“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” – Milan Kundera
I’m a dog person. Meow, I don’t dislike cats; I just have an empathy with dogs that I don’t with their feline compatriots.
Dogs fare well and want to help.
One February when I was a kid, we got a call from my grandfather when he and my grandmother lived outside Warrenton. Heavy rain and some beaver carpentry had blocked up the stream that ran through their property. These two ingredients had made for some pretty substantial flooding. The stream needed to be cleared – in late February when temperatures rise above freezing for only a few ceremonial minutes each day.
Even for someone who likes cold weather, clearing the stream was weary work. But for our dog at the time, Chessy, a hulking ninety pound Lab, the setting was edenic. He loved the work. Not only were the bleak below-freezing temperatures not a problem, he intuitively understood what we were doing and immediately began to mouth large sticks and branches, dragging them out of the water. For him, every moment was sheer bliss. It was probably the greatest day of his life.
I like that dogs have that spirit.
In a time before we litigated ourselves into a corner, my dog, Hershey, would have gone to work with me every day. I always feel a twinge of jealousy whenever I go into a private shop where the owner has the option of bringing his or her dog to work. These seem to be the happiest hounds; the ones who still have a paw in the pack lifestyle. They have jobs and a purpose. Sure, I know that some folks are ambivalent when it comes to canines and others could do without them altogether. But for me that ember of earlier days, when people were less homebound and spent most of their time outdoors, has not been completely purged from my DNA. Not so long ago, dogs were the weft to our warp. Today, the pieces don’t always fit. I once inspected a condo with two massive Mastiffs pretzeled together on an oversized couch. Dogs and cats are, in some ways, vestiges of a bygone agrarian lifestyle, stowaways in our modern world of screens and wires.
As it is, dogs and cats are and will be the other occupants of our homes. And as such they have a direct bearing on how a house functions and wears. Obviously people have other pets, but the most common of these are in tanks or cages. For this reason, I am going to focus primarily on the effect cats and dogs have on our houses. My hope is that whether you’re an animal enthusiast or have pets and are planning to put your house on the market this blog will draw your attention to some of the pet related conditions I frequently come across.
Pet food is a leading cause of visiting snakes.
Let me explain.
Having open containers of pet food is like setting up a free pizza buffet outside a freshman dorm. Insects and rodents from across your zip code will flock to your house to feast on whatever kibble they can. Get a container that can be tightly sealed. Some dog food bags now have a little zip-lock at the top, but, in my experience, these are about as reliable as asking a toddler to tie his or her shoes: you might get lucky but don’t bet on it. No. Have a container that seals well and clean up any food that spills out. This is the most proactive thing you can do to keep pests from pillaging the Purina.
Oh, right. The snakes. I have been in a lot of snaky houses. Trust me. Mice = snakes, and mice love pet food. Although a starving snake might fancy a few forgotten flecks of Friskies, eliminating the mice by taking away their food source goes a long way toward rerouting the reptiles.
The Nose Blind advertising campaign Febreze put out a few years ago was absolute genius. It was both funny and had a real truth behind it. If you’re thinking about putting your house on the market and you have pets, I would keep its maxim in mind. All except the most meticulous among us grow blind the damage our animals administer: scratched trim, pulled carpeting, stains, and odors. I’m rather nose blind when it comes to dogs, but I can tell if cats live in a house while knocking on the front door.
Now, I don’t think damage of this sort should be a determining factor when considering a house. With few exceptions, pet damage rarely constitutes a safety concern. Nevertheless, I want to encourage sellers to think about doggie destruction and cat casualties this way: Say you have your heart set on peach ice cream. Straight up. No toppings. But the ice cream parlor you love only has strawberry ice cream. You might be a bit disappointed at first, but it’s not a big deal. Moreover, there’s a chance you may end up really liking strawberry once you try it. But what if you wanted peach and the parlor serves you strawberry with mint chocolate sprinkles? Not only are you not getting the ice cream you had in mind, it is covered in a topping that is at odds with the flavor. A second disappointment has entered the equation. At that point, you might decide it’s worth checking out another ice cream spot.
In other words, a few hundred bucks for a carpet cleaning or having a carpenter replace some trim is totally worth it if you save thousands selling your house in a timely manner.
All pet doors claim to be the best at keeping weather and pests out. I wonder why they are so insistent about this… Could it be that putting a door in another door or the wall inherently increases heat loss and invites weather and pests into the house? For some pet owners, having a means for a cat or dog to get outside is worth the liability pet doors present; however, in my experience pet doors are like trendy home fitness equipment – door attachments that allow you to do pull-ups or awkwardly hinged things you squeeze – that give the impression they will undo years of savory sins. I’m sure someone has achieved fitness nirvana in a corner of the living room, but they are the exception not the rule. Most of these gimmicky gadgets usually find a home in the attic. Likewise, the vast majority of the pet doors I encounter provide about the same amount of protection as a tarp over a woodpile.
The Secret Bathroom:
Every now and then, home inspectors discover secret bathrooms: hidden passages and corners where even prim and proper pets sneak away to pursue the call of nature. Examples: the knee wall passage that a tabby had turned into a veritable artist’s poo-dio, the large potted ferns by the French doors to the patio that are always so sickly, the storage area through the back of the coat closet in which two Chihuahuas had been dueling for scent supremacy. The list is long, but I would be remiss not to share the story of the couple who thought the stains on their dining room ceiling were the result of a leak from the little-used en suite bathroom above. Well, it was a leak, but the bathroom was not little-used. An elderly cat had been opening the cabinet door of the vanity to make pit stops when the journey to the litter box at the other end of the house wasn’t worth the effort.
A little investigation might save a lot of embarrassment. A potty-trained pet is like a two year-old trying undies for the first time. If your success rate is above eighty percent, consider it amazing and way above average!
For a moment, let’s steer way from out four legged friends and think about fish tanks. The question I get most frequently is whether or not the floor beneath a given tank is strong enough. This question shows a lot of intuition. The most popular size of fish tank is ten gallons. These don’t present weight related issues. Some folks, though, are as fanatic about fish as I am about dogs. I have been in houses where the owner could plausibly call the home an aquarium and charge admission. Large tanks warrant special consideration.
A fifty gallon fish tank once filled can weigh more than six hundred pounds! If you’re a budding ichthyologist the easiest thing to do is to have your tanks in the basement where the slab rests on the ground. Now, if you have your heart set on a large custom tank that spans a living room or bedroom, giving the impression you’re a rock star or pro athlete, I highly recommend you employ an engineer to ensure that there is sufficient support under that large loch you’re adding.
Finally, even if you just have a modest tank, take a moment every now and then to look for leakage. More than a few homeowners have moved a tank to find that a slow leak from the tank itself or the pump equipment has ruined the rug or warped the wood underneath. Remember too that wayward water provides an opportunity for mold to grow. A slow drip that soaks into the carpet is to mold as smoking at a gas station is to fire.
A lot of these observations can be boiled down to just being proactive about pet-related maintenance. I admit, these things are easy to dictate from afar but totally different when they compete with the sturm und drang of everyday life. Cleaning the bathroom because guests are coming over is always going win out over a whole house search to make sure the cat has been using proper discretion. On the other hand, if you’ve begun to notice nibbles around the Meow Mix or have pets and are thinking about what you can do to get your house ready for sale, I hope that these observations will help guide you.