We have made friends with a nice couple, and get on well but…they have lots of cats and dogs – and although we are not animal lovers, we are not haters either. They invited us round for a meal, and we saw the cats sitting on the table when it was laid up for our meal. We are really concerned at this and don’t want to go back again. We have had them to our house on 2 occasions now and so of course they insist it is their turn next. What do we do? How can we tell them about the lack of hygiene without upsetting them?
When it comes to the relationship we have with pets, what is perfectly acceptable to some people may be, as in your situation, intolerable to others. Indeed, there does exist information that you can “google” regarding health problems arising from cats walking on food preparation surfaces after visiting their cat boxes. It is clear that you are unwilling to ignore this awkward situation with this couple, and need to find a way to resolve the difficulty. I wouldn’t be surprised if the couple already has sensed your discomfort with being at their house, although they may not be aware of the reason for this.
You may opt out of the difficulty by simply telling the couple that you are allergic to cat hair. However, I suggest that, should you want to pursue an open and honest friendship with this couple, you could initiate what I call a “difficult conversation” with them.
One way to do this is to invite them to a “neutral place,” perhaps a restaurant.
Over food and drink, you could assure them that you really like their company before expressing your concern. Obviously, this needs to be carefully presented, so decide beforehand which of you will initiate the “difficult conversation.” With your intention to clearly express your own feelings without upsetting them, try using “I” messages. By this I mean, begin your conversation with “I,” not “you.” For example, “I have to say that I’m not comfortable with your cats on the dinner table,” is more effective than, “You really should not have your cats on your dinner table.” Whoever initiates the conversation also should not use “we,” as that could be regarded by the couple as “ganging up.” They may ask if the one of you not speaking also feels the same way, in which case it is fine to say that you do.
From here, the conversation may go anywhere, but it’s important for you to keep in mind that your aim is to just express your own difficulty and not try to change their behavior. You aren’t telling them what they should or shouldn’t do, which will only produce a defensive response.
Concerned, should the couple respond positively to your input, they may be willing to further investigate all the existing information about cats and hygiene. However, if they don’t, at least you’ll know that you communicated honestly and with the best of intentions.
Best of Luck,