Pet Projects

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Terri Akman

11 December 2015

Matt Trucksess' dog Shady is mild-tempered and loves people and other canines.

But shiny floors send him into a tizzy.

So, when the family rescued the pit-lab mix at five months old, their South Philadelphia home, with its top-to-bottom wood floors, was a bit traumatizing.

Shady would sit on the rug at the front door and refuse to budge.

"We did Google searches, tried behavioral stuff, offered treats, showed him that it was safe, but nothing took," said Trucksess. So he dropped about $400 to install treads on the stairs and to add, throughout the home, runners and area rugs. Now, the dog gets around the house by jumping from rug to rug, like islands in a sea of shine.

Of course, Shady, now a year old, is worth the investment, Trucksess said - after all, he's family.

Though it's well-documented that the pet-care industry is booming as owners spend more money on things - deluxe food, personalized toys, even insurance - people also are renovating their homes to accommodate their pets' needs and wants.

A recent Houzz survey found that more than one-third of U.S. dog and/or cat owners made pet-related upgrades to their homes in the last two years. The most popular: floor updates (38 percent), landscaping changes (21 percent), and reconfigured room layouts (19 percent).

Pets command their own spaces in nearly half of U.S. households, according to respondents, with beds/benches/seating areas (61 percent), dining areas (37 percent), play structures (23 percent), built-in nooks (20 percent), and outdoor shelters (19 percent).

Peter Archer, principal at Archer & Buchanan Architecture, tries to incorporate space for pets in homes in "unique and fun ways."

Like the pet room he recently designed for a family with six dogs and a pig. The 7-by-12-foot mostly open space off the mudroom is littered with comfy pillows and food and water bowls. But it includes a built-in closet for supplies, and a tiled, hot-and-cold water shower for easy bathing. When the pets are finished watching their own TV, a doggy door lets them go out to the yard.

The West Chester architect also creates smaller-scale spaces, including the cat-profile cutout in a cabinet he made that leads to a litter box, and the alcove he designed under the stairs for the dog bed.

"That little triangle of space," he said, "makes a fun doghouse, utilizes the existing space, and gives some character to the room."

Archer said the wave of pet renovations started about five years ago, when "people got tired of climbing over the pet's crate . . . in their family entries and mudrooms."

Now, about one-quarter of his clients consider their four-legged friends in their home designs, with the added cost of enhancements ranging from negligible - like the space under the stairs, which was there already - to $15,000 for a dedicated pet room.

Archer's business partner, architect Richard Buchanan, and his wife, Cindy, a veterinarian, added several creative spaces to their farmhouse over the last few years.

Dogs Molly, Ruby, and Coal are kept from the upstairs in their Unionville home by a wooden trap door on the steps that lifts up to serve as a gate. "It works like a double-hung window," said Buchanan. "When you pull it up with your hands, it stays there. Because it's up the stairs, it's very inconvenient for them to jump over."

To help Molly endure storms - "she's frantically scared of thunder," said Buchanan - he built the lab/lurcher a "bolt hole." The box, just several feet wide, has a 16-inch hole through which she can squeeze "and feel much more secure."

Pet-friendly designs are filling outdoor spaces, too, as owners find creative ways to fit kennels into their landscaping - close to back doors but concealed from the rest of the garden.

Ann Holstein installed artificial turf last year at her Bala Cynwyd townhouse as a way to offset the wear and tear brought on by her 15-year-old bichons, Shaina and Molly.

Initially worried that the artificial grass would look fake - not to mention that it is three times pricier than sod (turf costs $8 to $10 per square foot installed vs. $3 per square foot for sod) - Holstein is now a convert.

"The turf options are so much more natural-looking," she said, "with choices in color and blade type and length."

The dogs treat it like regular grass, she said, and you don't get bare spots from use, which is a concern in small areas.

A product that rakes into the artificial surface keeps out odors, said Laura Miller, principal designer and partner at Wallace Landscape Associates in Chadds Ford.

When dogs "do their business," Miller said, the lawn doesn't yellow or die, cleanup is easy, and the surface is permeable.

Plus, your dog will never come in the house muddy, said Paul Split, owner of Artificial Greens & Lawns.

Since he opened four years ago, sales have taken off: In the first year, he sold about 10,000 square feet and, last year, close to 50,000 (though not all for pets - it's a practical surface for day-care centers, too). A typical backyard requires 300 square feet.

For city dwellers, turf is popular, too.

"On a rooftop, it's incredible," said Split, "because you go from having no place for your pet . . . to having a spot . . . when you don't even have a yard."

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