- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Life:

While shopping for a pad for her pet, Mary Read of Crownsville, Md., couldn’t find anything aesthetically pleasing. Because she planned to put the doghouse for her border collie, Rocky, in her front yard next to the porch, she didn’t want it to scare the neighbors.

To solve the dilemma, she decided to have a dwelling custom-made from cedar. Because her own home is cedar, the two houses blend together nicely. Now Rocky spends lazy afternoons as king of his own castle.

“If you try to stick your hand in there, he’ll bite you,” she says. “It’s the den instinct. He’s protecting his territory. When it thunders, he goes immediately into the doghouse. I think it gives him a feeling of safety.”

Although Snoopy probably never napped in such luxury, many of today’s dogs are living it up in extravagant doghouses. Some of them even rest their heads in handmade houses complete with air conditioning and marble floors.

Many pet owners invest in a special home for their furry friends to make their pets feel like part of the family, says Michelle Pollak, designer for La Petite Maison, which has offices in Denver and Charleston, S.C.

The one-of-a-kind doghouses created by Colorado builder Alan Mowrer, who constructs the houses for La Petite Maison, can cost upward of $6,000, depending on accessories, such as copper roofs, electricity, bay windows and hardwood floors. The doghouses Mr. Mowrer has hand-built include a French chateau and Swiss chalet.

Sometimes the dwellings are replicas of human homes. Usually, clients request whatever will best suit the dog’s comfort, Ms. Pollak says. However, at times, customers simply want Mr. Mowrer to build a work of art, even if the dog doesn’t use it.

“Most of the dogs that go into the doghouses don’t mess them up,” she says. “The dogs are trained well enough for the real house that they respect their doghouses. Some dogs treat the doghouse with as much respect as the main house.”

One man requested a walk-in doghouse so he could join his pet in the habitat. On another occasion, Mr. Mowrer constructed a dwelling to suit a dog with arthritis. He built windows to the floor of the house so the dog wouldn’t have to stand up to look outside.

“We work around clients’ budgets,” Ms. Pollak says. “If they want air conditioning and a really simple architectural style, that would be the same as no air conditioning and a labor-intensive architecture.”

When designing a doghouse, one of the most important aspects to consider is the size. The house needs to be small enough for pets to keep warm in the winter and big enough for them to keep cool in the summer, says Chuck Keeton, owner of Blythe Wood Works in Blythewood, S.C. The company sells cedar and pine doghouses with insulation and pet mats. A deck for the dwelling is optional and can be purchased at a later time.

Most often, Mr. Keeton uses a dog’s weight to determine the size needed for the house. Height requirements also must be considered. Ideally, the house needs to be big enough for the dog to enter, turn around and lie down. If the house is bigger than that, body-heat retention is sacrificed during the colder months.

“A lot of the techniques are the same as building a human home,” he says. “You still have framing, just like you would with a regular house. The insulation would almost be the same. … It has to be warm, dry and constructed so the wind doesn’t blow the thing apart.”

Although the habitats can cost up to $1,300, plus insulation costs, Mr. Keeton says his customers are just trying to find doghouses that fit with the designs of their houses. Further, cedar is a natural deterrent to fleas, ticks and termites. The doghouses also do not require painting, just upkeep with a wood protector. Pine houses are less expensive. Although they have cedar roofs, they need a coat of paint.

“People who live in a $200,000 or $300,000 home don’t want a plastic doghouse in their back yard,” he says. “They want something attractive. That’s where we fit in.”

Some of the doghouses are even suitable for cats, says Melody Lee, owner of Merry Products Corp. in Toronto. Merry Products recently received Cat Fancy magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award for the doghouse called “Room With View,” which has steps along the side that lead to a rooftop balcony.

The company sells various cedar structures, including mansions, barns, chalets, taverns, bungalows, playpens, stables, and bed-and-breakfasts, each priced up to $499. Miss Lee’s dog, Happy, has five houses of his own, placed inside and outside his owner’s abode.

“Some of the houses have porches,” she says. “If it’s wet on the grass, we don’t want them to lie on the grass, especially with bugs. They can lie under the sun and do their tanning but still keep dry.”

Investing in an extravagant doghouse is one way to show a pet love, says Fred Albert of Vashon, Wash., who is author of “Barkitecture.” His book features about 50 extraordinary doghouses.

“Dogs gives us unconditional love,” he says. “There are not many ways to return it, except doing what we can to make the dog as comfortable as possible. We celebrate our affection for them by creating a monument in their honor.”

One of Mr. Albert’s favorite creations is “Muttropolitan Opera House,” which features an extravagant theater facade with a proscenium stage in gold leaf, embroidered in velvet with draw curtains. The back of the doghouse looks like the backstage of a theater set. Another favorite is “Thatched English Cottage,” which has antique glass windows and a real thatched roof.

“You could probably put a box out there and the dog would be happy,” Mr. Albert says. “Many of the doghouses I ran into, the dogs didn’t use, but the people kept them in their yards as a work of art, or the children played in them. One was used as a coffee table. You have to admit it’s a great conversation piece.”

For those pet owners who would rather not have a doghouse in their back yard, there is always the dog bed, which can be placed indoors, says Lil Lewis, owner of Canine Carousel in Herndon. Her poodle, Surprise, sleeps in a four-post bed in the master bedroom of the house. Her pet also has a hand-painted Louisville Stoneware bed underneath the piano for afternoon naps.

“She loves them, and she doesn’t chew them,” Mrs. Lewis says. “She doesn’t like to sleep on the cold floor.”

Whatever the environment, it’s important to set aside a separate space for a pet, says Elizabeth Quinn of San Francisco, author of “Pads for Pets.” Otherwise, they will be in the homeowner’s space without a thought.

“Just like you would spend lots of money making sure your child had a comfortable bed, you do that for your pet,” Ms. Quinn says. “Animals have specific needs.”

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