This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.
I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.
I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.
I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?
Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter
Hi Not A Willing Pet Sitter:
Here is your script: “I know I said I would pet-sit yesterday, but I’ve changed my mind. You’ll have to find someone else to look after the dogs.” Call your sister today and tell her.
Them: “But it’s such short notice! You said you would!”
You: “Yep, I did, but you asked me already knowing that I don’t want to pet sit for you, ever. I’m telling you now that I won’t do it, so you need to hire someone or make other plans. I’m not having this conversation again.”
Them: “But!!! x 1000 (Also “we’re a faaaaaaamily”)” “But you’re ruining our trip!”
Your follow-up script is “I said no. Why are you still trying to negotiate with me when it’s clear that I don’t want to do it?”
Then…don’t pet-sit. You are not the only solution they have and they can shove their guilt trips into the center of the sun.
There are professional pet sitters. There are kennels. Some people board their dogs at the vet. There is an entire industry of “doggie day care” establishments. There are bored college students who really like dogs and would love a little cash and a free place to crash for a few days over the holidays (I used to be this college student). There’s literally an app for that. One dog-loving sister could take the other sister’s dogs in, and vice versa. They could ask their friends. Hiring a professional would be “too expensive,” they say, but they could budget “pet sitting” as a necessary vacation cost. No money for pet sitting? No money for travel, then!
This is only your problem because they insist on making it your problem. The only way their guilt trips will keep working on you is if you let them keep working on you. The way to take your power back here is is to let them be mad at you if they’re going to be mad about it, and then keep right on not pet-sitting, literally forever. Let yourself get angry with them for continually putting you in this shitty position. If they insult you in order to manipulate you, let them: “Yep, I’m selfish. Yep, I could do it if I wanted to. Yep, I’m a bad mean cruel horrible sister. Still not pet-sitting though, so, let’s change the subject.”
Enforcing boundaries with family means communicating “I can live with your displeasure but I can’t continue to endure your poor treatment of me.”