My dogs offer regular doses of joy. The boundless flow of love towards me is an antidote to stress. Whether I need inspiration, clarity, or unconditional love, my pups are stop number one. Despite the considerable expense and annoyance (one was sprayed by a skunk two months ago and still has a lingering odor), having a dog in my life is non-negotiable. On the flip side, my end of the pact is providing a safe, healthy, and happy home.
On a baking hot day in 1999, I sat shot-gun in our Subaru wagon, back seats folded down to create a roomy area for transporting our newly adopted first dog. Gus was a two-year-old, 90 pound Rottweiler, and he drooled constantly on my shoulder the entire ride. “What have I just signed up for?” I worried. Thus began the era of pet ownership, which, to date, has included six dogs, a cat, a bunny, and a lot of chickens. And yet, none of my homes has seamlessly accommodated pet paraphernalia.
Part of our motivation for owning a home to begin with was being able to have a dog. As soon as we were under contract, we started searching. And as soon as the refinished wood floors were dry, we immediately went to pick up Gus. He was incredibly handsome, and acted as a friend, protector, conversation starter, and tripping hazard.
Record numbers of us opened up our homes and hearts to dogs during the pandemic year. Over 11 million Americans adopted a pet during the COVID-19 lockdown. For once, shelters were empty! In 2019-2020, about two-thirds of households had at least one pet, with roughly half having a dog. We have lived in several homes with pets, including one we built. Still, it was a revelation to visit two homes recently that were functional, beautiful, and pet-friendly.
The first, a farmhouse in Chatham County, was completely remodeled by my friend Mary Ann in 2014. Mary Ann has a deep love and respect for animals and incorporated the needs of her entire household into the design and modernization of her home. Responsible for horses, cats, and dogs, she created two mudrooms: one primarily for cats, and another for dogs. Each has an exterior door, space, and cabinetry to accommodate pet gear, and sinks to keep hand-washing and pet-related tasks out of the kitchen. The “cat people” mudroom doubles as the laundry room and is a safe sleeping spot for otherwise outdoor cats. The dog mudroom boasts a dutch door between it and the kitchen, to corral a dog with wet feet, a puppy during potty training, or just to give an old dog space set apart from the hubbub of guests or other animals, while still within sight. That exterior door leads to a deck, outdoor shower for dog washing, and fenced back yard. It’s truly a pet owner’s dream property.
The other compelling home is smaller and owned by a landscape designer friend and her partner. She has tremendous creative skill and built much of the custom cabinetry herself, including a unique laundry room cabinet that allows their cat to discreetly enter and use a hidden litter box. The kitty entry/exit is replete with a small rectangle of astroturf to catch any stray bits of litter as their cat exits. The sight and smell associated with the litter box are hidden completely, and it’s inaccessible to nosey dogs. The cabinet also has room for extra litter and supplies, and is beautiful to boot! Her thoughtful use of a small space makes life better for the cat and the humans who cohabitate.
Our homes should function to meet our needs. And most of us have pets. So why isn’t it standard practice to design for pet ownership? As someone who has previously endured a dog crate in the middle of my living room, and sifted bunny hair and waste out of LEGO® bins, I’ve developed a wish list for any future home, to make pet responsibilities easy. This is a call to action! Take any opportunity you can to implement thoughtful design solutions in your home for your furry companions. And be certain to consider the needs of you and your pet as you assess properties to purchase.