aren’t all that great about returning immediately to your side when called? If you notice someone giving you and your dog the hairy eyeball, give your own behavior a quick scan and ask yourself if someone who isn’t a dog fan might be alarmed by it. Keep your dog leashed if they aren’t perfect on their recall skills, and consider some training classes for the both of you – they can be a lot of fun!


  • Stroll mindfully. Whether your canine walking companion is a cute ragamuffin, a stoic shepherd, or a robust pit bull, there are likely to be other walkers who are anxious about passing them. Give them plenty of space and a friendly hello, or even step off the sidewalk to let people pass if you notice they are uncertain – especially children. They’ll think more kindly of all dog parents if they see you’ve taken note of their concern.


Be a community-inclusive pet parent


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






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