Getting along with your neighbors plays a huge role in feeling comfortable with where you live. But when your neighbor hates your pet, home sweet home can become a place you’d rather avoid. Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton of Hamilton Law and Mediation, a leader in mediating animal conflicts to avoid litigation, gives the low-down on how pet parents can work through these problems and what actions to take as a last resort.
Roaming Dogs and Outdoor Cats - Pooches and kitties who roam the neighborhood can be a menace and a potential safety hazard. Some unsavory antics include falling asleep behind your neighbor’s tires, camping out on your neighbor’s property, attacking without provocation or pooping in your neighbor’s yard. Animals have a sense for which people like them and which don’t, and if your neighbors are of the latter variety, chance meetings can turn into scary confrontations. Roaming dogs and cats can also get into fights with other neighborhood pets, which can cause strained relations between you and the people living next door.
Barking (and Howling) Dogs - Even loving pet parents get annoyed with persistent barking or howling, but neighbors seeking quiet time can be driven past their breaking points. Pooches who bark at knocks on the door are often praised as good guard dogs, but barking at the wind or for no apparent reason for endless minutes on end can rattle the most serene personalities. While you might think Fido is merely communicating with you, your neighbors could be dying to shut him up. Nighttime play that riles your dog into a barking frenzy is also inconsiderate and inappropriate.
Feeding Feral Cats-Feral cats are no dummies and know which neighbors will dole out their dinner, hanging around and perpetually returning for yet another meal. These wild kitties can be territorial and may attack other animals that block their path to the food bowl. Lacking vaccinations and adequate healthcare can spread feline diseases throughout the neighborhood. Although it may be tempting to feed a scrawny, starving cat, a better tactic is to adopt her as your own and properly care for her instead of adding to the feral-cat problem.
How to Work Through and Remedy Problems
Be Honest With Yourself -You should ask yourself three questions: (1) Can I listen to someone else tell me about my pet’s bad conduct? (2) Can I listen without feeling threatened? (3) Can I stay in a problem-solving mode? Hamilton states that if you can answer these three questions with a firm and resounding “yes,” problem solving is possible and your relationship with your neighbor can be repaired and saved. No legal entities or professionals need be involved, and chances are good that the issue can be resolved between the two of you on your own.
Talk About It -As with any situation needing resolution, you have two options-suffer in silence and seethe with unresolved anger, or muster up your courage to address the problem and regain your peace. Hamilton’s firm offers a third option of professional mediation, and her first question to clients is always, “Have you talked to them about it?” When entering discussions with your neighbors it is important to remain calm and hold the conversation in a neutral place (such as a mediator’s office). Hamilton also suggests to begin the talk with the word “we.”
Detach From Fear -Pet parents often fear losing their furry friend or being sued, which taints their reaction to a confrontation regarding their pet’s behavior. “Neighbors who are afraid for their pets are often non-compliant and confrontational,” Hamilton says. She suggests that both parties approach the situation from a place of respect. This openness leads to emotional availability to conduct a problem-solving conversation.
Nip It In the Bud -The pet parent can avoid a minor issue building into a major problem by being proactive immediately when the complaint is first brought up. Allowing the issue to fester on both sides only adds to the conflict and risks it spiraling out of control. Address the complaining neighbor early on, again using the word “we” to encourage a problem-solving attitude rather than a defensive confrontation. Being open and able to rethink what you want for your pet, as well as respecting your neighbor’s point of view, can reveal a fix that neither party may have considered during the heat of battle.
If All Else Fails
Steer Clear of the Court -Courts often view pets as property and tend to rule against the pet parent, says Hamilton, who advises clients to avoid court hearings if possible. Potential outcomes from involving lawyers include pet parents being sued, fined or even losing Fido or Fluffy. The dog warden can intrude upon your life by visiting every day and doling out a fine based on a sliding fee scale if you fail to take action to change your pet’s conduct. The possibility of being forced by the warden to relinquish your pet is what most people fear and cause them to be very protective of their furry friend. Legal cases have often been resolved through issuing restraining orders, which can also be costly to obtain.
Enlist a Mediator’s Services -Although conducting a civilized conversation with your annoyed neighbor is possible, great self-restraint and above-average receptiveness must be at the forefront during your talk. Most people who get to this point find it difficult, if not impossible, to talk rationally without a professional mediator to guide the discussion. Since the mediator remains neutral, everyone involved in the mediation feels heard, respected, and understood. All involved get the opportunity to clearly see the strengths and the flaws in their argument, hold up the issue to reality testing, and rethink the merits of litigation. Most importantly, mediation helps both the accuser and defendant discover a more peaceful solution, giving them more ownership in the resolution and leading to greater compliance.
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