FOR YOUR DOG, and especially for your cat, your apartment is a small world. And you’re at the center of it.
“If you’re bringing an animal into your home, it’s not a piece of furniture,” says Scott Giacoppo, chief community animal welfare officer at the Washington Humane Society. “You’re getting an animal for companionship, to enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond. We have an obligation to keep our pets happy and healthy. And it’s fun.”
Obligation means commitment. Owners of contented pets fit their schedule around the animals’ needs. Pass by a D.C. apartment building in the early morning or late evening, and you’ll see people walking with a phone in one hand and a leash in the other.
Tight schedules and fatigue are inadequate excuses for neglecting a pet.
“Break out of that thought process,” Giacoppo says. “Remember, they’re waiting for you all day.”
Waiting for everything from a pee break to the chance to stretch their legs. For apartment dogs, there’s no plastic flap to access earth and sky. They live in a building with noises and smells of people and other animals all around. Consider that a canine has a sense of smell at least 10,000 times greater than a human’s: passing through a hallway prickles him with stimuli he cannot investigate. Outside, on that walk he’s waiting for, he can be a dog, sniffing and listening.
An apartment cat’s territory ends at the front door. The efficiency kitty depends on her owner to crack the window for fresh air, and pull back the shades so she can nap in a patch of sun.
Apartment pets generally have less independence than animals in houses. Paradoxically, in the smaller shared space, their individuality can shine.
Recognize that every animal is unique. “They all have different personalities just like we do,” says W. Austina Sajery of Dog Walker D.C. Stock the house with toys. Pet stores carry puzzles for both cats and dogs to paw at and nuzzle, which helps them stay stimulated and sustains attention.
“All cats like to play,” Giacoppo says. “You have to find what they like to play with.”
One cat will prefer a toy dragged along the floor. Another wants to jump. Some turn an empty box or crumpled up piece of paper into amusement.
When playing with a cat, remember the three-step play sequence: stalk, kill and eat. Giacoppo keeps a bag of cat treats nearby when playing with a laser-dot toy. On the cat’s final pounce, he tosses a treat and puts away the toy. That signals that playtime is over.
Squeaky stuffed toys amuse one dog; another wants hard things to chew on. “Find out what your dog prefers and supply those needs,” Giacoppo advises.
Animals also need to have their own space.
“If you crate a dog, get the biggest crate you can,” Sajery says. “Give them all the room that they can have.”
Better yet, allot a section of the couch for the dog’s lounging. “One dog I walk has his own towel. As soon as I’m done drying him off he takes it to his little bed.”
Pets need somewhere they can relax. They also like to hide. Consider tucking a cat bed under an end table concealed by a tablecloth. Or place a dog bed beneath a counter. Keep litter boxes clean and blankets fresh.
Having a dog or cat may mean making the decor pet friendly to encourage exercise, exploration and a sense of safety.
“I share my home with them,” Giacoppo says of his three cats and two dogs. “They’re part of my life.”
So are cat trees, he says.
“I have a cat tree on either side of a large entertainment center. The cats can cross the living room without walking on the floor.” Place a cat tree in front of window. Throw a dog quilt onto a window seat.
“A lot of dogs like to look out the window,” Sajery says. “They like to see the world. My cats love that, too.”
Sajery and Giacoppo agree that living with a contented apartment dog or cat — one who is curious, healthy, calm, well-behaved and quiet —boils down to three things: exercise, socialization and interaction with a human companion.
That means long walks for dogs — two to four times a day — with sniffing time. D.C. residents have the advantage of 11 dog parks and Rock Creek Park ‘s 1,754 acres of forest. Make sure your dog is well-behaved.
“Obedience training provides a great form of exercise, physical and mental, and builds the bond,” Giacoppo says.
Two of Sajery’s clients got creative. “One would bring her dog over and they could hang out together and then get walked together. The dogs were separated at night and had their owners.”
A dog’s ability to adapt to apartment life depends not on breed, age or health, Giacoppo says, but on time: time with the owner and time exercising. Although dog walkers provide a resource for busy owners, Sajery points out pooches ultimately want their people. “Even if they know me, the dogs want to spend that time with their parents,” she says.
Some of that time can be squeezed in. Giacoppo says one of his cats meets him in the kitchen by the coffee pot in the morning for a treat. Another cuddles while he watches the news. Keep a brush near the TV; most cats like to be groomed.
They also benefit from a fellow feline companion, although there may be some initial friction when bringing a second cat into the home. “After that transition it’s wonderful.” Sajery says. Giacoppo recommends Catification by Jackson Galaxy for insight into the kitty mind.
Cat or dog, learn about your animal’s unique qualities and treat him or her with the courtesy you show any loved one.
“You always want to say goodbye to your pet before you leave,” Sajery emphasizes. “And the first thing you do when you get home is say hello.”
Alexa Mergen teaches private lessons in yoga and meditation in Washington, D.C. and edits Yoga Stanza.