Adrian Lipp’s chickens once ranged free in his Ballard neighborhood.
His neighbors with vegetable gardens, however, were less than happy about sharing their plants with his foraging fowl. So Lipp built an extensive chicken yard featuring a multilevel coop for shelter. It sits right next to his patio, so the chickens are part of the scene when Lipp entertains.
“They aren’t exactly pets,” he says. “Maybe more like roommates.”
A 2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association found that 67% of U.S. households include pet animals. Washington ranks as one of the top 10 states for cat ownership, and Seattle is renowned for its prevalence of dogs (as many news outlets have reported, canines outnumber kids within the city limits).
As for chickens, in many neighborhoods, it’s rare to take a morning walk without hearing them clucking away in someone’s yard.
Not surprisingly, pet owners are loathe to confine their furry and feathered loved ones in cages. But it’s too dangerous to let the animals simply roam free, especially at night. Instead, many have come up with their own solutions — some of them highly creative — to keep their pets safe and sheltered, while also well-exercised and entertained.
A natural habitat
In Bothell, the Fisher family’s two dozen turtles — a mix of box turtles, Blanding’s turtles, red-eared sliders, yellow-bellied sliders and red-bellied cooters — lead lives very similar to what they would enjoy in the wild. Ben Fisher, a North Seattle veterinarian, hired a contractor to install a realistic backyard habitat — about 30 by 30 feet — that includes a 3-foot-deep pool, a waterfall, rocks for sunning, and plenty of plants for food and shelter.
“I went to a pool place and got some ideas [for the design],” Fisher says. “The goal was to make it beautiful and natural. In the winter, I fill the pond two-thirds full of leaves for the turtles that hibernate.”
For Fisher’s turtles and Lipp’s chickens, sturdy wire fencing was essential to deterring local predators, most notably raccoons. One of Fisher’s turtles was bitten, and Lipp lost some chickens, before they installed and refined their fences.
The key is to have fences that are high enough to keep out raccoons — Fisher’s pond even has a wire roof — while rooting the wire walls deep enough in the ground to prevent the pets from digging their way out. A lockable door prevents Fisher’s four children from unsupervised access to the turtle pond.
Relaxing on the catio
While there is a long history of outdoor enclosures for dogs, birds and amphibians, the idea of “catios” for domestic cats is relatively new. The Ballard company Catio Spaces has been at the forefront of the movement, selling DIY designs online and providing services to customize and build catios.
Bonnie Beard and Sean Ansorge installed catios on a pair of existing balconies on their Wallingford home to provide their indoor cats, Xena and Dudley, with fresh air while keeping them safely at home.
“We started with just one [catio] because we thought ‘What if the cats don’t like it?’” Beard says. “But the cats loved it. So we added a second one.”
Beard likes the way their catios dovetail with the design of the house. “The platform area for our cats is at the same height as the balcony railing. Looking at the house from the street, you don’t even notice there’s a catio,” she says.
Simple catio spaces can be created by attaching walls and railings using zip ties, which are a popular solution for apartment dwellers who don’t want to make permanent modifications to their balconies or patios.
Designing for dogs
Many of the dog owners contacted for this article said that their entire houses are dog structures, with couches serving as dog beds and hallways as play areas. This has been especially true during the pandemic, with people and pets spending more time together indoors. But a few households have created structures to address their pups’ breed-specific issues.
“Chihuahuas don’t like to get their paws wet in the rain and the snow,” says Shannon Stabbert, who lives in Ballard with her husband, Brooke. With that in mind, they converted one end of a small, sheltered porch on the side of their house into an easy-to-clean potty area for their rescue chihuahua, Dobby. They installed a shower drain pan over an existing drain in the porch floor, and then added a metal grid and a top layer of dog-friendly artificial turf.
“We just hose it off after he uses it,” Stabbert says.
An 11-inch-high dog door in their TV room (crafted to be a miniature version of the home’s human-size wood doors) gives Dobby easy access to his custom facilities.
Tegan Moore moved to Carnation recently so she would have more space to do agility training with her dog. Peachthief is a Koolie, a highly energetic Australian herding dog. When she’s indoors, Peachthief needs plenty to do to keep her out of trouble.
“When I have to leave my puppy unattended, she has an enclosed space in my dining room,” Moore says. “Most importantly, the space is full of things for her to do while I’m gone: a puzzle box full of snacks, chewies wrapped in toilet paper tubes and brown paper that she can shred apart, a frozen food toy, and a snuffle mat full of goodies. I’m also running a fan for white noise. She can’t wait to get in there!”
Rodents and fish, too
Lynn Rosskamp and Wilhelm Fitzpatrick fell in love with rescue rats several years ago. They’ve since built a special “rat room” onto their Queen Anne house. The space features its own ventilation system and specially screened windows to prevent the rats from chewing their way out. The cages, from Critter Nation, are large enough for Rosskamp and Fitzpatrick to get inside to clean them.
In addition to rats, they own cats and fish. Two goldfish recently graduated from living in a salad bowl to a 4-foot-long aquarium after Fitzpatrick reinforced a handsome, midcentury dresser so it could support the weight of the massive tank. The aquarium’s water temperature is regulated using the couple’s Google Home system.
Rosskamp says pet accommodations should be visually appealing to the humans they live with, as well as safe and comfortable for the pets.
“I sew for the rats and make colorful hammocks for them,” she says. “We have a large, fancy cage in the living room for six of the rats. Sometimes I take them out of the cage, spread a fleece blanket on the sofa, and we all hang out together.”