DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have pet rats. They are trained domestic rats that bear little resemblance to the kind that live in subways.
The rats live in a cage, but I will sometimes take one out and put it on my shoulder while I do whatever needs to be done in the house (as is recommended by rat-care experts). If the doorbell rings when I am not expecting anyone and I happen to have a rat on my shoulder, is it all right for me to answer the door with the rat still on my shoulder, or must I take the time to put that rat back in its cage and secure the cage, running the risk that during that time the person at the door will assume I’m not home and leave?
The rats never jump off my shoulder and do not bite, so there is no risk that any harm will come to the person on the other side of the door; but I do know that some people have an irrational dislike of rodents, so I don’t know if that possibility is something I need to accommodate.
GENTLE READER: Surprise!
They surprise you; you surprise them.
This is not a principle that Miss Manners would apply to anyone who keeps a pet hyena or an ill-behaved rat. You do have a duty to protect others from danger, as well as from unwanted attentions from animals, dangerous or not.
In addition, it is thoughtful to extend this to allow for the possibility of the mere sight of your pet being upsetting. But that applies to people who enter your house by invitation or appointment. Those who lack the courtesy to call ahead cannot reasonably expect you to anticipate and cater to a mere prejudice.
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