Is it possible to have pets and a clean house? You bet it is! When I asked for cleaning tips a couple of columns ago, I heard from readers who manage to keep things neat with some creativity and not all that much extra effort. The common themes from the responses:
-- Choose flooring and upholstery that are easy to clean and keep clean, ban pets from areas with less pet-friendly furnishings or cover those furnishings with washable throws.
-- Get on pet stains right away, with as much gusto as you can. A stain delayed is a stain set for good.
-- In terms of flooring, readers raved over tile, wood laminates (like Pergo) or linoleum.
-- Carpets? Bad news. And one reader summed it up for many pet lovers by wondering what to put in once the carpet comes out.
"My carpets would send any sane person to run screaming in horror from my floors," writes Rochele Smith. "Light beige ... so filthy I can hardly bear to walk across the floor. Just had them professionally cleaned for the umpteenth time and they were dirty again within a week." Smith wasn't interested in tile because she felt it would be too cold, but other readers got around that problem with the use of area or throw rugs, which are also easier to remove for cleaning.
That's my solution, by the way. Although I lust for Pergo, I make do with the original hardwoods in my 60-year-old home, with washable throw rugs placed here and there for color and warmth. Pet hair comes up pretty easily with a broom followed by a swipe from one of those new damp-cloth-on-a-stick devices, such as the Swiffer.
Some readers with carpets swore by brand-name products such as Nature's Miracle or Anti-Icky-Poo. The latter may be one of the dopiest names ever invented, but the product is recommended by many behaviorists and veterinarians, and endorsed enthusiastically by several readers. Others use generic household products to clean pet mess from carpet, such as white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and soap in various combinations.
"First get rid of the solid mess, then mix one-quarter cup white vinegar with one quart of very hot water. Then, using a dry cloth (preferably the same color as your carpet), scrub the area with this mixture several times, but without getting the carpet soggy," writes Laurie Heidinger, who notes that her technique is not only effective, but also inexpensive. "It works every time for me, both getting rid of the smell and the stains. I learned this clean-up tip for any kind of animal mess from a professional carpet cleaner."
Other readers swear by wet-dry vacuums, and steam cleaners of both the larger and hand-held varieties. For furniture, the recommendations were similar -– when possible, get upholstery that stands up to pets; otherwise use washable covers to protect your furniture.
The best upholstery, by a fairly wide consensus, is leather, the higher the quality the better. Pet fur, stains and odor find no home on good leather, which wipes clean with a damp cloth. If leather doesn't appeal, cover your furniture with washable throws. A few readers recommended baby blankets or old linens, but I've had the best experience buying attractive covers made for this purpose. The ones I have are from Doctors Foster and Smith (www.drsfostersmith.com), but I've also seen comparable products from catalogs such as Orvis (www.orvis.com). I've had my set for almost three years, and they still look great after countless washings.
I'll have more tips in the next column, including readers' suggestions for how to train pets to help keep things neater.
PETS ON THE WEB
Make no mistake, Michele Welton is trying to sell her book through her Web site (www.yourpurebredpuppy.com). But unlike a lot of promotional Web sites, this one offers tons of good information on dog breeds, breeders and much, much more. Such as profiles on all American Kennel Club breeds, plus a couple dozen more. Such as information on how to find a good breeder, why you should avoid other puppy sources, and how to choose the right pup from a litter of healthy, well-bred animals.
Some of her information is controversial, such as her distaste for commercial pet foods and her belief in holistic pet care, but her information on choosing a breed, finding a breeder and selecting a puppy is flawless. Her book, "Your Purebred Puppy: A Buyer's Guide," is now in its second edition, and remains one of the titles I recommend most often. (In fact, there's an endorsement quote from me on the site, from a review I wrote of the first edition of the book more than 10 years ago.)
There are better ways of training a pet than with physical punishment, and with no animal is this more true than with a cat. Hitting a cat is counterproductive –- instead of teaching your pet what you want, you'll teach your pet that you're a big, dangerous bully. That's not going to create a loving relationship with your pet, and it may lead to your ending up with a cat who bites or scratches out of fear and self-defense. Train your cat through positive reinforcement methods –- reward good behaviors with treats and affection, and with setting up situations that help to train the cat, such as keeping the litter box clean and in a place where the cat feels safe and comfortable using it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My husband is interested in getting a blue-and-gold macaw. I'm not in favor of this for several reasons, the most significant being that I'm afraid of big parrots. I also know that they're noisy and messy. And, I also figure that since my husband is almost 60 and I'm considerably younger (42), I'll also end up with a bird I never wanted after my husband dies, since I've read that macaws can live for decades. I have two questions for you: First, how long is a bird like this likely to live? And second, how can I convince my husband that a cat would make a much more sensible pet? –- B.W., via e-mail
A: Generally speaking, the larger the parrot, the longer the life span. The larger of the macaws -– such as the blue-and-gold and the scarlet -– can live to be 50, 60 even 70 years of age. Some live to be even older: My "Birds For Dummies" co-author, avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer, had, as a patient, a scarlet macaw who had been sold as a wild-caught adult in an Oakland, Calif., pet store in the early 1920s. The bird was at least 75 when he died, and maybe years older.
Since I'm guessing your husband isn't interested in getting a cat instead of a bird, what if the two of you compromised on a smaller, quieter, less messy bird with a shorter life span? Although almost all parrots live longer than a cat or a dog, there are a few who aren't very long-lived when compared to the macaws.
Among the relatively easy-keepers with life spans of around 20 years are the cockatiel, many varieties of parakeet and the lovebird. Some birds with longer life spans but relatively easy to live with personalities include the Senegal and Pionus parrots, both of which are known to be relatively quiet and gentle.
You may find one of these smaller parrots less frightening, and find yourself becoming quite charmed by their endearing personalities. But if you remain opposed to getting any bird, it would be better if you didn't get one at all. My experience is that if one-half of a couple is dead-set against a pet, that pet will end up looking for a new home in short order.
Q: We just adopted a cat from the humane society. She is a combination of solid gold, black and white with some tiger stripes on her arms. The shelter described her as a tortie, then changed it to calico. What is the difference between a calico and a tortie, or are they the same? Do the terms calico and tortie refer to a breed or a color? –- E.P., via e-mail
A: Calico and tortoiseshell (or tortie) refer to a pattern of markings, not to a breed. The link between them is orange fur, which can run from a very pale tan to a bright, rich rust. The two marking patterns are genetically similar, but differ in the way they are expressed on the cat. On calico cats the orange, black and white colors are distinct patches; on tortoiseshells the colors are swirled together. Since you describe the patches as solid, your cat is likely more calico than anything else, with some tabby genes thrown into the mix for good measure (because of the striping).
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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