Downtime

My In-Laws Refuse to Stay at Our House Because of My Cats

Can’t I feel offended?

Photo illustration of an older couple watching a pair of cats through a window.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images Plus Seregraff/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Thomas Kelley/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.

Dear Beast Mode,

I always grew up with animals—from dogs to horseshoe crabs, it doesn’t matter. I love ’em all. I foster kittens, and I have two of my own. My husband—even through his allergies—has accepted and loved them, too. However, his family categorically refuses to stay at our three-bedroom house because of said cats. I’m not even fostering right now. It’s pretty hurtful since I make such an effort to cook for them (I’m a vegetarian, and I prepare meat for their visits) and attack every room with a cleaning fury. It just feels like I’m getting the brushoff. Should I take offense?

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—Cat’s in the Cradle

Dear Cat’s in the Cradle,

If sitcoms have taught me anything, it’s that in-laws can be some real characters. Speaking of which, I’d love to watch a show about a dog and a horseshoe crab who are friends. While this doesn’t address your main concern, I definitely think you should consider writing a pilot about this adorable situation. (Perhaps they also solve crimes? I’m just spitballing here.) Meanwhile, the issue with your cats and in-laws is more drama than comedy, so solving it will take some serious thought.

Your husband is kind and patient for powering through runny eyes and sniffles, but you can’t expect his parents to follow suit (even if they’re related to that iron-willed fellow). Allergies suck, and some people’s solution is to avoid triggers altogether. Cat hair itself isn’t an allergen, but the dander that often hitches a ride on it is. Completing a rigorous deep clean is thoughtful and should help, but it’s no guarantee that your house will be completely dander-free if the cats are still cruising around.

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Relocating your cats to a friends’ house would be stressful for the animals (and not worth the trouble), but you still have some options. We’ve covered this before, but the cats will be fine for a few days if they’re sectioned-off from the rest of the house—just so long as you’ve made the proper preparations. Set up your basement or a good-size room with their litter boxes, toys, food and water, and climbing obstacles. They should be able to relax in their new digs while the in-laws make themselves at home elsewhere in the house. Your in-laws might not go for this idea, but they should at least appreciate your willingness to be accommodating.

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Having said all this, it’s not clear whether your in-laws actually suffer from allergies or if they simply dislike cats. If it’s the latter, offering to cordon off the pets for a few days could still be a nice olive branch. If they still don’t want to stay with you, then that’s on them. It’s not your job to convert them into cat people. You’ve worked hard to create a welcoming environment, and supporting their choice to stay somewhere else is part of that effort. I understand their decision can be hurtful, but you need to see it from their perspective: They don’t hate you; they just don’t want to be around your cats.

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This brings me to something I wanted to address about last week’s column. A person wrote in because they felt immense guilt about getting a puppy from a pet store, and even though they had since committed to continued volunteer work with animal welfare organizations, they still have severe anxiety at the thought of explaining the dog’s origin to strangers. In trying to make a broader point about why puppy mills and pet-store adoptions are bad, in retrospect I neglected to show enough compassion in my response to someone who was struggling and simply wanted advice. I realized this not long after the piece was published and emailed the reader directly to apologize. They gave plenty of thought to their own situation before reaching out, and I should have done more to return the favor.

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While it often helps to approach these issues from the pets’ point of view, in that instance I looked past the human. We form extremely close bonds with animals, and it’s sometimes easier to see things from their perspectives than, say, our in-laws’. Whether or not the reasoning is related to allergies, your husband’s folks have decided they don’t want to share a house with cats. This isn’t a reflection on your abilities as a host or on your cats’ general wonderfulness. You’ve done your best, and that will have to be enough for everyone. If anything, you now have space and quiet to work on that dynamite script about the dog and horseshoe crab who are friends. I can’t wait to see it.

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