If you like animals but aren’t ready for the responsibility of owning your own pet yet, having a pet owner for a roommate can seem like a great deal. You benefit from many of the perks of having a pet with a fraction of the responsibility. Of course, things don’t always go smoothly. Your stuff is just as vulnerable as your roommate’s is to cat scratches and stains from dog urine. If your roommate’s hamster escapes its cage, it becomes your problem as well. When you agree to live with someone who has a pet, it’s best to figure out where to draw the line of responsibility before things go wrong.
Most people correctly assume that the pet owner is completely responsible for the care and upkeep of his or her pet. However, if you love animals and don’t mind doing your roommate a favor, you may have assumed some responsibilities of your own, such as taking the dog for a walk or taking the cat to the vet when your roommate is busy. If your responsibilities are now shared, you need to be extremely clear about where yours end and your roommate’s begin. For instance, who is responsible if your roommate’s dog bites someone while you are walking it? Should you replace a goldfish that dies under your care when your roommate is on vacation? You may also assume that the pet owner is responsible for all pet-related costs, all the time. But if you have started to think of your roommate’s dog as your own, your roommate may assume that the two of you are in this together, sharing responsibilities as well as costs. It’s important to be clear about what you are willing to do and what you aren’t.
Spend enough time living with a dog or cat and something is bound to be destroyed. Generally, if your roommate’s pet ruins something that belongs to you, your roommate should pay to replace it. Things get more complicated when you’ve been irresponsible with your things. If you leave expensive gourmet cookies on a table within reach of the dog, chances are that they’ll be eaten. Though you may feel you have the right to leave your things wherever you like, remember that you did decide to live with a pet, even if you don’t actually own it. Don’t be surprised if your roommate doesn’t feel culpable if you should have been more responsible to begin with.
Most people know understand the daily hazards of living with an animal. If you love them, you’re probably willing to assume a certain amount of risk. But what should you do if it turns out that your roommate’s pet has a serious behavior problem? “I found a roommate on craigslist,” says Becky, student in San Francisco. “I moved into the place she already occupied with her dog, a Lab-Shepherd mix. The dog jumped all over me and ran around like crazy when I visited the place, but she told me that it was just excited because I was a new person.” A dog-lover, Becky happily agreed to rent on a month-to-month basis. “Thank God I didn’t sign a lease,” she remembers. “The jumping and running around was just the beginning. The dog had a serious behavior problem and my roommate just wasn’t willing to do anything about it. I moved out after two months.”
If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, there may be little that you can do besides leave. Most pet owners (rightly) feel a strong sense of responsibility for their pets and will do whatever they can to avoid parting with them. Asking your roommate to get rid of a hyperactive dog or aggressive cat probably won’t go over well. However, they may be more receptive if you can suggest some possible solutions that don’t involve giving the pet away. Some ideas include bitter-tasting sprays for pets that like to chew furniture, citronella collars and other products to control barking, the number of a local dog walker, or new toys for a cat that likes to scratch. If you show that you’re looking for a solution that will work for both of you, your roommate will be more apt to tackle the problem constructively. Of course, a situation like Becky’s may not have a solution. Before you agree to live with someone else’s pet, make sure you feel comfortable with the animal’s behavior. Make a few visits before you sign a lease or agree to a month-to-month basis until you’re sure that you can live with the animal.
On the other hand, if you are a pet owner yourself, you’re lucky to have found a roommate who is willing to live with a pet. You’ll have to be extra responsible to ensure that your roommate enjoys living with your pet. If something goes wrong, the responsibility will almost always land in your lap. Even if your roommate offers to pay for a damaged item or tells you not to worry about something your pet did, it’s better to insist on paying for any damage. Remember that your roommate may just be trying to be polite. Keep the relationship positive by assuming all responsibility for your pet.
Have you found yourself in a difficult pet-related situation? Do you have a pet problem you can’t solve? Tell us about it in the comments section.