In my mail recently came a six-fingered glove, made of absorbent material and designed to clean pet paws easily and quickly.
The product, Spotless Paw, is cleverly designed -- with the six fingers it fits over either hand, backward and forward -- and worked pretty well, to a point. At about halfway through the 16 filthy paws at my home, the mitt was outmatched. (It's a nifty product for those with fewer or cleaner dogs than I have, though: $19.95 from pet retailers or www.spotlesspaw.com.)
With seven permanent pets and an ever-changing number of guests and fosters, I'm constantly looking for easier ways to keep my house looking and smelling clean. Products come and go, but the struggle continues. Over the years, I've learned the hard way how to keep pet mess and smell to a minimum.
Here are the basics:
-- Start with surfaces that are easy to keep clean. When choosing flooring, go for tile or other durable, stain-proof flooring. Many multipet families swear by laminate flooring, which looks like hardwood but stands up better to canine nails.
What you can't keep clean, keep covered with something washable. Use small rugs to cover high-traffic areas of your wall-to-wall carpet, and furniture throws to protect your upholstery. (Doctors Foster and Smith has a good selection of furniture throws that can take years of weekly washings -- on this I speak from experience -- and keep looking nice. The company is on the Web at www.drsfostersmith.com, or request a free catalog at 1-800-381-7179.)
-- Catch the dirt you can before it spreads throughout your home. Use floor mats liberally, both outside your doors and just inside, to catch as much muck as you can from those dirty paws. You should also place mats near cat boxes, to help catch any litter that's tracked out. Don't forget to put even more mats under pet food and water dishes. Forget those cutesy-pie pet placemats -– go for something sturdy, and of decent size.
-- Keep pets well-groomed. Brush and comb your pets regularly, and don't delay regular bathing. Your pets will smell better, and the hair you catch in the grooming process won't end up floating around your home.
-- Search and destroy past messes. Sometimes you can see them and not smell them; other times you can smell them and not see them. You have to clean them all, so as not to invite repeat business. If a mess has soaked through, you must pull up the carpet and clean or replace the padding
-- Get on new messes promptly. Messes are easier to clean when they're fresh, and are less likely to leave a permanent stain or attract your pet to revisit the area.
For cleaning, use products designed for pet messes. Available from any pet-supply retailer, these products have enzymes that break down organic wastes and neutralize odors. Pass on ammonia-based cleaners, which smell like urine to pets and so invite repeat business.
The truth is, keeping a home clean when pets are around isn't that difficult, but it does require good planning, the right products and constant effort. If you prevent the mess and you never let a mess sit for too long, your house will always be a pleasant place for you and your pets.
PETS ON THE WEB
If you're looking for someone who has too much time on his hands, check out the Cat Town Web site (www.spatch.net/cattown). The creator has taken some silly images of cats in hats and collars -- lifted from the Japanese site that sells the products -- and written stories to go with them. Strange? Sure, but I found myself smiling with every click in Cat Town, slightly relieved that I wasn't wasting as much time reading the site as the creator spent pulling it together. Besides, the cats are darn cute.
A few months ago I wrote about the Kitty Tease, a cat toy of the "fishing pole" variety that I found to be of exceptional quality and value, made by a small family business in Tennessee. (It's so small that the owner's young son is in charge of handling the replacement-string orders.) Since that column came out, hardly a week goes by without someone asking me to repeat the information.
The Kitty Tease is available for $15 including shipping and handling (additional toys to the same address are $10 each), from the Galkie Company's Web site (www.kittytease.com), by phone (423-869-8138) or by mail (P.O. Box 20, Harrogate, TN 37752). Your cat will love it!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Recently I lost my beloved Ariel, a 5-year-old shih tzu, and I am so grief-stricken and lonesome. I know I want another shih tzu, but since I work all day, I am not sure if I can manage a puppy. I am looking into shih tzu rescues and older dog adoptions, but it seems older shih tzus are scarce. If I go the puppy route, do you have any suggestions on what to do when I'm at work? -- V.G., via e-mail
A: Puppies need to eat and go out at midday. If you can't come home for lunch for a few weeks, arrange for a neighbor, friend or family member to drop by in your place. A pet-sitting service will be happy to handle this duty, as well.
In your situation, though, I really think you're on the right track looking for an older dog. As you discovered, the number of small, purebred puppies in rescue isn't that many. But if you expand your search to include mixes and older dogs, you'll likely come up with a wonderful companion. Try visiting the Petfinder Web site (www.petfinder.org) to see what's available in your region.
If you absolutely must have a young, purebred shih tzu, here's a little-known secret: Reputable breeders sometimes have young adult dogs they'd like to place in permanent pet homes.
It's not easy to pick a top show dog from a litter of promising puppies, which is why breeders often "grow out" their top prospects, knowing they won't keep them all. The pups who don't realize their potential need good homes, as do retired show champions who don't fit into a breeding program. While these dogs are not "free to a good home," they generally can be had for the price of a well-bred pet-quality puppy, sometimes less.
How to find these dogs? Go to dog shows and talk to the exhibitors, collecting names of reputable breeders. Follow up with phone calls, explaining the wonderful home you have to offer, and that you're looking for an older dog. Be patient, and keep working on it.
Two of my four dogs came to me through this route. They were dogs who didn't make the cut for competition, and who ended up with the cushiest job of all -- being a pampered pet. They were young, healthy, well-socialized and had some basic training, and they've been the most wonderful companions ever since.
Whichever route you take, please make sure you're ready for a new dog. You've lost a darling dog in Ariel, and if you rush into getting a new companion, you may find yourself feeling guilty, or holding the new dog up to unfair comparisons. Take your time!
Q: I have two problems with my African gray parrot. First, he's a feather-picker, and I can't get him to stop. Second, he won't eat anything but sunflower seeds. Any suggestions? -- W.K., via e-mail
A: These two problems may be related, since good nutrition is essential to the health of all pets, and an all-seed diet is bad news for parrots. You need to find a veterinarian with experience in treating birds, and get your bird a complete physical. You may need a review of proper care for your pet. An experienced avian veterinarian will be able to offer assistance in getting your bird onto a healthy diet and may be able to help with the feather-picking. (No guarantees, sadly, because once this habit is well-established it can be difficult to eliminate.)
One source for a knowledgeable bird doctor is the Web site of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (www.aav.org). Be sure to search by area codes (yours and adjacent ones) or by state, since the search engine isn't sophisticated enough to provide anything more than an exact match for smaller search areas.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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