A Most Unusual Day
Last Friday I ate dinner at friend's house. They have a dog and I stayed for over two hours. This is the third time in 12 months I have gone to houses where the owners have pets. They have locked them away for a few hours and I've been able to stay longer than 20 minutes before becoming a sneezy, wheezy, itchy mess.
This is major.
My childhood was one of missed play-dates, missed family events, missed lots-of-stuff because I was allergic to the beloved family pet. One particularly painful example is that of my father's sister: my adored aunt had three dogs that she loved -- she even had portraits of them commissioned (can you see where this is heading?). This adored aunt (and by adored I mean I adored her too -- she was smart, incredibly funny, caring and warm) refused to put her "babies" away during the family holidays she hosted in Connecticut. Not that locking them in a room would stop me from being allergic; they lived there and their dander was everywhere, but at least I would've been able to sit by the pool for 30 minutes during the warmer months and visit with my cousins and grandparents. That is if the tree, pollen and grass allergies didn't get me first. Sigh.
At 13, I had to take a stand. I kindly voiced a request for auntie to put her dogs in a locked room so I could sit OUTSIDE for a bit during family gatherings. She offered to try a new anti-allergen powder on her dogs' coats but wouldn't put them away. I had no choice but to stop attending further gatherings on my father's side and sadly, lost over a decade with them. It's only been within the last decade that I've reconnected with that part of the family, especially once my cousins had kids and started to get the "allergic thing".
My takeaway from this childhood disappointment was that I am the best advocate for my needs. If I'm not heard, I need to keep myself healthy and safe by doing what's necessary, even if it means not seeing loved family members who don't get it or refuse to. Tough lesson for a little kid, but it definitely shaped me.
Flash forward to this year. I'm still highly allergic to cats and dogs, allergies that trigger my asthma. I still receive kind invitations to attend parties where there are pets, and I am still educating and advocating about why it's not a great idea. "No, your pet isn't ‘hypo-allergenic' as long as they have skin and saliva". [People really don't get that one]. "Putting an animal away in another room doesn't solve the issue: they live there; their hair, saliva and dander is everywhere, on your clothing, the rug, the furniture, in the air". "Taking a Benedryl before I go doesn't do anything but put me to sleep, it won't stop the allergic asthma from popping up".
However, in this new regime of "Yes", I decided to open that door a crack with trusted friends. I decided to try again, to step foot into the kitty or doggy danger zone, even if it was for 20 minutes. I decided to trust that understanding friends would at the minimum put away their animals so I could make an attempt.
Last Friday, when dear friends invited me to their house for dinner, I said "Yes". They promised to put their beloved Rocky, a friendly Bichon, away in the other room, which they did and endured his cries. I knew their furniture was new and leather (i.e. not suffused with years of animal dander in the cushions), so that was a plus -- and maybe I could actually sit! I stayed out on their city terrace until the dinner began, also knowing I could retreat there as an option. We moved swiftly onto dinner instead of lingering with chat and drinks so there was less doggy time on the clock, and before I knew it, two hours had passed. The moment I started to feel a hint of chest tightness I left, thanking my lovely hosts and feeling like I'd rejoined the world, just a little bit.
This Friday was a reminder that not everyone with pets will be like my aunt and that a childhood disappointment need not be an adult reality. As an adult with allergies and asthma who wants to be a part of the world, it falls upon me to take care of my needs first; second to help others understand and possibly accommodate those needs; and third to have some faith and trust in others. And I was rewarded by a wonderful evening!
However, does this scenario sound familiar? Does your extended family get the whole allergy/asthma thing or do they not understand your needs? Or do your children have the issue and your family isn't as understanding as they could be? My advice: gently educate and strongly advocate. Speak up for yourself. Speak up for your little ones. Stay healthy.