What was I thinking? With the addition of puppy Chase, I added a white dog to a family of two black ones, thus guaranteeing that there's no outfit I could possibly put together that wouldn't show dog hair on it. Before Chase joined the family, if I wore dark clothes at least the fur from the black dogs wouldn't show.
But pet hair isn't my only worry in maintaining a neat appearance. In my house, I'm constantly fighting paw prints, chewed-up bits of this or that (isn't it fun to have a puppy?) as well as things dragged in, thrown up or otherwise deposited on previously clean surfaces. Then there's Heather, the retriever who has been digging her own swimming hole in the yard for a couple of years now, who thinks it's perfectly appropriate to come in covered with dirt and trot down the hall to take a nap on the bed ... my bed.
Did I mention she's teaching the puppy to dig?
While the dogs are my biggest challenge when it comes to maintaining a clean house, the truth is that I'm not the neatest person in the world, either. I admit that over the years I've needed a housekeeper to help keep my home reasonably clean. I offer all of this by way of explanation as to why I'm so awed by those people who manage to have pets and a clean home. Like reader Kaye Holden, who wrote in to share one of her cleaning tips. For the record, I think anyone who has white carpet and pets is either incredibly dedicated or just plain crazy.
"We have a yellow Labrador, a house dog who over the years has left a few unpleasant surprises on our white low-pile carpet," she writes. "I always did my best to clean them up using every product I could find and our steam cleaner, but I was never completely successful. A few months ago when I was working on a new mess, carrying some soiled paper towels through the garage, I noticed my wet-and-dry shop vacuum and had an inspiration.
"On the still badly soiled spot, I saturated the area with a product that can be bought at most pet stores for removing stains and odors. I waited a few minutes then vacuumed it up. (I took the floor attachment off and used only the hose for maximum suction.)
"The first attempt got up 90 percent of the mess. One more application and there was not a trace left -- or any odor. Since then I have used the same technique twice, and it has worked perfectly. Not only did it clean, but it took a total of maybe 10 minutes including the soaking time.
"What a discovery! Of course, I still scrape up the worst using stiff cardboard and I do have to empty the stinky canister, but it's quick and far cheaper than calling in the carpet cleaners. If you don't have one, shop vacuums can be purchased for under $100. Compared to professional carpet cleaners it's cheap."
It's a great tip, and it got me thinking about keeping a home clean when you have pets. While I'm perfectly happy to offer advice on pets, advice on cleaning isn't in my repertoire. So I'm turning it over to you.
Give me your tips on cleaning up after pets. Are there techniques and products you can't live without? Let me know at the e-mail address below. I'll use as many as I can in an upcoming column.
And heck, I'll likely use them in my own home as well. I could surely use the help.
PETS ON THE WEB
The raw-food movement is still pretty new, but it's
certainly growing -- if the amount of mail I got on the subject after mentioning it a few weeks ago is any indication. To be sure, feeding a diet of raw meats and bones (along with veggies and some supplements) is not for everyone, and never will be. But the so-called BARF diet (for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) is popular enough that many butchers are no longer surprised to have people ask for cases of chicken backs and turkey necks to feed their pets. While the jury is still out on how healthy the diet is -- many veterinarians consider it a dangerous fad -- it's never harmful to consider the options. Raw-food proponent Dr. Ian Billinghurst's Web site (www.barfworld.com) is pretty commercial -- he's selling his version of the diet, and his books -- but still chock-full of information. If you're considering this diet for your pet, this is one site you need to visit.
Pets just keep getting more popular. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of all U.S. households keep a pet, up from 56 percent in 1988, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Cats remain the most popular pets, with 73 million of them sharing our lives compared to 68 million dogs. Looked at another way, however, dogs have a claim on popularity: More households keep dogs (40 million) than keep cats (34.7) million. The difference? People who love cats tend to keep more than one of them. Just to confuse matters further, almost half of all pet-keeping households keep more than one kind of pet.
What's this all costing? About $29 billion a year, which breaks down to around $460 per pet.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have five cats who are all part of a multi-generation family. Mr. Rolls is the patriarch of my feline brood, and he is definitely the "head cat in charge." I also have two of his children, a son and a daughter. The Rolls family is also blessed with two granddaughters whose mama passed away last year.
The two youngest cats are always trying to attack their aunt. I have to keep them in separate rooms or they pounce on her with the intention of causing her bodily harm. The two males get along with her and she is calm when they are in close proximity. What would cause this hostile behavior?
My cats have all been fixed and none of the females have ever reproduced. Is there anything I can do to stop the fur from flying? -- K.H., via e-mail
A: Although the experts now believe that cats are more social with each other than once believed, cats are still not as happy about living in groups as the pack-focused dog is. And if you think about the way canines and felines hunt, the difference between these carnivores makes more sense.
Cats large and small are mostly solitary hunters, tracking and killing prey on their own. Dogs and wolves have evolved to hunt as a team. The wild relatives of domestic cats generally do not share hunting territory with other cats, while a hunting range of wild dogs or wolves often contains a family unit, not an individual animal.
Because of the team approach to hunting, dogs have developed a way to settle differences within a social structure, usually without resorting to fighting. Ritual postures establish and reinforce the rankings, with high-ranking animals acting differently than their subordinates. Dogs need to get along to survive as hunters; cats don't. Dogs generally work out their differences; cats prefer to stay away from each other when they don't get along.
Problem is, cats often don't get a choice when it comes to who's sharing their space. Most people who like cats keep more than one of them: The national average is 2.1 per household. When you have a long-standing rivalry such as the one in your home, often the best thing to do is keep the cats permanently apart. Look for a part of the home "Aunt Kitty" can call her own, safe from her two snotty nieces. For company's sake, you might consider keeping Auntie and the two boys in one part of the home, and the nieces in the other.
Q: We have a small parrot who has a pretty big cage. A friend wants to give us her budgie. Can we just put him in the cage with our parrot? Will they get along? –- V.B., via e-mail
A: I'm assuming the budgie is being offered along with a cage, and you're thinking of doubling up the birds just so they can have company. Nice thought, but birds are usually better off in their own cages. Some birds are downright aggressive to others, even of their own species. When you throw in a difference in size -- a budgie is pretty small, after all -- you could end up with the little one getting seriously hurt.
Keeping the cages in the same room if you want, but make sure each bird has a "room" of his own.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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