His chill-out time disturbed, Simba growled softly over the traffic on the cat superhighway, a 2-foot-long tunnel connecting the laundry room to the catio, or patio for cats built at his owner’s Holbrook home
“He’s like a troll — you have to answer a question before he lets you through,” joked his owner, Carol Agro, as she watched Simba perching on a shelf overhead.
The cat foster mom has spent thousands of dollars — she fears tallying up the bills — renovating part of her house into kitty heaven over the past two years. She has a screened-in patio so they can sniff the fresh air. There’s an overhead catwalk in the laundry room. Her garage, too small to fit a car anymore, is now a cat room with heat and air conditioning and shelves at different heights so her pets can scamper.
Agro, 58, a tech company employee, said she plans to make another opening to the catio to reduce the traffic jam, as well as other changes. “I keep playing with things,” she said. “You have to let them tell us what they like.”
Agro is not alone in her passion. Incorporating cat and dog amenities into the architecture of homes has been a furry trend nationwide, according to designers, builders and other experts. Some call it “barkitecture,” and others “catification,” a term coined by Animal Planet cat whisperer Jackson Galaxy.
The trend comes on the heels of an uptick in animal adoption and foster applications at the height of the pandemic, when many housebound people sought to the company of pets.
The aim of pet amenities is to enrich animals’ lives while giving their owners a bit of convenience and perhaps assuage their guilt at leaving their pets alone while they’re out of the house.
Enhancing the home for pets can take many forms. Low kitchen drawers can be pulled out with food and water bowls matched perhaps with a faucet close to the floor. Prefab window enclosures and do-it-yourself catio plans allow cats to observe nature while birds stay safe.
A backyard sandbox can satisfy a dog’s yearning to dig and provide shade with a wooden roof. And why seal off the cramped area under the stairs — that’s territory for a cat or dog bed.
After all, as many animal lovers say: Pets are practically people, but just with four legs, and deserve their own space for sleeping, playing and even getting shampooed.
Dash, a cinnamon poodle puppy, gets washed and blow-dried every other week at the do-it-yourself “dog spa” at The Brix, a 180-apartment complex in Uniondale, where he lives with owners Davon and Danielle Livingston. The pooch also gets regular walks at The Brix dog park, which is filled with agility and play stations.
Davon, 33, a health and fitness coach, and Danielle, 32, a third-grade teacher, said they had been thinking of getting a dog for some time, but with their busy lives, it didn’t make sense until they found The Brix with its dog-geared amenities, which are accessible round the clock.
“Dash is so active,” Danielle Livingston said. “It wouldn’t be as much fun if he didn’t have a place to play.”
There are about 55 dogs owned by a quarter of the residents at The Brix, which opened last year, said Khalifa Williams, senior property manager at the rental complex.
“It brings a very different atmosphere to the community,” Williams said. “A lot of renters have issues finding pet-friendly apartments, so having so many amenities that support pet ownership is a huge advantage.”
‘They know it’s for them’
The pet amenities sector has been especially strong during the pandemic, said carpenter John Spatafora of Selden, co-founder of 2 Brothers Catios and Creations. His company, formed about five years ago, has built at least 57 catios and 25 dog amenities, including playgrounds and ramps for semi-paralyzed dogs that can’t climb steps or have wheels attached to their legs. He’s also built rabbit hutches, reptilian habitats and bird enclosures.
Spatafora said many owners tell him they feel bad about leaving their pets by themselves, especially cats kept indoors. The bulk of calls are for custom catios, which can feature doors for owners’ access and security cameras so owners can keep an eye on their safety while away. He charges $2,000 and up to build a catio.
Recently, the carpenter built an outdoor enclosure for a Bellmore couple’s eight rescue cats. During construction, most of the felines stared from a top-floor window, but one black cat, a new rescue that didn’t hang out with the others, watched alone from a basement window.
“As soon as it was done, the cat was in there within an hour,” Spatafora said. “Even if it’s a cat that’s been abused and has no idea what his human is, when they start seeing me build it and I’m talking to them through the window, from the first day or two, they know it’s for them. They’re at the window, they’re pawing to come out.
“To me, it’s about helping animals.”
There’s a wide range of cost and quality in pet amenities on the market. DIY catio plans are available for as little as $40. Prefab catios, from window to walk-in enclosures, start at under $500, depending on the sturdiness and features such as walkways. Stylish wall walkways and lounges can be a few hundred dollars. Hoops, weaving posts, climbing platforms and other dog exercise equipment inset into the yard can start at about $1,000 each.
Experts say there’s a big divide between what dogs and cats need when it comes to building features into the structure of the home.
Michael Gould, an Old Field resident and owner of Hounds Town USA, a franchise of about 150 day care and pet spa centers, said dogs don’t necessarily require pullout drawers with food bowls or sleep on beds in a nook under a staircase. They need to be walked regularly and prefer a small, cavelike enclosure, such as a crate, he said.
“When you make the environment visually pleasing, that’s for the humans,” Gould said.
In building features for dogs, he said, their owners need to focus on location, the type of material — some dogs will chew wood — and whether the material is nontoxic and easily cleaned, such as tile instead of carpeting. “The question for them is, ‘Is it safe and secure?’ ” he said.
For many pet cats, the world is confined to inside the house, so they may need outlets for their energy, something to explore and places they consider safe and quiet or where they can survey life from a high shelf, cat owners and experts say.
“Boredom can lead to inappropriate behavior,” said Barbara Pezzanite of Lindenhurst, a certified animal behaviorist and Farmingdale State College psychology professor whose business, Long Island Animal Behavior Consulting Services, primarily works with shelter animals. “If they have somewhere to go and something else to do, play with perhaps, they don’t have to resort to aggressive behavior toward the owners.
Will homebuyers care?
While some buyers may be wowed by a pet-ready home, real estate agents are split on whether pet amenities add value. Having a catio might not make the house attractive to a dog owner or a dog playground to a cat owner.
But real estate agent Zach Elliott of Nest Seekers International in East Norwich said such extras can command higher prices, and he’s never gotten a negative reaction from buyers to pet features. He has a listing for a $4.5 million house in Muttontown with a fenced-in dog run, and a $10.25 million listing in Old Westbury that has a pet-washing station. He’s even seen dog gates recessed into walls like pocket doors.
“Most of the buyers these days have some sort of pet, so I think it’s becoming more and more popular,” Elliott said. “When you love your pets and you know these kinds of things exist, you want it in your home.”
When one of Madeline Stone’s Dalmatians, Abigayle, started losing mobility, she hired Spatafora to install a wood ramp over the four steps leading to the back door of her West Babylon house. “It saved our lives,” Stone said. “Otherwise, we would have had to carry her down the steps every day like eight times a day.”
The ramp, which cost Stone about $275, had railings and a faux grass covering so it would be soft and not slippery for Abigayle and Stone’s younger Dalmatian, Serafina.
Although Abigayle eventually had to be helped in and out of the home with a sling under her hind legs, she could still run up the ramp or chase squirrels as Stone, 58, the manager of an HVAC company, and her boyfriend, Rich Naso, 55, a guitar player in a rock band, awkwardly tried to keep up carrying the sling. The ramp allowed them to take the dog to the backyard, the park, and Shake Shack for ice cream before she died in August at age 16.
When Port Washington resident Andrea Levine had a catio built this spring for Mush, a shelter cat she adopted last year, she wanted room for a lounge chair and table so she and her retired father could hang out with their feline boy.
Mush had often been “so forlorn” looking outside the sliding glass door, which the two were nervous about opening, Levine recalled.
When they learned that the catio they dreamed up would cost $5,000, they discussed it repeatedly before deciding to dip into savings, Levine said. Now, she and her father, Martin Levine, 90, a retired attorney, love watching the Mush show.
“He [Mush] takes in the sights and the smells,” said Levine, 63, a high school English teacher. “I like the idea of him being outside as much as possible and being safe.” Mush now seems more active and confident, like he owns the joint, his family said.
“I’ve done right by the animal,” Martin Levine said, “and it’s a very, very good feeling.”