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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How to Clean Like a Man
Tom McNulty, the author of "Clean Like a Man," shares the joy of living the spotless life

“Carry your supplies with you; say no to knickknacks; and for food spills, nothing beats a hungry dog.” Author Tom McNulty cuts to the chase in his recently released, no-nonsense book, Clean Like a Man. His experience in creating advertising and motivational campaigns for high-profile companies comes through in this readable and entertaining “how-to” look at the world of domestic hygiene. Tom, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife and his dog Coco, recently took time to be interviewed by Bark.

Bark: Your book is so inspiring that after reading it, we turned two mattresses and vacuumed about a pound of dog hair from under our refrigerator. What provoked you to write it?

Tom McNulty: Men are trained to change tires, not sheets. Housecleaning intimidates us because it’s an unknown; either we don’t know where to start or we clean with the wrong tools and chimp-like methods. There was no basic-training manual on housekeeping for guys, just cleaning books that went off on tangents like feng shui, silverware polishing, and flower-arranging. CLAM tells males what they need to know—no more and no less—spelling out the fundamentals in guy-friendly language, with lots of time-saving tips.

B: One of the things we particularly liked about the book is that you include pet-specific cleaning problems and solutions, and you’re pretty matter-of-fact about them. Does this come from long experience in living with dogs?

TM: I’ve loved and lived with dogs for many years. They’re biological creatures—they shed, go to the bathroom, and get sick. Unfortunately, they sometimes do this stuff indoors. So knowing how to get fur off a white sofa or treat a urine stain in the carpet come with the territory of living with a canine. I’ve done it all, because, hey … what are friends for?

B: We understand that your dog Coco has an “irrational fear of vacuum cleaners.” How do the two of you deal with that?

TM: Coco copes, mostly by just “leaving the area.” My theory is that vacuum motors create a sound that only canines can hear, similar to a “silent” dog whistle. She’s also afraid of cameras, lighters, and loud noises. I think this goes back to her puppy days. I got her when she was four months old, and who knows what she went through. She was from a bad neighborhood—I’m sure she was in a gang, the kind that doesn’t let Poodles join.

B: Since dogs—in theory, at least—spend most of their time closer to the floor and fixtures than we do, we’re always on the lookout for less-toxic cleaning products. You mention a couple in the book (white vinegar and baking soda); could you recommend others?

TM: I recently received an e-mail claiming that certain cleaning solutions with formulas similar to antifreeze can be harmful to dogs, but I’ve never heard anything else about it. It may be an urban legend; they’d probably have to drink them to do any damage to themselves. But if the label says a product can be harmful to you, you know it can hurt your dog, too. Use common sense. If you’re really serious about this, there’s a product line called Method that claims to be less toxic and more environmentally friendly, both of which are great!

B: We loved your evolutionary evaluation of the vacuum cleaner, ranking it with the wheel and the printing press. Is one type (upright, canister, or one of the more exotic models) better than another for those pesky dog-hair problems? How about other hair-removal strategies?

TM: For dog hair on carpets, it’s a toss-up: both uprights and canisters will do the job. On stairs and upholstery, the canister’s “power nozzle”—the extendable hose with the twirling brush on the end—is better because it’s lighter, and a hand-held vacuum like the Dirt Devil works well too. To get dog hair off furniture and stairway carpeting, I’ve also used a terrycloth towel to rub it all to one spot, and then I just pick up the resulting furball.

B: Since we seem to be focusing on dog hair, may we enquire about Coco’s? Long? Short? Double-coated?

TM: Coco has mid-length fur and tends to shed, especially in warm weather. Brushing her frequently helps prevent major vacuuming.

B: Do you find that living with a dog gives you more opportunities to practice your cleaning techniques? If so, are there any stories you’d like to share?

TM: I’ll try to be tasteful. Several months ago, I think Coco either had a major case of dog-flu or ate several pounds of laxatives. It required me to call in professional carpet cleaners, and even they failed to remove the stains. The best general advice is to get to any stain on carpeting as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the tougher it’ll be to remove.

B: Finally, how did you get started on this road to pragmatic tidiness?

TM: When I was 10, my mother required me to make my bed every morning. That triggered my MacGyver gene—the trait that drives guys to built better mousetraps, or, in my case, find ways to clean the house faster. Shortcuts rule. Tips and tricks rock. Thanks, Mom!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Are they a relic of the past, or are our homes becoming theirs too?

Bailey had no interest in the Cheerio. Impervious to my efforts to get her attention as we walked to the park, my Blue Heeler pup tugged the leash to get to the Retriever in a yard along the way. Since Bailey clearly only had eyes (and nose) for him, I shrugged and let my gaze wander. That’s when I saw the little doghouse.

The classic canine shelter was tucked away in the tidy back yard of a Minneapolis, Minn., home. It was tastefully sided in sunny yellow lapboard to match its human-size counterpart. By the dog door sat a clean, full water bowl. There was no sign of the actual inhabitant.

We walked past that doghouse dozens—maybe hundreds—of times during the course of the summer. I eventually got Bailey to give me her attention and take the treat, but I never did catch a glimpse of the doghouse’s resident dog.

That diminutive cottage started me thinking, though. During our walks along residential streets and down alleys, I began to look for other doghouses. I peered over fences and parted overgrown lilac bushes, hoping to spy another. Having little success, I realized that the yellow doghouse was unusual not only because it appeared to be sans dog, but also because the neighborhood, brimming with all manner of mutts, was strangely sans doghouses.

Where had they all gone? Doghouses were everywhere when I was growing up in the  ’70s. My family stuffed straw in an insulated doghouse for our German Shepherd. The next-door neighbors had a doghouse, too; they painted “Sparky” over the entrance and then proceeded to name each successive dog Sparky, so they never had to repaint.

I began to suspect that, like drive-in movies, playground seesaws and banana seats on bicycles, doghouses had ascended the pop culture ladder and then somehow tumbled off while I wasn’t looking.

“I think the obsolescence of doghouses reflects a cultural change in our perception of appropriate place,” said Ralph Caplan, a design critic who wrote a seminal essay on doghouses for a popular exhibition of doghouses at the Cooper-Hewitt museum in New York. “When a dog’s place was outside, the location of the doghouse followed suit. For the same reason, the outhouse often stayed outside long after plumbing advances made that unnecessary: The perception lingered that what went on in the outhouse belonged outside. The evolving attitude of dog owners toward dogs has made it in some cases unthinkable for a dog to sleep anywhere but with its companion or family.”

I thought about Bailey, who takes herself to bed (mine) when she thinks I’m up too late, and only moves to the floor when I drop my voice and adopt that tone my mother used when she was really serious. On the other hand, my childhood dog, Duchess, was only allowed in the house to warm up on the deepest of Midwestern winter nights.

I’m apparently not the only human who likes to be close to my canine pal. In a 2003 study, the American Animal Hospital Association found that 67 percent of pet owners said their pet most often sleeps on their bed.

Noted dog trainer Suzanne Clothier, author of Bones Would Rain from the Sky, offers a further perspective on why many of us have invited dogs indoors, at least in urban areas.

“Dogs in the house may offer us a much needed connection to something outside the unnatural, self-imposed rhythm dictated by clocks and deadlines and train schedules,” she says. “The thumping tail on the floor when you roll over at night may be a wise choice when it comes to what our souls need: a way to stay connected with the natural world.”

It hasn’t always been like that, of course. Scientists tell us that we were once hunters who gathered around a campfire and threw bits of gristle to wild dogs bold or hungry enough to approach. Most agree that humans and dogs have existed together for at least 100,000 years, and a few researchers have suggested that, based on DNA evidence, the human–dog relationship could be much older.

We don’t know when the first doghouse was built, but it was certainly after we gave up our nomadic ways and settled into homes of our own—we would have wanted to protect the dogs that watched our sheep, guarded our homes or helped us hunt.

Fred Albert, a design writer who compiled a colorful collection of doghouses into a book titled Barkitecture, includes photographs of some of the oldest known doghouses in the book’s introduction. Among them is one made of wood with silk upholstery that belonged to Marie Antoinette, who kept a small Spaniel at Versailles during the late 1700s.

The earliest surviving doghouses in the United States date to nearly a century later. A Gothic revival style is displayed on the grounds at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home in the Hudson Valley of New York, and an extraordinarily detailed Gothic Revival doghouse built around 1880 to match the fanciful main home is part of an estate in Bangor, Maine.

The rise of backyard doghouses was probably the result of the changing values of dog owners. According to Mark Derr, author of A Dog’s History of America, the end of World War II signaled a shift in how we saw dogs and their value.

“The prevalence of doghouses comes with the rise of purebreds,” he said. “Before World War II, less than 20 percent of dogs were purebred (compared to 50 percent now). Returning veterans wanted the right kind of house, the right car, the right dog, because it was a sign they’d made it. It was an enormous change.”

One of those soldiers returning from Europe began drawing a floppy-eared character who conducted aerial dogfights from atop his doghouse. Charles Schulz’s Snoopy—along with the rest of the Peanuts gang—made his newspaper debut in 1950, and started a groundswell of puppy love. At the height of its popularity, the comic strip had an estimated daily readership of 350 million.

“Back in Peanuts’ heyday, the 1960s, everybody wanted to own a Beagle like Snoopy—and a doghouse to go along with [him],” says Barkitecture’s Albert. Mass media had discovered the dog.

Television shows, movies and even magazines joined the feeding-bowl frenzy. In 1954, the Saturday Evening Post ran a cover illustration depicting a man measuring his dog in preparation for building a doghouse. This reportedly prompted numerous readers to write in with their own doghouse-building advice. An extensive essay on doghouses was photographed by legendary photographer Nina Leen for Life, and ran on several pages of the magazine in 1956. 

Those who aspired to build their own pup pad had plenty of help. Magazines like Field & Stream and Mechanix Illustrated ran plans for bigger, better or easier doghouses almost continuously for 30 years. If you had the urge to build a doghouse with a door that grew with Fido, a triple-decker doghouse or even a space-age dog shelter, all you had to do was thumb through the latest issue for plans and step-by-step instructions.

By the affluent 1980s, doghouse design took a sharp turn toward style. After a parody of Vogue magazine—Dogue—featured a photographic tour of lavishly appointed doghouses, architects were called upon to design doggie digs for competition and charity fundraisers. The first, held in Atlanta in 1988, was a hit. By 1990, the prestigious Cooper-Hewitt in New York City hosted its high-profile exhibition, which sparked even more copycats … er … dogs.  Soon, cities all over the country were showing off the creativity and wit of local designers, many of whom found designing for canine clients a refreshing romp.
In early 2000, the city of St. Paul announced plans to honor Charles Schulz by placing 100 sculptures of Charlie Brown in various locations around the city. Since then, they’ve also included artists’ renditions of Snoopy, Lucy and Linus. This summer, it was doghouses. As part of “Doghouse Days of Summer,” nearly 100 decorated doghouses were displayed everywhere from the shopping mecca Mall of America (okay, it’s not technically in St. Paul, but close enough) to riverfront boulevards. This fall, the city is auctioning off the pieces.

Since the city publishes a map marking the locations of all the sculptures, I won’t have any problem finding doghouses this time. I think I just might pack some Cheerios and take Bailey to see them.

Culture: Readers Write
Dog Days

Earlier this summer, I took my younger son, Jon, out to Los Angeles to visit my older son, and to look at film school. Before we left, we decided to spend a day doing what we normally do: driving around trying to find skate spots, skate parks and/or places to film.

We visited a new skate park north of town. Like most of metro Chicago, it was connected to the lakeshore bike trail, and to an adjacent park, which, as it turned out, was a beach for dogs. A dog park.

Remember P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog Go? (1961). Remember the crazy dog scenes—dogs in cars, dogs in trees, swimming, snoozing, playing? “Do you like my party hat?” “Yes, I do, I do like your party hat!” This was the scene. It was lovely. There is nothing to compare to the sheer aerobic joy of happy dogs—splashing, sandy, chasing all types of rubber toys, their owners as proud as parents of toddlers.

Jon and I smiled, and dove into Lake Michigan, thick with more dogs than people. Our own dog was home with his grandparents, and so we were a bit out of place, but our obvious dog-admiration and dog-affinity allowed us to make new friends within minutes.

Then, when we arrived in Los Angeles, we met more new dogs, or rather, saw evidence of a dog population. In other words, dog shit. It was everywhere: on the sidewalks; on the little front lawns of apartment buildings; on the street; up and down Runyon canyon, a leash-free zone where dogs can ramble the trails that lead to a semi-spectacular view of smoggy Hollywood and heat-shimmery Century City.

There were no “Pick up after your dog or it’s a $500 fine” signs and no social re-enforcement for doing the right thing about Fido’s public bowel movements. One night while sitting on the steps of my son’s building, I witnessed an older man walking ahead of three unleashed, medium-sized dogs. One stopped to use the neighbor’s grass as a toilet. The man did nothing, pretending not to notice the obvious infraction. However, according to the Los Angeles Animal Services website, under very direct subtitle, “Dog Poop”:

"Dog owners are required to clean up after their dogs when taking them out in public. Failure to do so could lead to stiff fines. Bring a bag when you take your dog for a walk! Section 53.49 of the LAMC."

Later in the week, Jon literally stepped in it, and I of course had a fit. He only had one pair of shoes, and refused to let me buy him a new pair.

While in L.A. we also visited the Getty Center, a temple to the proper application of philanthropy. The Getty is a massive series of hardscapes, gardens, architecture and open space overlooking the Los Angeles valley. There is also a small art collection. But no one goes to the Getty to see paintings. It’s an outside place, perfect for—you guessed it—dogs (and skate boarding). Dogs are not permitted, but visitors can pack a lunch and have a picnic anywhere on the property.

Inside the museum building, if you want to expedite your visit and/or have a teenager like Jon with you, I suggest that you limit yourself to pausing at only the paintings with dogs in them. This strategy will knock out approximately 70 percent of all pictures on display. My daughter and I used this technique—only art with dogs—while at the Louvre, the D’Orsay, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in London. This last collection was a challenge, as the Brits love, and paint, their dogs a lot. In fact, there was one room that appeared to be dog-portrait-themed, a kind of canine Romantic period: lustrous-haired hunting dogs with emotional eyes, so beautiful they could be women.

But enough of the colorful part. After missing our dog while we were in Chicago and Los Angeles, and having many conversations about pet ownership practices and other peoples’ dogs, we were finally reunited with our dog, ”old man Buddy,” a Chow/Retriever mix. We then moved into a new condo, and on the morning of our first day, a representative from the condo association paid us a visit. It seemed that we were in violation of condo policy due to the fact that we had a dog. Oh, the irony. Deal breaker. We moved out of the condo within 24 hours. Buddy, above such foolish rejection, sniffed the way out from his shotgun perch in the car.