On the House | This old doghouse has its comforts

Posted: July 22, 2007

I was killing time during a layover at the Milan airport when my pacing brought me to a bookstore window.

On the rack was the Italian translation of John Grogan's Marley and Me (Io e Marley). When I got back to my seat next to my wife, I had an idea.

"It just hit me that there's a lot more money writing books about dogs than home improvement," I told her. "I just can't figure out how I could come up with something about Emmy that people would buy."

Emmy is our 71/2-year-old beagle. Sweet dog, very affectionate, rarely acts out, likes to walk, tries to eat everything people throw away on the street, dances on her hind legs for a treat, but even that wouldn't get her on TV, let alone be fodder for an entire book.

"Why don't you combine both and write something like Emmy the Do-It-Yourself Dog? You could bring her into the workshop and photograph her at the table saw and at the drill press, using a tape measure, and carrying lumber in her mouth."

The wheels began spinning, all the way through six days in Venice and then back home again, at least until everything else I was working on started getting in the way.

But I've abandoned the idea because there are some big flaws. The first is that my workshop is on the other side of our back gate, and I don't want Emmy getting it in her head that she's allowed to leave the yard without a leash.

Second, I'm not sure that she can use a table saw, or reach the drill press, though I think she could probably put the blade of the tape measure in her mouth without hurting herself, just as she does the discarded pizza on Haddon Avenue every morning.

I remember how David Letterman tried to make Norm Abram build a picnic table in four minutes on his show, and if Norm couldn't do it, how could Emmy? Her shortage of do-it-yourself skills would be exposed immediately, and I'd be banished to the Duplicitous Author Tricks segment.

She'd also have to be bathed constantly for public appearances, and with my schedule I just couldn't get her an appointment at one of those pet-grooming places every day. We'd get home and she'd be out in the backyard digging up voles, and the odor of excitement that she emits would undo $50 of effort immediately.

I could teach her to take a shower. Not such a strange idea.

Moen, the faucet maker, commissioned Yankelovich Inc. to determine how Americans care for their pets, and the survey of 600 adults nationwide disclosed that 47 percent bathe their pets in their home bathtub or shower. And those who wash their pets in the bathtub or shower are more likely to be under age 45, work, be married, and have children over age 18.

"While most pet owners bathe their pets in their tub or shower, our research also showed that among those who don't, more than 40 percent have considered bathing their household pets in these spots," said Jack Suvak, Moen's director of marketing research.

Twenty-two percent said they bathe their pets "in the driveway or outside my home." These pet owners also tend to be under 45 and work, but they have a higher household income of more than $50,000 and aren't married.

Fifteen percent bathe their pets in the bathroom, kitchen or utility sink, and 6 percent take their pets to a groomer to be bathed.

Most of us bathe dogs or cats, but 5 percent of those surveyed have bathed a bird or guinea pig. About 4 percent have bathed a lizard or snake; 1 percent have bathed a rabbit. Less than 1 percent have bathed a horse, ferret, turtle, hamster or pig.

Moen asked how often Americans bathe their pets at home. "To our surprise . . . nearly a third (31 percent) bathe their pets once a month; and a large majority (21 percent) bathe their pets once a week, if not more often," Suvak said.

Emmy would never stand for more than once a month, so her DIY dog book really has to be shelved.

I don't think she'll mind. Vole season is just around the corner.

"On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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