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Muttropolitan living: Make your home fit for a dog

By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The human home is now just as much the dog's.

Homeowners who are building or remodeling have taken to considering their pets' needs as much as they do those of their biped family members, turning "pet-friendly decorating" into industry buzzwords.

This is about more than stylish dog beds that cost upward of $350; this is about stain-resistant fabrics, scratch-resistant flooring, colors that match a pooch's coat, or out-and-out design and architectural elements.

In Chris Rudolph's case, the Chicago architect put in "dog overlooks" and a "Doggy Detox," a large porcelain-tiled shower with hand-held showerhead, when building his country home in Three Oaks, Mich.

With dual entrances from both outdoors and the garage, the shower is where cleanliness is next to dogliness for his Labradors, Elmslee and Priscell, upon return from an outside romp. The Doggy Detox is lined in durable Italian tile that canine claws cannot mar. There is a towel rack and a spot for shampoo and brushes.

The "dog overlooks" are two square openings, one for each dog, cut into the wall of the second-floor loft that overlooks the first floor. This way, the Labs "can know where their humans are without running all over the place," Rudolph says.

The idea came about when the house was being framed and one of the dogs stuck her head through the wall framing, trying to get a sighting of her people. Rudolph took the hint and since has put another one of these into a client's house.

Rudolph -- like many of the millions of pet owners in the U.S. who spend billions on their four-legged friends -- has become part of the growing American trend of creating a home with sensitivity toward pets' housekeeping and style needs.

The roots of the phenomenon may have taken hold when pet columnist and author Julia Szabo started writing years ago about easy solutions for keeping pets and a clean, stylish interior. In her 2001 book "Animal House Style, Designing a Home to Share with Your Pets" (Bulfinch, 176 pages), she shares a state-of-the-art compendium of every possible solution, every available product and company contact for creating the pet-friendly home.

Some examples:

  • Picking ginger Ultrasuede upholstery to match the coat of a yellow Lab.
  • Hanging a decorative antique wrought-iron rack in the shape of a row of horses' heads as a place to hang dog collars and leads.
  • Choosing easy-to-wash (and bleach) slipcovers that make pet hair easy to spot (white denim) or make it impossible to spot (green camouflage fabric).
  • Putting inexpensive or old sheets atop the expensive ones so your pooch is always welcome on the bed. Or adding extra-tall legs on the bed, making it too high for a smaller dog to get atop.
  • Allyson Heumann, owner of two black pugs, Maximilian and Morgan Ellie, didn't want "airline crates" or ugly plastic pet taxis in her living room, which is decorated entirely with one-of-a-kind Arts and Crafts pieces of furniture. So the downtown dweller bought two small, aged cedar doghouses shaped like Chicago bungalows. They're meant for the outdoors, but Heumann had an ironmonger design Arts and Crafts-style open grillwork doors that latch "like a gate when entering a house" and the pair of houses now serve as fitting indoor retreats for her pooches.

    Homeowners are also responding to the needs of their aging or infirm pets.

    Marcy LeMaster-Gibbons, an investor in Integrative Pet Care, a Chicago animal-care facility that incorporates design that's compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, consults with clients who want to build a ramp for an aging or infirm dog on their deck or front porch.

    "We use ramps to get the dogs [and cats] into a resistance pool and onto underwater treadmills," she says. She recommends a 6-degree incline.

    An alternative she recommends is the ramps sold to load or unload a dog from the back of a car or van. They are available at pet supermarkets such as PetsMart in telescoping, wide, lightweight, folding and small sizes.


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