A friend visited our home recently and without thinking, left her designer handbag in our entryway. While she and I were catching up in the living room, our year-old Westie found the handbag and tore it to shreds. I apologized profusely of course and even offered to pay for it; to my surprise, she accepted. What is the etiquette for hosts and guests when a pet destroys someone’s things?
The very same traits we love in our pets—their energy, their insatiable curiosity and their playfulness—can have an occasional downside, as you have just experienced.
This was an expensive lesson for sure, and yet the least-guilty party in the room was your Westie. As a host with a frisky pup at home, you must be hyper-attentive to placing visitor belongings in a spot where your dog can’t possibly get at them. As for your guest, although she clearly did not envision the consequences of bringing a fancy bag to a house with a fun-loving 1-year-old, she might have thought to ask: “Where shall I put this?” rather than simply abandoning it in the entry.
With respect to what went down, once the mangled bag was discovered, you handled it well.
You were right to apologize and insist on paying to replace it. Most guests will roundly dismiss that kind offer, in which case you should continue insisting until finally relenting with an “Are you sure?,” followed by a consolation gesture. Some thoughtful peace offerings include a flower arrangement or gift basket sent to the person’s home the following day, and of course a card that expresses your apologies once more, along with your gratitude for their understanding.
I’m dismayed to learn that your friend, rather than responding “I will not hear of it!” instead subscribed to the “you break it, you bought it” rule. While that admonition may be fine in a china shop, for a friend to expect you to replace the bag—no matter how genuine your offer—displayed a certain lack of empathy.
D.J. Bornschein, founder and president of Catsbury Park, an adoption cafe in Asbury Park, N.J., says he would never push for compensation if something he owned was ruined by a friend’s pet. Instead, he says he would want to do anything in his power to reduce the friend’s feelings of remorse.
“I suffer second-hand embarrassment very easily,” he says.
What about the flip side? What if one of the cats in his care damaged something belonging to a customer? (As the owner of an establishment where felines roam free, he does admit there have been times when one of the cats up for adoption have knocked over a patron’s coffee or scratched something.) As a business owner, there is a different standard, he says, explaining he will refill a coffee and offer to pay for any damage unwittingly wrought by a feline in his cafe.
Robin Sklar, a television industry professional living in New York City, acknowledges that most pet parents think only the rosiest things about their canine sidekicks. With that said, what if her well-behaved Pug was having an off-day and chewed up one of her friend’s handbags?
“Paterson would not do that,” she says with a smile. “But if she had, I would definitely offer to pay for the bag.” And if the friend refused? “I would find some other way of making it up to her, such as taking her out to lunch.” And to avoid a repeat scenario, Paterson would not be invited to that get-together, Sklar jokes.
Nancy Maddock, a professional organizer and owner of Ready. Set. Let’s Organize in Greater Boulder, Colorado, says she keeps an eye out for visitor belongings at all times and warns out-of-towners to close the door to her guest room when they move about the house—lest her Italian Greyhound gets into their luggage.
And what if, hypothetically, her energetic 3-year-old dog was the houseguest and, say, peed on a host’s rug? “I would wipe down the spot immediately and offer to have it cleaned professionally,” Maddock says. There would likely be a peace offering also, explaining: “If they insisted ‘Don’t worry about it … the carpet’s a mess anyway,’ I would probably send them a few bottles of wine.”
With all of this in mind, I’m betting you’ll keep closer tabs on guest belongings in your home the next time around. On the off chance your Westie still wreaks havoc despite your best preventative efforts, popping open a bottle of wine to ease guest and host tension may not be a bad idea. But if you and your pup are in someone else’s abode, please do me a favor and don’t spill your wine on their carpet, lest we head right back to square one.