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damage control

The question

My husband and I had his entire family over for dinner last Christmas. His sister owns a dog and she had asked, on multiple occasions, whether she could bring it to dinner. At the time we were renting our apartment, so we politely said no, explaining that our apartment was too small to accommodate the entire family and a large dog, and that our landlords had a no-pets policy. My husband and I recently purchased our first house, with nice hardwood floors. I run a very clean home and I know having pets over will really stress me out. I'm already anticipating that my sister-in-law will ask again if she can bring her dog over. How do we politely explain that even though we now own our place, we would still prefer her to leave her dog at home?

The answer

At least she asks beforehand.

The shock to me is when people, invited over for dinner or drinks or whatnot, come through my front door with a dog in tow, never having asked. Them: "Hey, we brought the dog!"

Dog, padding into the house: "Woof!" Meaning, "I'll let you know if I need anything, Jeevesie." Eyes already darting around, looking for food to snatch from a low-lying table, and/or a handy piece of furniture to lift a leg at.

While I'm at it, I might just as well succumb to the curmudgeonliness that threatens to engulf me entirely and say: I feel the same way when people bring over unannounced kids.

You invite your adult friends over for cocktails, the time comes, the doorbell rings – and a horde of kids comes flying in. "Got any ice cream?" Or, "I'm hungry and thirsty and I have to pee and poo!" (Actual line of dialogue from interloping kid.)

Or (this happened too): "Cool! A remote control helicopter! How does it work?" Snap! "Oops."

The thing is, any creature that manages to penetrate the perimeter of your domicile is full of what a friend of mine calls "unmet needs." (He has three kids and coined this immortal phrase when I asked why not get a dog: "I couldn't stand another pair of eyes looking up at me, full of unmet needs.")

And it's your job as hosts to fulfill those needs. Before going further, I should mention I've been guilty of bringing my dog to people's houses. But only if absolutely necessary – if, say, we're staying overnight at our in-laws' and would have had to find a kennel or a dog-sitter otherwise. And we always ask first.

So that's one way to go. Grin and bear it, then bust out the bleach and Brillo pads afterward, all in the name of family harmony and unity.

But if it will truly be stressful to have a dog there, that may not be too harmonious in the long run.

So in the interest of long-term harmony, I would gently but firmly explain to your sister-in-law you don't want her to bring the dog. No more lies! But it wouldn't hurt to sweeten the pill with a little sugar – maybe something like: "Listen you know we love [insert dog's name here]. What a lovely, soulful dog." Don't be afraid to lay it on thick. If I know my dog owners, they'll lap it up like a dog at a toilet bowl on a hot summer's day.

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