Are they a good idea?
by m.j. boyle
According to the Humane Society, 62% of all US households have at least one pet and in 2012 more than $50 billion dollars (yes, with a “B”) was spent on their care.
Do you have a dog? Then you have a lot in common with the 47% of the population who own one.
Prefer a more mild-mannered companion? The number of cat owners reflects, rather amusingly, that we are as likely to own a cat as a dog; since 46% of us do.
If you’re thinking of downsizing, and moving into a tiny house you probably have a pet. And given that 82% of you also have children, this makes the decision just that much more complicated. Where will they all sleep? Eat? “Go”? We worry about all the little details of their lives. It’s no wonder why so many of us refer to our pets as “our children”.
I am an animal person. I love them all. I have owned and raised horses, cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, and even raised pigeons for a time. Given, however, my currently hectic raise-kids-work-build-tiny lifestyle I only have two cats now. One is mine, and one is my daughter’s.
A cute little gerbil in a tiny little sweater…
I guess you could say that having animals in my tiny house is a given. I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t have at least one, and I sincerely appreciate the “life” they add to a household.
So, where will they all sleep? Eat? “Go”?
Litter Box or Yard? – From the start of my tiny house design, I thought my litter box would hang on the outside of my tiny house (envision a “removable” shed) and accessed via a cat door. But, as the design has morphed, I recently discovered that I have enough space under one section of the stairs to add a litter box there. Easier to clean and access. Yay! And even though my cat loves the outdoors, he won’t “go” out there. So, an indoor litter box it is. Sometimes I think about getting another dog. (my 13 year old Golden Retriever died last year) And while the where-to-go decision is obvious (aka outside) I have to admit that having marmoleum flooring in my tiny house makes the idea of having another dog closer to a reality. Carpets and dogs (and especially puppies) don’t mix. Accidents happen. And, dare I say, wood floors don’t always fare well either.
Dinner Time! – When floor space is at a premium, constantly stepping over pet bowls will not only be a minor inconvenience, it’ll be a flat out pain in the ass. After you’ve accidently kicked a full pan of water across the floor for the fifth time, you will no doubt be scanning the pet catalogs online for a more stable and visible option. But, bowls are only part of this equation. Consider a pet feeding schedule. You put the bowl down, they eat, you pick it up. Repeat, twice a day. It provides them with a sense of stability and routine (good for both pets AND children) and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming overweight. You can more easily control their intake and adjust it as needed. Yes, it takes more time than filling a large free-feeding bowl a few times a week but when you live in a tiny house you have time to spare. (that’s the idea anyways) An Added Bonus: If your kitty is an indoor-outdoor one like mine, they’ll come running home at the sound of a rustling food bag!
Climbing cats are happy cats.
Size Doesn’t Matter – When it comes to tiny houses, the size of your pet doesn’t really matter as much as the temperament of the animal. Great Danes are well known for their laid back persona, but they may not literally FIT into a tiny house. While an Australian Shepherd is a comparably small dog, they’ll drive you NUTS in a tiny space because they are bred for herding and require a LOT of space to run. Even a tiny Jack Russell terrier may not be a good fit given their proclivity to dig and jump and bark. Small animals may do well in your tiny house but I can tell you that even parakeets can make a huge mess. If you love ferrets or other rodents, they may love the nooks and crannies a tiny house will provide but their natural coat oils will have your tiny house smelling like musk in no time flat. Consider not your pet’s size but your pet’s smells, environment, personality and exercise needs; before considering a drastic move to less than 200 square feet.
Bored Animals are BAD Animals – Cats are a good option for a tiny house pet but make sure yours is well mannered and easy going before subjecting them to such a small space. They’ll scratch and tear apart every surface of your house if they’re unhappy or bored or do not have an adequate scratching post. Door posts, floors, upholstery, towels, etc… Trust me. It’s not pretty. In a larger home, you may have the option of skipping a walk or two, with your loving canine companion, when it’s raining. In a tiny house, that just won’t do. Any dog, large or small, will need to be walked at least twice a day. Don’t even THINK of owning a dog, in a tiny space, without understanding this very important part of their developmental and social needs. If you think a cat can turn your tiny space into a smelly, destroyed space; dogs will do it faster. Birds need mirrors and swings and chewing blocks or you’ll never sleep. Incessant. Tweeting. Day. And. Night. (and not the online kind) Rodents need running wheels. (Side note: Have you ever tried to sleep in the same room as a hamster running on his wheel? It is akin to torture in my world.)
Communal Beds – I never allowed animals to sleep in my bed until I spent over $1500 on my cat, just a few months ago, for an emergency surgery to unblock his urinary track. I wouldn’t let him out of my sight and I had to be keenly aware of his every sound and his every “movement”. “Confinement” was the name of the game and there was no place better, than my room. I’m not a fan of pet hair in my bed. I’m not a fan of having him sleep on my head, or him waking me up with his cold and wet nose on my cheek at 3 am demanding to be fed. Even the noises he makes when he drinks water, wakes me up. (Maybe it’s the mom in me.) With that said, however, whether or not to allow your pets in your bed is a very personal decision. So, in this regard, it is not really a tiny house thing, it’s a do-I-want-fleas-in-my-bed thing.
Pets enrich our lives. They love us unconditionally. (actually, not sure about cats but dogs certainly do) And even after we’ve cleaned up after them for the seventh time in a single afternoon, we can’t deny that they are an awesome addition to our tiny families. And, like any member of the family, their needs should be a part of any discussion involving major change. If you are considering downsizing into a tiny house and do not know how your animals will fit into your new lifestyle, think about it. Think about it long, and hard, and with kindness and consideration. They deserve to be loved, and cared for, just like your children or your significant other or any other member of your household.
Pets should be treated with respect and doing so will give you all, people and furry friends alike, the best chance of living happily ever after in your tiny house.
Michelle is an outgoing single mom, published author, speaker, patented inventor, blogger, craigslist stalker, enthusiastic Glamper, and Northwest native; as well as a tiny house enthusiast, designer, and builder. Her Tiny House, aptly named “My Empty Nest”, is the culmination of a life spent dreaming of a tiny reclaimed space, all her own. If you’d like to follow Michelle’s tiny house build, you can find her at: mytinyemptynest.com