A dark smudge runs the length of the center hallway in my house, a streak that just happens to coincide with the shoulder height of the retriever, Benjamin. In another room, a matching stain closer to the baseboard gives mute testimony to the fact that the older dog, Andy, loves to sleep against the wall in that corner.
The living-room carpet looks grubby, with a stain that's probably not coming out, where some animal -- one of mine or a guest, I don't remember anymore -- decided to wipe his muzzle. During the rainy season, the air hangs heavy with the fragrance of wet dog. Given the retriever's propensity for seeking out any available body of water, this special perfume wafts through the house even in the dry months sometimes.
Were any glossy home magazine to show an interest in my home, it would surely be for the "before" pictures, not the "after." House Beautiful, it's not.
Even though I wouldn't trade the nose-prints on my front window for an immaculate mansion without animals, I do try to keep the mess to a minimum. Aside from the stained area rug, the floors are hardwoods, tile and linoleum. I own a powerful vacuum, and painting is on the agenda for fall.
It is possible to have a clean, odor-free home and a pet at the same time. I know people who do, although I also know they work harder at it than I do. For the rest of us, here are a few suggestions to make life with a pet cleaner and easier:
-- Choose flooring carefully. Tile, linoleum and hardwoods are easiest to keep clean, but if you must have wall-to-wall carpeting, choose some that is synthetic and stain-resistant. Varied hues of the same color hide dirt and stains the best.
-- Opt for tightly woven, smooth-surfaced upholstery. Such fabrics will resist a few claw marks and will not encourage a furniture-scratching cat.
Steer clear of highly textured, nubby fabrics and wicker -- all of which encourage scratching. Make sure there's a scratching post or cat tree available instead of the furniture.
-- Use floormats in pet areas. Rubber-backed mats of synthetic pile collect dirt and moisture and clean up easily. Use them just outside and inside the doors, under food dishes and in sleeping areas. A suggestion from a reader: Car mats work well, too. Teach your dog to wait on the mat until you can wipe his paws and you'll never have to deal with muddy footprints again.
-- Keep the litter box scrupulously clean. The benefits are twofold: You won't smell a clean litter box, and your cat won't shun one. Deodorized litters and hooded boxes are fine only if your cat tolerates them -- some won't.
-- Clean up messes immediately. Keep enzymatic cleaners (available at your pet-supply store) at hand. Once stains set, they are very hard to get out and attract pets back to the area to mess again. Never use an ammonia-based cleaner on a pet mess: Ammonia smells like urine to a pet and can invite a repeat performance. If you don't have an enzyme cleaner available, try white vinegar and water, followed by a gentle soap.
-- Keep pets clean. Bathe pets regularly, and keep them brushed and combed. While this cuts down on smell and shedding, it also helps human allergy-sufferers cope with the dander that can prompt an attack.
Those are the basics. Do you have a favorite tip on keeping both pets and a clean house? Let me know and I'll share the best in a future column.
CYBERLINKS: In March 1996, firefighter David Giannelli saw a mother cat struggling to pull her kittens out of a burning building in Brooklyn. He collected her and her kittens, named her Scarlett for the red patches he saw through her singed fur, and took the family for help. One of her five kittens died, and Scarlett was scarred for life. Her story continues to be news -- she was recently featured in People magazine -- and she and her kittens have all found homes. This amazing story of a mother cat's devotion is featured on Scarlett's own page on the North Shore Animal League's Web site, http://www.nsal.org.
Gina Spadafori, the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600