Squalor Survivors logo


Many people who are struggling to keep house also keep pets. Our pets affect our squalor; they contribute to the squalor with their pooping, yakking and shedding, but they also contribute to our lives with their companionship and protection. They affect our attitude towards cleaning the house: motivating us to keep their spaces clean, or discouraging us by creating messes in newly cleaned areas. In a recent forum discussion there were different ways of looking at virtually every aspect of keeping pets.

Method of acquiring

Few members who described how their pets entered their life talked about actively seeking out and/or purchasing their pet. Instead, many owners talked about a "found by" or "adopted by" relationship, where the human played a passive role. More than one person had "inherited" or was persuaded to take on someone else's pet. Still others said they had "rescued" their animals and described the poor physical condition of the animal at the time.

The DKitty was one that found us. We were not seeking a pet. We lived in an apartment complex then and cats were run over quite often. We could not let that happen to this sweet kitty that kept coming to us. She had obviously been abused and was very thin. We took her to the vet, placed found ads in the newspaper, and knocked on neighbors doors. We think someone dropped her off hoping someone would take her in. Back then, we had no kids. Just one other cat--(that one was another stray from years before).
We now have a dog again (a rescue)
and a cat (he adopted us ).
I have two cats, brothers, Bugs and Daffy.... I rescued them when they were three weeks old and their momma died.
She's a junk yard cat from dh's shop. She was pregnant and he started feeding her. When she went in to labor she went in to his shop literally mewing for him. she was having some difficulties. he shut the shop door and trapped her in there and helped a feral, wild cat deliver her kittens. Not without multiple scratches though. After 5-6 weeks she became tame enough and her kittens were getting too big for his shop so he brought them home.
Two of my dogs are getting old.
BOTH are rescues.
We made the decision, or I should say I did, when our last doggie, a cocker spaniel, passed away at the age of 14+ not to have any more pets, other than fish. And, not those until my husband retires so he's home more. Then we "inherited" a large dog, named Levi. Levi's half Boxer and half Sharpei. If we hadn't taken him in, he'd have been put down, and he was only a year and a half old, and a sweetheart.
...I found myself with more pets than I have ever had in my life due to not being able to say NO to vet friends who rescued animals from emotionally cruel, neglectful owners. Now I find myself with 2 indoor dogs, 3 indoor cats, and 2 cockatiels, each of whom came from sad, sad backgrounds that I just could not say NO to. I was so aggravated with myself for getting in this predicament until my DD said to me, "Okay, Mom, which of the pets do you want to give away??" With that, it all came into focus and I, of course, kept them all. BUT I do say NO now when vets call to add to my menagerie, so I guess there is a measure of personal growth!

It wasn't always the pet in the driving seat!

We intentionally adopted our wonderful dog. She is our angel. We got her from a shelter and she is worth the hair, expense, etc.
I carried a clipping around from the paper announcing a litter of Newfoundlands was born and the day the mortgage went through, I called and mailed off a deposit.... But, definitely, I planned for her.

Pet owners who rescued strays sometimes found that they had taken on more than they anticipated. And it seems that someone who is kind-hearted enough to want to take in strays has a particularly tough time deciding what is the best outcome for a sick animal.

...due to 1 kitten getting real sick we found out that Mama Cat is feline luek +. Had we known we wouldn't have brought her home. Due to being feline luek +, I can't get local shelters to help place them...they automatically put down FLV+ cats around here. I didn't want to do that to the cats that were healthy in all other ways but the FLV. But...now these older kittens ARE sick and I am facing the issue of doing what's best for them while at the same time having to look my own conscious in the face. I will not subject them to suffering nor will I risk getting my healthier cats sick. BUT...that still leaves me with about 12-13 cats. I can't get rid of FLV cats...no one wants them. And I can't put them to sleep just because they are FLV. That to me is like telling a person with HIV that they might as well die now...cause even though they don't have Aids YET...they eventually will???

Why have them? Benefits

Almost everybody thought of their pets as members of the family and spoke of their love and affection for their pets. The care required by family pets can be viewed as an opportunity ... a chance to repay the love.

I don't regret having the animals, despite the work entailed, though, because of the love they bring to the home. They enrich my life.
They truly are members of our family.
I don't know what I would do without my cats. They're my buddies and my babies.
They're my babies, just like my children are.
Our old dog is a jerk. I mean it. He's a food scrounger, a thief, he craps and pees right where we walk in the yard, he lies right where we need to be in the house. And he rides along with me when I do mundane tasks like the recycling or grocery shopping. He sits there patiently waiting, totally blissed out just to be there. I take him with me every chance I get, much to dh's chagrin, because he's 13 and senile, deaf, and arthritic. I want to make him as happy as possible while he's able to enjoy his life. I want to have no regrets.

But one person had a different perspective on using animals to meet emotional needs. She made a connection between using animals and inanimate belongings to fill an emotional space.

The love of animals will only take people so far.. they think animals and their ability to give them something to care about can be the only thing to make someone feel better and the continual acquiring of a new animal to fill a void in their life is not good for them or the animals however. And I think it is one of the many steps to squalor recovery.. we can not keep all this CRAP in our houses.. and we also need to learn where to draw the lines with animals.. that line is different depending on the person...

Some members spoke of the sense of protection and personal security provided by their dogs. Members perceived dogs as being important for their home security if their home was isolated or if they had an awareness that crimes had been committed in the area.

In the past 10 years 4 of my close neighbors have been burglarized. None of them had dogs. I'm single & I live alone. Without my dogs I'd constantly be afraid nights.
They are my babies, but also my protection.
They work for their keep.
I won't replace my cats or birds once they go, but I will always have a dog for security as I live in isolated area.

One dog was more than a pet; he fulfilled the role of service dog for his owner, helping her walk and keep from falling down, as well as providing other abilities.

On the rare occasion that someone is rude about Rover being present in a people space, I've been known to point out mildly that the cost of producing a service dog like Rover has been estimated at about $40K American. He's worth the world to me.
Pet dog
Pet dog
Pet dog
Pet dog
Pet dog
Pet dog
Pet dog
Cat (jealous of the attention Squalor Survivors gets)
Dog having third birthday party
Pet dog
Sweetness and light kitty
Working dog
Working dog

Dogs were singled out for providing security, but cats had a lock on the Pest Patrol business...

Plus, they earn their keep, for being strictly indoor cats...Daffy is an excellent mouser, and right now the two of them are stalking a cricket that somehow got inside. They even caught a little mole once!
The cat came on board when I had mice.
No more mice now, lol.

The other side of pest patrol however, is trying to eradicate the pests from the pets themselves...

For several years, we had fleas quite badly during the summer months and my cats couldn't tolerate Frontline. We had to spray and bomb, vacuum and spray and bomb almost constantly. We would even vacuum the one exclusive indoor cat almost every day, twice a day, but not much did any good. We were constantly overrun with fleas. Then, on the advice of the vet, we tried Advantage and they seem to be okay on it. If we've had any fleas this summer, I haven't known about it, so that situation is alot better.
Cat with mouse
Dog scratching
Cat in sink

Flea control is only one of many expenses incurred by owning pets. Buying food, keeping litter boxes filled, and providing vet care all added up. Not having the necessary funds to have cats and dogs spayed or neutered exponentially increased the problem.

We spent a fortune on our first one [cat] and I loved her soo much. Took so many vets, many tubes of blood, and lots of research on our part to finally get her the care she needed. She had exploratory surgery on her stomach and a stomach tube put in due to Hipatic Lipidosis. We had to feed her thru the tube for a few months until she began eating on her own again. Many would have put her to sleep due to the expense, but she was worth it. I love her and miss her.
Our little dog requires a bit more in vet costs than I had anticipated when I agreed to take him in and we are looking at the possibility of him moving in with my SIL who adores the breed and has a little better financial ability to care for his respitory needs and doesn't have a toddler who antagonizes the poor little guy. He has become a member of the family and so making the decision to let him move out of the house is not an easy one.
Cat nursing kittens
Travelling dog
Our intent was to take her and have her fixed. We haven't been able to afford to do that. Dh had alot of things go wrong in that same time frame that financially prevented us doing anything but feeding them and maintaining a roof over our own head.
I can't get rid of her [dog with heartworms] cause no one wants to take on that expense and I can't find the $400 + to have her treated. It's very expensive to treat heartworms.

One member had her own way of putting the cost of pet ownership in persepctive!

Sure, the vet bills can be a bit much, and they need a Feliway refill that I can't afford to get right now, and scooping the litterbox isn't one of my favorite jobs, and decent cat food can be expensive, but they are so worth it. After all, if you apply those things to my kids, doctor bills can be a bit much, they need some new clothes and coats that I can't get right now, changing diapers certainly wasn't one of my favorite jobs, and I spend more on people food than I do on cat food each week (a small bag of Iams at Wal-Mart is about $2.30 and it will last them a week), but I'd certainly say my kids are worth it.

As well as the financial costs, the care of pets imposes quite a cost on the owner's time and energy. For some, this cost is manageable...

My cat hardly sheds, and with only one it is pretty simple to keep up with litter box, etc. My fish need about 15 minutes a week. We have a couple of horses too but DH takes care of them and obviously they don't add to the house squalor.

...while others struggled with the load. Each day is a finite resource of time, into which you can fit a certain number of tasks. More time spent on pet care meant less time available for de-squaloring. Additionally, sometimes the owner was working within their own physical limitations.

If your animals take up so much time you don't have time to look after your own living quarters, I think that means you are stored up for a tough time... My animals themselves have never lived in squalor and never will.......but they can cause it I strongly believe, through spending time cleaning them out and not having time to do your "own" cleaning, through their spillages creeping through the home and not doing daily maintenance......CORRECTION, they don't cause it but the human's lack of co-ordinated maintenanence in clearing up after them can cause it.
I have decided that I don't want to have any more cats after this one. They are wonderful but soo much work.
It is very hard for me to keep up with all his fur and tracking in of mud now, though, especially with a toddler zapping so much of my energy. My disablity is of the degenerative kind, and as it grows worse, I have to think seriously about finding Levi another home, I'm afraid. He's become such a part of our family in the year and a half since we adopted him! But, I HAVE to put my DD first.
My kids would like to get a dog, but I said no...I know I don't have the time or the energy right now for a dog, nor do I want to add to the squalor already here with a dog
...You can't tell them that you aren't cleaning because of your depression, physical limitations, illness, whatever.
If I am not feeling well I still have to vacuum up cat and dog hair, clean up accidents etc. The alternative is going back into 3rd degree squalor. But since I have cleared a lot of stuff, the cats can't hide anywhere to poop and it's easier to clean it up straight away if I dont have to search for it first lol
Cat ready for his closeup
Cat amid clutter
Cat (jealous of the attention Squalor Survivors gets)

One of the components of third degree squalor is animal waste in the house as a rule not an exception.

When the squalor was at it's worst, we were in fullfledge 3rd degree squalor. The number of pets, the number of children, and my depression created horrendous conditions.
I had to rip out the Berber carpet that was in there (it was nasty anyway, but they didn't help it), and I will probably have to rip up the subfloor. I think there might be salvageable wood floor under there. I might redo that floor, or I might put down linoleum or fake wood floor. I wouldn't have to worry about the subfloor had they not urinated on it...but they wouldn't have urinated on it had I kept up with the litterbox.
I am still desqualoring carpets that were ruined by the two dogs we once had who became incontinent in their old age. We had a problem cat at once time, too that ruined carpets. I am not sure how people who live "squalor free" deal with these disasters, but for me, those were problems that just escalated the squalor issue in so many ways.

The damage caused by pets and the messes they create can be quite disheartening.

No they are demotivators.Affects my attitude sometimes...although I love my pets. It is very frustrating to work really hard and then you hear the cat throwing up on the sofa. This is just an example because it happened the other day and happens quite often. I will be exhausted and thinking all I have to do is scoop the litterbox and I'm done for the night (midnight) and then I hear her. I go look and it adds more time and just frustration as in "why try?" etc.
yes they hinder. Tearing up my furniture so I am not motivated to make the place look good. And, it is a lot more work...you just can't abandon them when they are sick. They are like children and have to be taken care of. The shedding, the pooping, peeing, throwing up, nails that catch the furniture even when they aren't scratching but rips the material anyway. Yes, they make it harder...but I love them so I take care of them. May not do things perfectly, but they are healthy and well cared for.
well, among other things, the fact that they chewed things plus caution about what could be left about that might harm them, caused me to start piling things higher and higher on surfaces. I had nowhere to put things, really, though I intended to put things away, that would not have been seriously possible.
Dogs and cats have body odor, just like people, and their skin secretes oils. I had a terrier who ruined a couch just by sleeping on the top of the back. I think that carpeting really needs to be shampooed and steamed at least once a year, even without pets, beause odors get into the fibers. Same with upholstered furniture....Rover sleeps on a real mattress that is dog sized, covered with a real sheepskin. He likes it smelly, but I still have it cleaned a couple of times a year.

For one member, her pets determined her dress style, which she felt also affected her self-image.

Your general appearance too.......In the past claws and muddy feet have stopped me dressing as smartly as I might otherwise, then someone comes to door and suddenly you feel like a slob......
Chinchilla litter spilling out of cage
Chnichilla litter spilling out of cage

But it is also possible for pets to be the motivation for keeping at least part of the house clean. They can be the force that gets us out of bed and moving in the morning, not matter how tired and/or depressed we feel.

I have to get up to potty, feed & water them. I clean up their over night pee pads & then start my own day. Even on my really bad days the dogs HAVE to be tended to.
I want to clean the house for my cats just as much as I do my kids...it's hard on one's pets to be in squalor as well. They can pick up on our emotions, plus often when one is dealing with squalor their cages/litterboxes don't get cleaned on a regular basis. Their health can sometimes be affected. And you can't tell them that you aren't cleaning because of your depression, physical limitations, illness, whatever. I think there is a level on which they instinctively pick up on some of it, but it's different than explaining it to a person.
I think I wouldn't be as careful about keeping the floors clean if it weren't for Rover. If I skip vacuuming, you need a garden rake for the hair!
His arrival [a toy poodle] definitely helped me get some papers and stuff put away and I've been doing more laundry and keeping it out of the kitchen. We're also damp mopping the floors a lot more frequently. And it's not a strictly squalor related issue, but I'm getting a heck of a lot more exercise than I was 3 weeks ago!
Dog sleeping

As you might guess, years of dealing with animal waste had resulted in special pet tactics being developed. Sticking to routines was mentioned several times, as well as customizing the environment to protect surfaces from fur and splashes.

I've gotten a handle on simplifying the yak and hair covering everthing problem. I cleaned/vacuumed my upholstered furniture really well and then started putting bath towels on the back, arms, and cushions of them. It keeps the hair off the actually furniture and if one yaks on it, all I have to do is pull off the towel, dump the yak straight from the towel into the trash can and replace it with a fresh one. Periodically, I pull all of them off, replace them immediately with clean ones, and wash the dirty ones. It has cut down considerably on the cat squalor, plus, if somebody comes in, I can pull off the towels and they can sit on a nice clean couch.
I have a special broom and dust pan that I use only for yak. I finally realized my aversion to cleaning it up was that I didn't want to touch it. The broom/dustpan really helped to solve this problem. Now when one of them yaks, I sweep it into the pan, dump it into the trash, then wipe up what little residue is left with a paper towel and some spray window cleaner. We no longer have cat yak all over since I implemented this system. I don't obscess about it being in the trash nor do I worry about cleaning the broom and pan. Some folks might not like it, but for us, it's a hell of a lot better than having puke all over the floors all the time.
Now I am smarter........have covered their [rat cages] floors with easier to clean surfaces and made little bumpers to go around the edge so they don't kick out their bedding. Have covered back of cage with shower curtain so they don't splash anything on wall behind them. Was stripping cage down every morning to clean it but with the new flooring I can get them done in...........yes you guessed 15 mins.... Have also changed location of cage so they are not in a room with carpet. ( thinking smarter not working harder LOL )
We have also gotten better about emptying our litter boxes, too. It used to be they'd be overrun before we'd ever get to it. For the last 2 or 3 months, we've been making sure to empty and put in new litter once a week. We had stopped using the hoods awhile back, but have reinstituted them, and they cut down on a considerable amount of dust. Also, I've taken to using a large, heavy garbage bag as a drop cloth in front of the boxes. This has helped tremendously as it now catches most of the litter they shake off their paws when exiting. When we change the boxes, I just pick it up by the four corners, shake it out into the garbage can and lay it back down. This alone has cut down considerably on the scattered litter mess.

Given the challenges inherent in keeping pets, is it better to live pet-free as you try to overcome the challenges of keeping house? Some were thinking (or fantasizing!) about it, some were living pet-free, and others had tried it but since acquired more pets,

we currently have 5 cats and used to have a dog. While we love them dearly, it would be better squalor wise if we lived pet free. DH and I have a hard enough time looking after ourselves, much less 5 cats.
I still love animals, but now I just enjoy other people's pets, as I can no longer afford my own.
...she [cat] is 10 years old and won't live forever and I have decided that at that point I'm going pet-free. I'd like the freedom to up and leave town without having to make arrangements for the cat.
When we started the desqualoring, I made the very hard decision that the pets had to go. We had too many and I was not able to care for them properly. We found them all homes and spent the next few months pet free (except the bird).
ah, pet free!! I remember making this same statement...when my last dear, sweet Lhasa apso was 16 years old and on the decline. I even used to fantasize what it would be like to just pick up and go without worrying about the pets!

(The person quoted above now has seven pets.)

Thinking about getting another pet?

In the end, although all the responders loved and cared for their current pets to the best of their ability, almost everyone agreed that adding to the menagerie would complicate their efforts to free themselves, their families, and the pets themselves, from squalor.

I guess I would have to say that adding ANY additional responsibility and/or potential for squalor while you are actively battling it has got to be just asking for trouble. I would love to have another small dog, but I just won't do it until I feel I am able to keep on top of all my other housekeeping and family responsibilities before taking on more.
BUT...I would be very wary about bringing any other animals, particularly dogs, into the mix until I am completely sure the squalor monster is under control. People ask me all the time if I won't take this cute puppy or that adorable cat because "I live way out in the country so they wouldn't be a problem for me". Well, sorry, yes, they WOULD be.
Honestly, I would advise anyone who has squalor issues to refrain from getting a pet, if they don't already have one. They are sweet and loving, but alot of work and responsibility, especially for someone already having problems. I wouldn't get rid of mine, but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't get one, either.

On the other hand, if the squalor issues are firmly under control...

I was so missing having ratties, to the extent I had a tear in my eye when I saw them for sale... but I had to be realistic and put off getting anymore until I felt confident enough in my new found routines to know I could cope without spending half the morning seeing to them and that their presence would not take away my new found freedoms in the way of time. I have fitted them into my routine's and we are all happy.( Oh by that I don't mean I don't spend much time with them......just that I don't spend all day picking up mess and cleaning....we have lots of quality time, I have a little monster on my shoulder now LOL )

If I wasn't being successful in the maintenance stage I wouldn't have got anymore.

Cinnamon cockatiel
Lazy cat