Features September 1998 Issue

Dog Friendly Home Set-Ups

Decorating your house in a dog-friendly manner makes your life easier!

Twenty-five years ago, a friend of mine found two abandoned black-and-tan coonhound pups by the side of the road. He took them home and immediately called a real estate broker, thus beginning his search for a house with a fenced yard and ending his years as an apartment dweller. This same dog owner recently purchased the car of his dreams, only to discover that his dog’s crate wouldn’t fit in the back seat. He returned the car the next day.

We all make accommodations in our lifestyles for our dogs. We come straight home from work instead of stopping off at the pub for a beer with the office gang, because Buddy has been in the house for nine hours and has to pee. We break off a promising relationship because the new neurosurgeon boyfriend is allergic to Smokie. We stay home on the 4th of July rather than going out to watch fireworks, just in case Charley panics from the popping of neighborhood firecrackers. We never wear black or navy blue, because our Golden Retriever’s hair shows too easily on dark colors.

Those are good examples of how some of us arrange our affairs to make room for our dogs. But others carry this notion further – they rearrange their homes to make rooms for their dogs. They knock holes in walls to put in doggie doors, search high and low for fur-resistent furniture fabrics and floor coverings, and even construct separate furnished houses for their furry friends!

In this living room, there are three couches: one just for dogs, and two just for people.

If this strikes you as going too far, consider this: Building and decorating your house in a completely “dog-friendly” manner makes it easier to keep clean and flea-free. It also reduces the number of ways that Fido can inadvertently ruin your day by ruining your decor.

Baby Gates and Dog Crates

One of the simplest, most common approaches to managing life with Lassie is the strategic use of baby gates and dog crates. Faith White runs Shar-Pei Rescue in Anchorage, Alaska; has seven dogs of her own; teaches puppy classes; and also occasionally boards dogs for friends. She has eschewed carpeting; her house is tiled throughout for easy maintenance and cleaning. White has gates across her front porches, a dog room off the living room, and uses a kiddy wading pool for a toy box. Because Alaska weather can be harsh (and all of White’s dogs have short coats), in the winter she tarps off an area in the backyard for a windbreak and puts down sawdust to create a protected potty place.

Joan Weintraub of Tiverton, Rhode Island, has ten dogs in her home, which is also her place of business. With customers coming and going all day, Weintraub uses a combination of training and crates to keep the dogs out from under clients’ feet. The office/entertainment area is on the first floor, and dogs are trained to stay out. The rest of the downstairs is wide open dog space, with flooring that is easy to clean and disinfect.

Dog Hair Protection

Keeping a multiple dog household clean is an ongoing challenge. While lots of us resort to ripping up and discarding carpeting in favor of easy-to-maintain vinyl or tile flooring, Pat Wenzel of Wenwood Corgis in Gladwin, Michigan has resigned herself to vacuuming and carpet cleaning.

“I have a standing appointment every six months with the carpet/furniture cleaners,” she says, “and in between, blankets cover all the furniture.” Wenzel also claims ownership of six different vacuum cleaners, each with a specific purpose.

“First,” she explains, “you have your super heavy-duty canister that is absolutely impossible to clog with hair. I recommend the Rainbow. You will need the multiple attachments that it comes with for those pesky underneath places. Then you need a regular upright for those occasions when you need to do a real quick job and don’t feel like dragging the other monster out. This one can be used only occasionally, and never during major seasonal shedding. (The hardware store people think you’re a riot when you bring it in to be de-haired.) The small, hand-held type is a must for the furniture, and the battery operated Dirt Devil mop/vac is invaluable for the utility room and kitchen floors when 24 muddy feet come flying in after a rain storm. And who could live without a regular Dirt Devil for those little ‘so-and-so knocked over the (fill in the blank)’ accidents? Another heavy-duty canister-type vacuum is obligatory in the garage for use in the cars, and then, of course, there’s the Bissell “Little Green Machine” for in depth carpet/furniture spot cleaning.

In addition to her financial investment in cleaning, Wenzel has taken other steps to ensure canine and human comfort.

“R.C. Steele (the pet supply mail order catalog) is my interior decorator,” she says. “Instead of saving money for new people furniture I am presently saving up to purchase custom-made wooden dog crates that will look like furniture but still hold dogs.” Wenzel even had central air conditioning installed in her home – for the dogs’ comfort, not her own.

Doggie Doors and Puppy Pens

Many dog owners recognize the risks inherent in giving a dog free run of the fenced yard when no one is home. Uncontrolled barking can irritate neighbors, resulting in complaints to animal control, or worse, retaliation through poisoning or theft. Meter readers and pool cleaners inadvertently leave gates open, allowing Benji to escape. Bored dogs learn how to dig holes or jump fences. And inclement weather often precludes outdoor housing. Still, the reality of today’s working couples means that Buddy is often left home alone for ten hours or more; an uncomfortably long time to expect him to keep his legs crossed.

This dog enjoys a fenced run with a doggie door that leads into the house.

Wendy Katz, of Lexington, Kentucky, and Joanne Cook, of Denver, Colorado, both discovered similar solutions to this problem: a doggie door from the house to a fenced outdoor pen where the dogs can go to relieve themselves, but still have access to all the comforts of home. Katz installed her dog door in a back door of her house that leads to a pen with 6’ fencing. The pen is chain link on two sides, and has solid cedar slats on the side facing the neighbor’s house. It is shaded in summer by stately oaks and a crabapple tree. The dogs have run of the downstairs when Katz is away, with access through the door to the pen.

Cook’s door goes through a wall into the garage where the dogs stay during the day, thereby protecting the house from doggie destruction, and leads to a sheltered chainlink pen the length of the garage wall.

Pam Sheehan of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, went one step further for her pack of tiny Yorkshire terriers. She put a doggie door in the window of a small back room, and built ramps on both sides of the window leading to an outside pen. Speaking of steps, Sheehan also has step stools by her bed and sofa so the Yorkies can easily jump up!

Taking Dog Accomodation to the Next Level

Then there are those dog owners who push the envelope, making even more of a commitment to canine accommodations than the average dog enthusiast. Lisa Wright and her husband moved out of the city to a 90-year-old cabin on 160 acres in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) in order to provide a proper environment for their pack of Newfoundlands. For 18 months they lived in the cabin with no running water and just a wood stove for heat (in a climate that reaches 40 degrees below zero), while they built their new house. The house has a heated, all-tile floor – no carpets. The dogs have their own room that opens to the living room via a Dutch door, as well as a dog-door out to their dog run. The Wrights sleep in a loft to which the dogs don’t have access, although Lisa will sleep in the dogs’ room when puppies are imminent.

When Teoti Pullie and her husband, of Lexington, South Carolina bought their new house in 1997, the room over the garage was unfinished so they did the obvious – turned it into a room for the dogs, now nicknamed “the nursery.” The Pullies don’t have to worry about how to keep their dogs out of the trash or off the sofa when they aren’t home – they know the dogs are safely playing in their own custom-designed room.

“The construction guy,” says Pullie, “thought I was nuts. I wanted a window unit that provided air conditioning and heat. He said they didn’t exist. When I found the unit I wanted in a catalog he said, ‘You don’t need heat. Those units are expensive – you can get a cheaper unit just for air.’”

When Pullie asked him, “Don’t you think it’ll get cold up here in the winter?” he replied, “It’ll be warm enough for dogs . . .”

“Not MY dogs!” Pullie snapped. She got the unit she wanted.

Pullie had another argument with the carpet people. She wanted Berber. They kept showing her Astroturf. She held out for the Berber. It’s tough, she says, and hardly shows the dirt. She also had custom, adjustable shelves built into one wall for all the doggie equipment, added three light fixtures to the ceiling, and installed two ceiling fans. To top it off, she painted the room sky blue with Wedgewood blue highlights, stamped paws and bones on the doors, and applied a wallpaper border with a puppy pattern complete with Kong toys.

Teoti Pullie, of Lexington, South Carolina, devoted an entire climate-controlled room to her dogs.

The stairs to the room are through the garage, where a handy utility tub sits for washing off muddy paws. “I do wish I had a raised tub in there for baths,” Pullie muses. that’s probably just a mater of time!

Val Maurer of Hartville, Ohio, also created a custom canine-friendly room for her Border Collie rescue work. She turned a spare bedroom into a rescue room, complete with a closet that she converted into a walk-in shower for the dogs. The room also has cabinets for equipment, food and first-aid supplies, an array of crates for all sizes of Border Collies, and a window curtain made of an old comforter to muffle the sight and sound of lightning and thunder.

Very few dog owners go as far as Sandra Wornum, who has Salukis and does sighthound rescue in her Larkspur, California home. Wornum built a completely separate, one-room granny unit for her dogs, where the elegant sighthounds lounge on futons and listen to music on the stereo or watch videos on the television set. Wornum has had as many as a dozen or more large dogs in her home at one time. Being able to rotate them from “their” house to hers has enable her to maintain her home and her sanity while still giving the dogs individual attention and socialization.

And Then Some...

The list of ways that we accommodate our dogs in our lives is virtually endless. We make strange demands on our real estate agents when we are looking for a house to buy:

“Nope – the stairs to the deck are too steep for my three-legged Lab. The back yard is too small for my Aussies to chase tennis balls. Can’t live next to a school – the kid’s’ll make the dogs bark. Hot tub? No way . . . what if Pippin falls in?”

We make it equally hard for agents to sell our homes. Not everyone appreciates the value of a walk-in dog shower, a bare dirt yard (fewer fleas, and easier to scoop poop), or windows throughout the house that come to within a foot of the floor (so dogs can look out without jumping).

Non-doggie visitors clumsily negotiate baby gates, look askance at dog crates that double as end tables, and ridicule pieces of furniture that belong to the dogs. Families tend to write us off as eccentric. (Oh let’s be honest – they think we’re nuts!) But in the end, the ones who really matter – our dogs, and our dog-loving friends – appreciate and understand the efforts we put into creating a home that minimizes the stress and maximizes the joy of living life with Lassie.

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