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I work for a European start-up with around 20 to 30 employees without an HR department. We have an office on the ground floor and there are a lot of cats around. I am afraid of cats and I don't feel comfortable around them.

Several of my coworkers like to feed and pet these cats which keeps them coming back to our office and they constantly try to get in from doors or windows if they find any that are open. This distracts me.

I told my coworkers that I don't like the situation but they ignored me and placed more cat food outside the office. I suggested that they could feed them away from the office so they don't try to get in.

The manager also likes cats, and he thinks I am overreacting and that there is nothing to be disturbed about.

What should I do about this?

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    Your question is a bit imprecise how strong your aversion is. Can you tolerate cats (you only dislike/fear them and this distracts you a bit) or do you have a full-fledged ailurophobia (cat phobia) meaning that you are likely to panic and break down if confronted by a cat ? If it is the latter case, it should be addressed immediately, unfortunately it is often the case that many people with cat phobia are ashamed of their fear and try to hide it. – Thorsten S. Sep 17 '15 at 11:40
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    @ThorstenS. I startle and get tense when I saw a cat and I feel like I have to watch it until it disappears from sight in case they come closer or make a move. I also detest the cat hair and feel itchy. I scream if a cat touches me on the sudden. – user2191454 Sep 17 '15 at 12:12
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    @user2191454 Thanks for the update, I've added that information to your question. At the risk of answering in the comments, my first suggestion would be to go back to your manager and make it clear that it's a real problem and not that you're just "not a cat person". – Lilienthal Sep 17 '15 at 12:24
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    @user2191454 Just as a comment: Your intuitive feeling is in fact correct, avoiding eye contact often triggers the cat to come nearer because it feels safe and secure and holding eye contact is offensive to a cat which means it will sooner or later bugger off. – Thorsten S. Sep 17 '15 at 13:08
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    Are those street cats? Maybe you can spin it as an higienic measure; unmanaged animals can be hosts of several diseases. Ask your boss if he does not think it is risky that any of the employees could sue him if the employee catches toxoplasmosis, for instance. – SJuan76 Sep 17 '15 at 13:44
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You have unfortunately a phobia for something which people consider as beautiful, cuddly or nice which makes it much harder to be accepted. If we go for the list of phobias, there are phobias of flowers, happiness, sun, wood and dolls.

If you are otherwise content with your work and have a good social standing, you need to establish first that it is a real condition. Ailurophobia is a known phobia, so visit a psychologist which can give testimonial that your condition is real. Sometimes they offer a therapy so you can suppress or heal the condition by exposition. With that you can talk with your manager in private, show him the testimonial and hint that you know people like cats so you understand it is hard to be taken seriously. You are simply not responsible for your fear.

From that on it should be possible to work on solutions like feeding the cats out of your view and hold the doors closed.

Unfortunately it means people know that it is your achilles heel. So it really depends on the social standing how good the solutions are. But I think in a normal working environment it should be possible to be courteous if you know someone has a problem which must be addressed.

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    Getting diagnosed is great advice. Then it becomes a workplace health issue. Think about if you would accept therapy, especially if the startup offers to pay for it or it is free in your country, or if you would prefer to have the cats kept away from your workplace. The latter option may be problematic - cats have infinite time to spend looking for ways in and won't give up "encouraging" staff to feed them easily. – user Sep 21 '15 at 10:52
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What should I do about this?

Your choices seem to be some combination of the following:

  • Talk more with your manager, and to those above him in hopes that they will do something. Attempt to convince them that your fear is real, and more than just an over-reaction. Explain how distracting this is and how it impacts your productivity.
  • In some locales you might be able to make a case that you need an individual accommodation due to your fear of cats
  • Personally make sure the doors and windows are closed so that the cats can't get in
  • Learn to tolerate the cat-happy environment. Sometimes we can overcome our fears ourselves. Some times we need help from healthcare professionals
  • Find a job that isn't cat-infested, then quit this one

What you "should do" isn't really something this forum can answer. That will depend on your tolerance, patience, the importance of this particular job to you financially, local laws, and the willingness of folks at your company to do something about your issue.

Based on how your describe your aversion to cats, and the seeming cat-friendly environment, I'd just find another job, then quit. But your mileage may vary.

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    I'd suggest calling it a phobia and making a comparison. "You know how some people have phobias of public speaking? I feel similarly when I am around cats - it is incredibly distracting for me." etc – enderland Sep 17 '15 at 13:55
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    Perhaps compare it to arachnophobia. It's more common and many people understand that it's not a joke. Especially if they are sat down in a serious one-to-one meeting about it. – Erik Sep 17 '15 at 15:17
  • @enderland To call it a phobia though, you'd probably need to be diagnosed. Otherwise you just don't like cats. – Andy Sep 21 '16 at 21:49
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Perhaps if the general consensus is pro cats you're better off addressing your own phobia rather than projecting it on others. To mitigate against the issue I suggest you keep your door and windows closed. And talk again to the manager. If that fails you can escalate it but you run the risk of making yourself seem unreasonable.

If you had an actual allergy to cats that would be a different story.

  • in this particular instance an allergy is a physical reaction that you can actually prove to your manager, a phobia is a bit harder to convince him/her of. eg,. if you start sneezing uncontrollably every time a cat is near you're likely to get a more sympathetic hearing. – Kilisi Sep 17 '15 at 10:22
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    Not necessarily, some people are only allergic to specific types of pet dander - I'm fine with cats unless there's a long-haired one. Then I'm basically useless. – Raystafarian Sep 17 '15 at 16:15
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    No offense, but most people will be like me, and have no idea what you're talking about. Sneezing uncontrollably on the other hand, is easy to grasp. When dealing with people in many situations, it's their perception of the issue that is important, not so much yours. – Kilisi Sep 17 '15 at 20:37

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