Comfortably Cohabitate with Canine and Cat Companions

By Terri L. Jones | September 19th, 2017

Creating a pet- and human-friendly home


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Sure, your name’s on the mortgage, but if you have pets, those wily, couch-stealing, dirt-tracking, furniture-shredding housemates of yours really own the place. While you’re probably OK with that, we’ve found a few pretty ingenious ways to keep your home from completely going to the dogs (and cats)!

A space of their own … without cutting into your space.

When you have dogs and cats, before you know it, most of your house has been taken over by dog beds, kitty condos and litter boxes. But smart pet owners are coming up with solutions that not only conserve their room space but also make their canines and felines pretty happy, too.

Dog sleep space created under staircase | Photograph courtesy of Aaron & Meghanne Ogburn

Take the Ogburns, for example. When Aaron, who is a contractor, and his wife, Meghanne, started planning their new home in Church Hill, they decided to add a “room” under the stairs for their dog, Rogue. Replacing his crate, the 16-square-foot space with a bed provides an area for Rogue to sleep at night and hang out while the couple is at work. It even has a window for treats.

The Ogburns also live with two cats, Little Bit and Pantsaroo, and so they added a space upstairs, about the size of a spacious linen closet, for the kitties’ litter boxes. Aaron vented the space through the roof to quickly evacuate odors and included a cat door as well as shelving for food and other supplies.

Resourceful pet owners are also giving their indoor cats places to run and climb that are less conspicuous than those large, carpeted cat trees. Nancy and Jeff Weil wanted a place where their cat, Gordon, could lie in the sun and watch the river outside their living room window. But because they live in a condo and move frequently, installation needed to be simple and the pieces easy to pack when they relocate.

Nancy designed bamboo “steps,” or various-size shelves, and had local craftsmen build them for her. Says Nancy, “He [Gordon] goes up the steps from the floor, usually choosing the halfway-up shelf to perch and watch. He likes to be at eye level with us and play.” The simple design also perfectly complements their contemporary décor, with the last step being a bamboo album box.

Take the fun outside

Catio | Photograph courtesy of Amber Parker

While some parents of indoor cats feel they’re depriving their furry friends of the great outdoors, it’s simply too big a risk to let them roam. That’s how the idea of “catios” was born. A catio is a large, screened window box or porch built onto the side of your home or as an independent structure, where your indoor cats can feel the breeze, watch the birds and even pseudo-climb trees. But because it’s enclosed, your cats (and the birds) remain safe.

Amber Parker’s catio, off her second-floor Fan apartment, features comfy, carpeted levels, where her cats, Wally and Atlas, can have their own space to watch the birds and sun themselves, along with a water fountain and a catnip plant for snacks. The cats come and go as they please (don’t cats always?!) through a curtained door that their mom leaves ajar.

Chair with dog bed incorporated | Photograph courtesy of Barkitecture

While outdoors, what if your dogs or outside cats want a place to get out of the rain, take a nap or just show off a little bit with the neighbor pets? This year, Barkitecture + Kitty Couture, an event to raise money for the Richmond Animal League and ASID Virginia, auctioned off some pretty sweet pet digs, designed by local interior designers, architects and even students.

The auction featured both indoor and outdoor houses, including a pavilion with dozens of tantalizing feathers for kitties, “Dogover Castle” with real ramparts and even a people chair with a dog bed efficiently tucked underneath.

Keep fur at bay

When you have pets, balls of hair can roll like tumbleweeds along baseboards, under furniture and into the corners of your rooms.

A robotic vacuum cleaner scurrying after those tumbleweeds can take some of that day-in and day-out vacuuming burden off your shoulders. However, one Roomba owner cautioned not to use your robot vac with young or old pets, in case there’s an accident that the battery-operated robot finds before you do. At one point or another, you’ve probably wished you could just use your vacuum on your dog or cat and save a step. With a grooming tool attachment for your vacuum cleaner, you can. These handy attachments let you brush your dog (I can’t imagine doing this to a cat, but you can try!) while the vacuum immediately sucks up the hair and dander before it has a chance to pervade your living space.

Reviews on the Dyson Groom tool say that some dogs actually enjoy being vacuumed!

Pet-proof furniture and flooring

If you want furniture that’s easy to keep clean, stick with leather or microfiber upholstery. Leather and microfiber also stand up to pet wear and tear better than other fabrics. In fact, many cat owners swear by microfiber because the tight weave of the fabric will usually discourage cats from scratching. While leather can puncture and show scratches, distressed leather can help hide these marks.

When you have pets, your flooring takes a lot of abuse. Some of the most easy-care, scratch- and water-resistant options are vinyl, porcelain or ceramic tiles, and stone (but avoid softer stones like marble, slate or travertine).

Vinyl has also come a long way in terms of looks, with luxury vinyl flooring simulating wood planks or stone tiles. If you want the look of wood but prefer a natural product, choose bamboo instead of hardwood. Not only is it more eco-friendly, it also will stand up to your pets’ abusive nails and accidents better (be sure to choose bamboo that rates high on the Janka Hardness Test).

Minimize odors

Hair-covered everything certainly isn’t the only challenge when you have pets. There are also the lovely aromas … and top on that list is your cat’s litter box. Nowadays, there are a variety of self-cleaning litter boxes that get rid of waste immediately and odor-efficiently.

One of these high-tech boxes, called the CatGenie, actually liquefies and flushes solid waste down the toilet and then washes the special litter-replacing granules, so they can be reused. You are spared both odors and litter dust. With pets, accidents are going to happen. And when you don’t catch them quickly, they can lead to a lingering odor problem in your home.

But Re-Freshen, a pet- and environmentally safe local service, is able to banish the odors for good. Owner Chris Gilson finds the source of the smell – whether it’s in carpets, hardwood flooring, even walls – using a black light. He then uses an ozone shock treatment on the affected area and fogs through vents and ductwork to completely eliminate smells as well as allergens.

After Bryan Gay noticed a cat urine smell in his new home, he tried several commercial products to no avail. With Re-Freshen, he says, “It took only one treatment to knock out the odor completely.” If you’re reading this, there’s no doubt that you love your fur babies infinitely. But when you take back control of your home – and show those adorable squatters who’s paying the bills – you might love them even more!


Marketing writer Terri L. Jones shares her Short Pump home with her husband and their two furry housemates: Ava, a 13-year-old terrier, and Sammy, a 3-year-old tabby. Walk in her home office and you’ll find two pet beds, a kitty condo, a water bowl, assorted pet toys … and a desk!

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