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Kitten conundrum: My neighbour criticizes my cat-sitting abilities

The question

A couple of months ago, my wife struck up a conversation with a woman, let's call her Erin, new to our condo building. After Erin, who is pleasant, mentioned that she and her husband, Jack, have two kittens and were going away for the weekend, my wife offered to look in on the cats. This has happened a few times and is no problem: The kittens are adorable and we play/care for them several times each weekend. My issue begins when Jack comes to retrieve his key: He immediately mentions spilled litter or other minor problems – and not in a "kittens-will-be-kittens" kind of way, but as if there was neglect. I have suggested to my wife that we stop kitten sitting. I'm done, but Erin insists that we all go out for drinks. By us, I hope she means herself, my wife, the kittens and me.

The answer

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Ha ha. Very funny, but I'll do the jokes around here, pal.

Listen, if a little kitten friction is your biggest problem, then I say to you, in the immortal words of Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather, "Te saluto, Don Corleone."

Ah, peacetime problems – enjoy them while they last. In my own perhaps somewhat-less-than-immortal words: "All this stuff that seems so important to us right now will be put in perspective the day someone drops a bomb on our domes."

In the meantime, you have come to me, the godfather of advice, with your kitten conundrum. And although today is not my daughter's wedding day, my son's birthday is coming up, and it's an old tradition: No advice columnist can refuse a request for advice in the lead-up to the anniversary of his son's birth (what, you never heard of it?).

Therefore, I ask you to imagine me sitting in the backroom of a café, cheeks stuffed with cotton balls, an overcoat draped over my shoulder, sipping grappa as I consider your question, then finally saying, in a hoarse, raspy voice:

"What has this Erin-who-is-pleasant ever done to make you treat her so disrespectfully, to respond to a purr-fectly friendly invitation with unsheathed claws, besides having a rude husband? Just because one-half of a couple is a crazy cat doesn't necessarily mean the other one is too. That drinks invite is an offer you should not refuse."

In fact, her suggestion is textbook "damage control." A little friction has developed over a minor matter. (And why, I'm starting to wonder, do any of us feel the need to own pets? Life is annoying enough without, say, dog tension in the park, or arguing with your spouse over who cleaned the iguana cage last, or trying to figure out who's going to feed the hedgehog when you go on vacation.) What better way to put a froideur to rest than quaffing some cold ones with the principals in this feline fandango and talking it out?

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I don't even think it would be all bad if you came right out and said something like: "Listen, it kind of hurt my feelings, Jack, when you seemed to be critical instead of thankful after we looked after your kittens while you were gone."

It could begin a dialogue. For example, they might say, "Oh, hey, we had no idea/didn't mean to, we're sorry," and so on and so forth and soon all the ruffled fur will be smoothed down, and claws retracted into paws.

It's possible that Erin knew nothing about Jack's passive-aggressive cat cracks, and she'll give him a full-on dressing-down when they get home.

I'm reading between the lines a bit, but it seems that this is a case of more harm done by words spoken than unspoken. The cat's got all your tongues and not in a good way. The sooner someone steps up and speaks up the better. Drop the mafia-style omerta and let them know how you feel. I can't imagine your neighbours "getting their backs up" too much about such a minor matter.

And if they do, then that tells you something too. If they're nuts enough to have a hissy fit over a little spilled litter, maybe they're barking mad and it's best to cross their path as little as possible.

Hope that helps. I always like to be of service to those who come to me in friendship and respect. Some day, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift in the lead-up to my son's 10th birthday.

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David Eddie is the author of Damage Control , the book.

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