at home: with a pet

When it comes to deciding which house to buy, it seems the dog has as much of a say as the family. One house-builder claims that three out of four people questioned admit they consider their pets when viewing a new home. They just won't budge without the budgie, or say `auf weidersehen' without the pet.

Rosalind Russell sniffs around the issue.

Despite all the fuss about "green" awareness, hardly anybody bothers to ask questions about environmentally friendly issues when visiting sales offices. What they want to find out is: will the cat like it?

When Crosby Homes was building Symphony Court in the centre of Birmingham, a canalside development with electronically controlled gates, private parking, high-quality kitchens and bathrooms and plush fittings, at least one buyer demanded more. A cat flap was needed to allow access to a patio balcony.

The problem for Crosby's engineers was the French doors leading to the patio: they are double-glazed, and it's too tricky to incorporate a cat flap. Cutting a space in the woodwork would have made it too low - the cat would have had to learn to limbo-dance. In the end, a core drill was used to fit a tunnel through the 18-in cavity wall and a cat flap was fitted at each end. They called it "Le Cat Tunnel".

Animal passions can run riot in interior design, too, from zebra, cowhide or leopard print cushions, pounds 18 each from Debenhams to the more cottagey Kitty Cats rug from the mail order firm Orvis. The circular, 36-in-diameter rug, showing a budgie's eye view of six cats sharing a bowl of milk, costs pounds 65.

More sophisticated - and more expensive - is the Skip hand-tufted wool rug, at pounds 460. It shows six abstract dogs on crochet-hook legs perambulating around a 60in diameter, and comes from the design store Purves and Purves, which also sells cow-shaped salt and pepper shakers that moo when shaken, price pounds 15 each.

Confused? Lie down and rest your feet on Shaun the Sheep, a 28-in woolly cushion with a pop-eyed stare, sooty black face and black legs, pounds 25 from Boots. And should the dog have his own music collection, The Holding Company sells CD holders shaped like Bonios, at pounds 5.95 each.

David and Kate Hicks Beach were on the point of buying a CD mail-order business when someone else moved in and grabbed it first. "It did sow the seeds of the idea of running a mail-order firm," says David, who had previously worked in farming.

When newly married, he and Kate, a classical singer, were keen to find a business they could run together from home. Hence, the Bones Dog & Catalogue was born, run from the couple's converted sawmill near Cirencester, in the Cotswolds.

Three years down the line, they find they have a steady market for cat- and dog-related accessories, from denim dog beds to bone-shaped silver cufflinks (pounds 34, for dog's best friend). One of their best sellers is a Forbes copper collar (pounds 11.75), said to relieve the pain of arthritis for elderly dogs and horses. The black Labrador Caspar, seen modelling the collar in the catalogue, belongs to the novelist Joanna Trollope who was, until recently, a next-door neighbour.

One of the other models, Mustard the Jack Russell - seen testing a terrier tunnel in the catalogue - is, sadly, no longer with us. He was run over while out courting. The terrier tunnel, however, at pounds 34.50, has been a huge success. Likewise the crinkle play bag for cats, price pounds 10.99.

David and Kate are preparing a summer brochure. Now they have a 15-month daughter, Lucy, life couldn't be better. "I really appreciate my child," says David. "We have friends who don't see their children all week while they're out at work. They may make a lot more money than me, but we have a wonderful quality of life."

Contacts: Debenhams (0171-408 4444); Orvis (01264 349500); Purves and Purves (0171-580 8223); Boots (0115 950 6111); The Holding Company (0171- 352 1600); Bones Dog & Catalogue (01285 750007).