In a previous column, I shared ideas offered by readers for coping with the housekeeping challenges posed by pets. The suggestions ranged from such preventive strategies as covering furniture with washable throws to after-mess cleanups with both brand-name products and their generic alternatives.
This week there is more help from readers, including suggestions for getting pets themselves to help prevent mess. The top reader suggestion in that category? Training dogs to stop just inside the door and wait until all paws have been toweled off.
This popular suggestion brought a smile to my face, in memory of my grandmother and of Lance, the first dog I owned as an adult. They've both been gone for years, but they were so close I often think of them together, even now.
For a while when I was in college, my grandmother graciously allowed us both to move in with her, a decision for which I never did give her enough credit or thanks.
A frugal, fastidious woman, she'd saved for years to replace her worn carpets, and had done so in a pristine off-white just a few months before she agreed to let me move in, dog in tow. She loved us both, but didn't want the carpets ruined, so she quickly taught Lance to wait on a mat and lift each of his small white paws in turn as she wiped them off oh-so-carefully. The dog was himself as fastidious as a cat, and I came to believe he thought of her attending him in such a way was not a bother, but a service. He hated mud on his paws every bit as much as she did.
Even if you don't want to go to the trouble of wiping off paws, strategically placed mats can help catch a lot of dirt, and that was another suggestion of many readers. Mats can be placed both outside and just inside the door, so you have two chances to knock the dirt off flying feet. (Keeping the fur trimmed on the feet and in between the toes will help as well.) Many readers pointed out how important it is to the cause of neatness to keep mats under pet-food and water bowls, and areas where pets sleep.
Trying to keep cats off the bed or couch? A couple of readers use heavy plastic tablecloths, the felt-backed kind you'd buy for picnic tables. Cats don't much like the feel of them underfoot, in the same way that they don't like foil on the corners of furniture they'd like to use as scratching posts. And even if pets get up on the plastic tablecloths and hurl hair balls, the material will wipe clean easily.
About those hair balls ... some readers had suggestions for cutting down their frequency and minimizing their damage.
"The availability of grain sprouts growing in a pot for a cat to nibble on really cuts down on the hair-ball problem in cats," writes Francine Ryan, who also recommends frequent combing and brushing to keep hair balls and shedding to a minimum. A variation on that theme came from a person whose e-mail didn't include her name. "Choosing a brand of dry cat food that doesn't have a lot of dyes in it will help prevent stains on the carpet if your cat throws it up," she wrote.
Keep those suggestions coming, and I'll drop them in as space allows.
PETS ON THE WEB
Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org) is a group advocating for the humane treatment of feral cats -- animals many people see as pests. The group argues that removing cats gone wild doesn't get rid of the problem, and that more cats will move in to any vacated space. What they advocate instead is a program called "trap, neuter and release," which allows non-reproducing cats to "hold space" in an area, allowing populations to fall humanely. Cat colonies are then managed by volunteers, who keep the animals healthy and fed to minimize the potential for damage and complaints
With colder weather fast approaching, it seems appropriate that a book should debut detailing the making of dog sweaters. "Dogs in Knits: 17 Projects for Our Best Friends" (Interweave Press, $18.95), by Judith L. Swartz, offers colorful projects ranging from dog sweaters for every canine body type from short and stubby to long and lean, and to blankets and pillows for dog beds. The full-color book shows a picture of each project (on some very cute dogs) and offers detailed instructions for completion. While most healthy dogs don't need sweaters, slender breeds such as greyhounds and whippets often do, as do pets who are old or not in the best of health.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I know you always give people warnings appropriate to the change of season, such as those on heat in the summer, antifreeze in the winter, etc. I wonder if you've warned people about the risk that clothes dryers pose to cats. Last year my teenage daughter threw some clothes in a still-warm dryer and turned it on, not realizing our cat Tuffy was inside. We'll never forget how awful it was when we realized what had happened. Would you please spread the word? -- J.D., via e-mail
A: Cats love warm hiding places, and a dryer full of soft clothes can be attractive. It's easy to throw more clothes in, close the door and turn on the dryer without noticing a cat inside. I know of two people who lost pets in this awful way, as well as several other readers who've written after such a loss.
Prevention is simple: Keep the dryer door closed and always check for your cat -- just in case. Keep an eye out, too, for cats holed up in any warm spot, including under the hood of a car. Thump on the hood or the side of an appliance if you're not sure, to startle the cat into skedaddling.
Q: I've never heard of anyone else with the problem we have. Our dog starts whining and barking when my husband and I are making love. It's getting worse, and my husband is losing his patience. Should we banish her from the bedroom? We don't have any children for her to sleep with, so she'd be alone. How about getting a second dog and teaching the two of them to sleep together downstairs? I'd love to have a second little dog, and am working on it slowly because my husband isn't really a dog person. This behavior isn't helping the situation, to say the least! -- C.I., via e-mail
A: You've never heard of the problem because nobody talks about it, but I get a handful of questions of this type every year. Anonymously, of course.
Bedroom disagreements are common when it comes to pets. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people whose relatively new sweetheart doesn't want to share the bed with the pets who have been there for years.
I know some people who won't compromise -- if the new relationship doesn't include pets staying on the bed, the new person has to go. I know others who would dump their pets in the blink of an eye if the new love interest wants it. I'm guessing most people fall somewhere in the middle.
Every situation is unique and must be solved through compromise and, often, trial and error. In the case of allergies, for example, pets can often be tolerated well overall by the one with sneezing and wheezing if the bedroom is declared off-limits to animals. And some people are such light sleepers that having animals in the room keeps them from having a restful night. And then there are situations such as yours, where the animals distract from romantic endeavors or ruin the ability of a couple to be spontaneous.
In your case, a comfy bed for your dog downstairs may well be the commonsense solution. Maybe with an end to your bedroom squabbles there will one day be children with whom your pet can share a bed. Or maybe with the better mood your husband will be in, you can add another small dog in short order so your pet will have company downstairs.
Rest assured that in any case, you dog will adapt to sleeping downstairs better than your husband will to trying to make love with a yapping dog in the room.
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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