How To Navigate Share Housing And Pets

Is your house too crowded?

Is your house too crowded?

This month’s column topic came direct from reader requests asking me to offer some perspective on common challenges that arise when you have both pets and roommates, a situation that—if not uniquely lesbian—is a living arrangement about as frequent in our community as being invited to a potluck!

For a variety of reasons including preference, cultural norms, housing costs in urban areas etc.etc. etc., many lesbians find themselves in communal living situations. This of course can take many forms including cohabitating with friends, or living with strangers, and like many other people (though perhaps a bit more frequently than your average straight neighbor) often one or multiple of the roommates are likely to have pets thrown into the household mix.

Pets are wonderful and amazing additions to our lives, but there are some unique challenges/circumstances that can arise when we’re talking about sharing our lives with pets and living with roommates! I have received a lot of questions about how to mitigate these kinds of situations to avoid the dreaded roommate drama!

Many pet related roommate conflicts can be avoided completely if you are able to prioritize planning and communication between yourself and your new roommate(s) before you’re living together. Preparing your pets for living with roommates is often less about preparing your critters and more about talking with the people that you will be living with for how living with your pets will work.

This is one of those moments where I don’t think it’s possible to over communicate! Likely everyone involved is entering into the communal living situation with some preconceived ideas (good and bad) about dogs, cats, and hamsters whatever sort of critters you have and what it will be like to live with them.

If you as the guardian don’t make sure that all the housemates are on the same page as you about how the will be interacting with your critters, you might be setting yourself up for a lot of roommate drama and there’s nothing worse than that especially if you are all lesbians with overlapping social circles!!!

I’ve seen people handle pets and roommates in a diverse array of ways. Many years ago, before my partner and I were together and I lived with roommates, I had a very firm hands-off policy. My dogs and cat were in my room when I wasn’t home and I didn’t allow my roommates to have any unsupervised interaction with my pets when I wasn’t home. In my defense,I lived in a punk house—my roommates weren’t always very reliable.

But even if the house had been more stable I’m known to be obsessively overprotective of my fur babies and trust very few people to interact with them. On the other hand,I have other friends who encourage a lot of interaction between their pets and housemates including expecting their housemates to be the default caretaker of their pets if they go on an overnight date, or are traveling. There’s no right or wrong way to have pets in a communal household, but it is important to be clear with yourself, and your roommate(s) about what your expectations are.

Before your roommates move in, or before you move into a new place with your pet(s) spend some time thinking about your expectations. Until you are clear about your own boundaries for your critter babies, you won’t be able to clearly articulated then to anyone else, let alone make sure they are being respected.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to start brainstorming about boundaries: Are you ok with roommates taking your pet outside? Should they feed your pet? Can they play with your pet? Feed them snacks? Bring them into their room? When do you want them to contact you either for permission to do something with them, or what are red flags that something is wrong with your pet and when you want them to be sure to call/text you?

Many of the roommate and pet conflicts that arise could be avoided with clearer communication about boundaries right away, and address situations when they come up. Sometimes though, even with clear boundaries and good communication, there are situations that just can’t be resolved.

One reader let me know about a concerning issue with a roommate who became overly attached to her dog. The situation quickly got out of hand with the roommate trying to take over all care for the dog and even wanting to bring it on vacation with her! This was a really awkward situation where the roommate had fallen so in love with the dog, that she wanted to take over ownership of her, and the dog guardian ended up having to remove herself and her dog from that situation.

Most pet related roommate conflicts aren’t that dramatic, but clear boundaries and communication can go a long way to prevent big misunderstandings but also minor ones too, like how often the litter boxes should be cleaned and whose responsibility it is to do it!

If you and your new roommates all have pets be sure to put thought and time into planning how you will introduce your pets to one another. Ideally introduce the pets to each other before agreeing to live together, particularly if they will be expected to have regular interactions (less critical if your roommate has tropical fish, and you have a turtle who will always be in their own tanks!).

Although the animals have different guardians, if the pets will be sharing communal space, approach introductions like you would if you were getting a new pet yourself. Go slow, introduce dogs outside on neutral territory, make sure all pets have separate spaces they can go to have privacy from the other household animals, prioritize keep their routines consistent.

Prioritize making sure that your pets are comfortable living with the other animals before you sign that lease, and that the roommates are truly comfortable with your pet before moving in.

Do you have, or have you had, roommates and pets? How do your pets adjust to them? What kind of boundaries have you agreed upon?