Pet problems at home.
July 8, 2011 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I just moved in with my boyfriend, and as it turns out he's very easily annoyed by my pets. I'm looking for suggestions on how to moderate the tension so that both he and my little creatures can coexist without murdering each other.

We are in a small-ish 1 bedroom at the moment, but plan to move to a larger apartment in a few months. Everything has been going well with the move, save for his issues with the pets. We haven't really had any difficulties adjusting to living with each other outside of this, but he gets quite frustrated with the animals pretty quickly.

I have a 9-month-old kitten and 3 birds (2 parakeets and a small parrot called a Green Cheek Conure that live in one cage; one of the parakeets has cancer and will not be with us much longer). At the moment, the birds are still at my old apartment and will be moving in the next couple days. The kitten has lived with us for about two weeks.

In general, my boyfriend does not become frustrated easily, but for reasons I can't quite discern, he gets very irritated by small things that the cat does and lets them distract and bother him quite a bit. The cat is young, so he spends a lot of time rambunctiously running around and playing with his toys, after a few minutes of which my boyfriend will start asking what the f*** the cat is doing and trying to calm him down (which generally only gets the cat more and more worked up). My boyfriend actually likes animals and was raised with a lot of cats and dogs, and he says he sort of likes my cat at times, and they do spend part of each day with the cat cuddling him, laying on his lap, etc. But nonetheless he still becomes frustrated with him quite easily.

The cat is also having some trouble adjusting to the new space, and has done some truly irritating things like scratching the walls. My boyfriend won't let him in the bedroom at night (I'm not actually completely sure why, other than he is a lighter sleeper than I am; when we do let the cat in, he sleeps with me on my side of the bed and ignores my boyfriend for most of the night). At my old place, the cat had access to me at all times of the day, and now that he can't cuddle with me at night, he spends part of each night crying, banging into the door, throwing toy mice under the door, etc. This just adds to my boyfriend's general frustration with the cat.

The birds are not living with us yet, but my boyfriend is already extremely stressed by their impending move. He says that he has a phobia of birds and finds them weird and gross. He hasn't ever lived with birds, but seems to have already decided that it will be a terrible experience. I don't really think that will be the case, in that the birds mostly hang out together in their cage (and when they do come out, I would be the one interacting with them, he would not really need to play with them or take care of them in any way). They chirp and talk, sometimes loudly, but never at night, and putting a blanket over their cage always silences them. They do make a mess, but I am diligent about cleaning it up daily and wouldn't expect him to do any additional bird-related cleaning.

He was aware of my pets before we decided to move in together, and met all of them and said he was ok with them and wouldn't want me to have to give them up. Now he says the "gravity of the situation" is hitting him. There are a series of other stresses outside of the move (which is itself a big deal) going on in both of our lives that may or may not be contributing to his irritability on the pet front. I'm not sure if he's just channeling some of his work/moving/life frustration into his pet frustration, or if this is a genuine problem that will persist as long as we have pets.

Can anyone here give me some advice on how to limit the tension in this situation? Giving up any of my pets would be an absolute last resort, and I don't feel we have reached that point yet. He and I don't actually fight about the pets, he mainly just lets the cat irritate him and worsen his mood. Has anyone else dealt with this and found a compromise that allows the less pet-friendly partner to not constantly feel stressed about the animals in his/her home? I would like to make my cat be quiet and polite all the time, but I can't really stop a kitten from being a kitten.

Thanks for your input.
posted by wansac to Human Relations (23 answers total)
Ignore it and let him be ridiculous, with the caveat that if he's bother you by being loud or cursing, asking him not to be loud and/or curse. And obviously if he is being abusive or inappropriate to the kitten/animals, he needs to not.

This might be a general stress thing but...a new phobia of birds?

It sounds like he wasn't completely honest with you and that he might have agreed about the pets to get you to move in, thinking he could manipulate you into getting rid of them. This sucks.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:20 PM on July 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

@ the young rope-rider: Fortunately, he's not abusive to the cat at all; that would absolutely not fly.

As for the bird phobia... I'm not really sure what's going on there. I'm not sure if he just didn't think it all the way through when he said he was ok with them, or if something else is going on.
posted by wansac at 4:27 PM on July 8, 2011

Move out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:28 PM on July 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think he's maybe channeling the stress of sharing a smallish space with a new person into complaining about the pets. Maybe he feels like he can't express any small annoyances with *you*, so his heightened state of annoyance is leading to lower tolerance for the pets, since they're a safer target.

Don't let his complaints get to you- stay calm and try not to let it get personal. If he doesn't let up, just tell him you can't do anything about it and basically put it on him to deal. If it gets really out of hand, well, he agreed that the pets were OK and you need to let him know that changing the terms of that agreement after the fact is Not OK. Hopefully time will take care of the problem as he gets used to the kitten and the birds and realizes that it isn't that big of a deal.
posted by MadamM at 4:28 PM on July 8, 2011 [16 favorites]

This happened to me with my husband. When we were dating, he thought my two cats were the greatest cats ever, but the moment we bought a house and moved in, he became very sensitive to the cats' mess, behavior, and inconvenience. The situation became a vicious cycle because they reacted (I swear!) to his negative vibes and seemed to shed, puke, and have accidents more frequently. Like you, they had only ever lived with me, and I'm a constant approval/love machine.

Turned out he was jealous of the attention I lavished on the cats, which I admit is excessive. I began actively giving the husband attention first - righting the hierarchy, if you will - showing him and the cats that he is human and has rights that supersede cat rights. That did help (along with cleaning scrupulously, which you mentioned). I also took a breezy attitude to his complaints - an "oh, I'll get it; no biggie," response when he found the inevitable cat puke before I did.

What eventually worked was one cat going into liver failure and the husband experiencing my keening grief and finally understanding my deep love for and devotion to my animals. (Cat lives on). Obviously, you can't engineer this but I encourage you to talk to him and really hear his concerns and respond with reasonable efforts to maintain harmony. Note: I believe it is reasonable to remind him that you had these pets before; he knew you had them, and any negotiations are going to include how we can best live together and will NEVER contemplate getting rid of the pets. Good luck.
posted by Punctual at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Do nothing. Wait it out a bit and see if it comes to a head because it sounds like he needs to chill the f out. When I moved in with my GF, she already had a cat (who resented my presence) and even though I was allergic, I had to lump it. Honestly, he sounds like a bit of a baby. I can't see anything good coming out of this if you don't stand your ground.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think suggesting that he was manipulating you is extremely uncharitable. I moved in with my roommate knowing full well that she has two cats and a dog, which I was/am fine with. That doesn't stop me from being pissed off when Lloyd decides that the kitchen is HIS and spends the entire time I'm in there hissing at me from under the table. It doesn't stop me from being annoyed that the large and mentally deficient dog likes to park herself right in front of my bedroom door at night, in the dark, and will not move out of the way even with serious pushing and nudging. I'm "cool" with pets, but sometimes they're just obnoxious little weirdos.

Let your boyfriend get annoyed. Keep your pets. My guess is that he, like me, gets irritated on a superficial GRAR CAT OCCASIONALLY BUGS ME level and not an OMG ALL PETS MUST DIE level.

Also, birds are totally weird and gross. Freaky little over-evolved dinosaurs.
posted by phunniemee at 4:30 PM on July 8, 2011 [15 favorites]

I've never heard anyone use the words "gravity of the situation" in reference to a kitten or a parakeet. I don't know if I would have been able to keep a straight face. Is he an only child who has never lived with a roommate before or something? He needs to stop being melodramatic, or expect you to move out.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:33 PM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

LOL @ phunniemee. I don't really think he was being manipulative, either (or at least I hope not), because I think he knows I would probably would choose to keep the animals and move back out before I would re-home my little family of non-humans.
posted by wansac at 4:35 PM on July 8, 2011

Oh, and wansac, try your best to avoid making it "a thing." I had some weird intuition to stay breezy/casual about it and when my husband DID warm up to the pets (inevitable! Birds and kittens ate awesome!) he had no loss of face because I had not made it A Thing and stayed casual and cool. I even am now guinea pig sitting for friends who just had a baby and my husband laughs, shakes his head and says "My wife falls in love with any mammal she meets!"
posted by Punctual at 4:36 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm not saying he's necessarily being manipulative, but going from "birds? Sure!" to a bird phobia is a pretty extreme attitude shift. I could be taking the word "phobia" too literally, as the people I know with phobias are quite aware of them and would never be like "sure, I will totally move in with your tarantula!" or "yeah an apartment on the 49th floor with floor-to-ceiling windows sounds fine!"
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:46 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I disagree with some commentors here, I do NOT think you should just "do nothing," and I don't think he's overreacting.

Sharing a smallish space with even another person can be really difficult to get used to, and many couples find they can never get used to it. That's before you factor in any extra animals.

I would say that his frustration probably gets vented at the animals or the idea of the animals, because that keeps him from getting irritated with you. The animals are where it spills over to.

I'm a cat owner, and my life improved 157% when I decided to start sleeping with earplugs in EVERY NIGHT. The cat's small noises and movements were a constant annoyance to me as I drifted in and out of sleep, it was hard to relax when there was constantly an animal moving around somewhere -- and then when it got quiet I'd just lay there fuming, thinking, "Any second now it will start again." And it often did, so I'd lay there fuming like that for a long time. Not anymore, ever! I just pop in my ear plugs, or turn on a loud fan, and all that goes away.

As for the birds, they probably wouldn't be an issue if they had their own out-of-the-way space, but he is going to be confronted with them constantly. This is bad. I honestly think you'd be better off seeing if a friend can host them for a while (or break it up among a couple friends) rather that knowingly put undue strain on your relationship.

Also, there's no reason to blame him for anything -- he thought he'd be fine with it, turns out he's not. He didn't lie about it, he just turned out to be wrong about how he thought he'd feel. And frustrated though he may be, it sounds like he is trying with the kitten. Should he have to just "get over it" and be miserable for months? I don't think it's fair to expect that -- or rather, maybe it's not fair to expect that, and then ALSO expect him to want to live with you and/or them when it's time to move to a new place.

Talk about it. Listen to him. Letting it fester and pretending everything's fine isn't going to work.
posted by hermitosis at 4:50 PM on July 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

My aunt has a phobia of birds. It's a real thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:31 PM on July 8, 2011

it doesn't sound like you two have talked about this. For instance: "My boyfriend won't let him in the bedroom at night (I'm not actually completely sure why..." You need to find out why and the only to do that is to talk.

I suspect, with the stress of the move and the outside stresses you mentioned, he's unsurprisingly stressed out. His home, which used to be sort of a refuge is now being invaded and that can be hard to deal with. Add in the fact that you can't negotiate with felines and his reaction seems pretty reasonable.

When I moved in with my then girlfriend, now wife and her kid and the kid's guinea pigs, I found the animals incredibly annoying in ways I would not have expected. They'd run around and make pig noises and do pig things and it was totally fucking alien and weird to me. Eventually I adjusted of course and missed them when they died, but at first it was harder that I ever imagined it would be.

Talk to him, give it time. You may not be able to fix it in the short term and that's something you'll have to learn to live with.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

They'd run around and make pig noises and do pig things and it was totally fucking alien and weird to me.

Quoted just so I could laugh again.

On your actual question, has he ever lived with a kitten before? I mean, kittens are adorable, but they do introduce a whole 'nother level of crazy pet behavior. I agree with a lot of others that he might just be stressed in general, and blaming the pets, but I could see how someone that was only around adult cats might not be prepared for the 24-hour chaos that some kittens can engender.

*fondly looks at 7-year-old cat, remembering the thrice-weekly crashes of pots and pans to the floor when said cat was younger and would jump on kitchen counters at 3am*
posted by lillygog at 6:01 PM on July 8, 2011

Now that you're living together, is there a way for you to help start making them "your pets" (plural) instead of just "YOUR pets" (singular)? Maybe your boyfriend can "own" the kitten's favorite toy and any associated playtime, or help come up with new nicknames for the birds, or be responsible for the kitten's brushing, or anything else along those lines that will help him feel less like these are Strange Invaders With Whom He Has No Connection Other Than Nuisance, and more like you're now in the process of creating a fun, happy family together of five cool creatures with varying levels of fur/feathers. Maybe you can start posing the birds in Star Wars dioramas together and blogging the results, or using a stopwatch to test the kitten's ability to master an obstacle course of shopping bags and shoeboxes.... I'm sure the hivemind has even better ideas, but you probably get what I'm going for.

(While he's still getting used to all this, by the way, it will probably help if you (singular) are hyper-vigilant about keeping the cage and litter box clean, minimizing his contact with icky pet food smells and detritus, etc.. Ideally you'll get to a point where your boyfriend shares in pet-related chores, but for now, it'd be great if if his direct experience is more with the cuteness/fun and less with the poop/burdens of pet ownership.)
posted by mauvest at 8:26 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Teach tour boyfriend to exercise the kitten with a laser pointer. This will wear out the lil cutie and induce more snuggle times. In a couple years he'll probably be complaining that kitty never plays much anymore and just lays around all the time.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:54 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm siding with those who say you should do something, and try to make your boyfriend more comfortable with your now-shared pets. Your kitten will grow up, you will move into more space, and things should get better. Remind your boyfriend of these facts.

If the space seems small, go on more outings with your bf. Keep your kitten's claws clipped, so if it decides to climb up things (like legs), it doesn't draw so much blood. Clean up after the kitty and the birds.

It'll get better, but it'll take some work.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:29 PM on July 8, 2011

Just a small point about cats: I really adore them during the day but for some reason I have an absolute fear of letting them into the bedroom at night (I think one ran over my face one too many times in the middle of the night). The cats I have lived with have learned to cope with not being allowed into the bedroom. Maybe if you compromise on things like that, your boyfriend will become more comfortable with the cat in the rest of the house, and the cat will become used to not having 24/7 access to you.

I think the bird part sounds a bit extreme but I can sort of understand having anxiety after dealing with the cat--I would call myself a cat person but I really freaked out recently when I stayed with a friend who had a kitten running around all hours of the day and night. Maybe he is projecting cat anxiety onto the prospect of the birds.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:51 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, moving in with someone is pretty stressful on its own. The wife and I have been together over a decade and lived together for pretty much all of it, and we were just separated for about a month while I got moved down and settled in at my new job and she's just arrived. And it is kind of throwing off my mojo having all these bags and boxes of stuff scattered around the apartment, which I'd gotten arranged to my liking, while we get the rest of our things here and sorted and get shelves and all that. And then there's the personal stuff like figuring out whose stuff goes where and who showers when and getting back into our routine (when I'd just gotten settled into my own routine). I mean, I'm not going to get divorced or anything, but I also don't like have our living room full of boxes and suitcases when I had everything neatly arranged and set up, it is kind of annoying, but moving always is. I can only imagine if it was my place for longer than a month. So I think that'd contribute to it.

As to the pets, find out what he thinks is actually annoying. Because a lot of pet owners get used to their animals and don't notice what other people might find kind of annoying. (Here I'm thinking of a friend of mine who has dogs that bark pretty much constantly and genuinely does not understand why he gets so many noise complaints or why people don't want to come over ((because they don't want to listen to three dogs BARK BARK BARKing all the time)) despite being told why). You say he was raised with lots of cats, but was he ever around kittens? Because older cats tend to be pretty easy to put up with while kittens can be rambunctious and PARTY ALL THE TIME when they want to be.

From my perspective taking his perspective, he's got someone "invading" his space with lots of new stuff to figure out, both belongings-wise and routines-wise, a kitten bouncing around doing kitten things and making noise at night, the prospect of a bunch of birds arriving (and birds seem pretty noisy and poop prone to a non-bird person, so maybe that's a concern? I dunno anything about them.), all crammed into a fairly small space. And then the outside stressors, which you've indicated may be pretty significant. It seems like a lot to deal with.

Find out what's actually annoying about the kitten, explain what living with birds is going to be like or at least find out his concerns about them. Maybe save the birds for when you move into the bigger place or when things settle down some? Because if I'm already cranky about work/life/girlfriend/cat, I'm probably not going to be charitably disposed to adding three birds.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:53 PM on July 8, 2011

My boyfriend won't let him in the bedroom at night

This sounds totally reasonable to me. I like dogs and cats, but that doesn't mean I'd want to sleep with either.
posted by spaltavian at 7:01 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move back out. Don't live together until it's in a larger space. The smaller space is more stressful, and the annoyance he's learning because of dealing with the animal(s) in a small space will be ingrained in him when you move to a more breathable place.

For me no cat at night is a dealbreaker. Make me happy, makes my cat happy, if it doesn't bother him or get fur on his side of the bed it's unfair to put his "it might bother me" over you and your cat's regular mutual comfort and happiness.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:56 AM on July 9, 2011

I think it's possible that he was being nice about the birds until he thought about them being in his home all day. I must admit that I find birds as pets really irritating to be around -- the noises they make, the flapping, the space taken up by cages -- and that's not even getting into the little gnats that they attract sometimes. And there's so little capacity for affection to facilitate a sense of bonding. Sorry, but "the bird likes you, he sat still on your arm and didn't try to bite" is not a tremendously convincing show of love in comparison to other caged pets.

I'm not a die-hard bird hater or anything, I swear, in fact, we had a couple of finches growing up that I really, really liked having around. But they can seem weird and gross, unless you're already attached to having them as a pet.
posted by desuetude at 12:00 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

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