Our beloved pets need spaces where they’ll feel at home, too. Few know this better than Antonio Ballatore, the host of Animal Planet’s “Animal Cribs.”
Now in its second season, “Animal Cribs” follows Ballatore as he builds a variety of animal accommodations, including a den for dragons (of the bearded variety) and a bedroom for horses (so they wouldn’t demand to sleep in their owner’s bedroom—long story).
Each week, Ballatore works with a sharp team of “catsperts” and “barkitects” to transform drab, cramped homes and yards into functional, high-style spaces for both pets and the humans who love them.
“My team and I transform family homes into pet paradises,” he says. “We’re building for every animal you can imagine!”
Although Ballatore started out as a punk rocker by night, he turned to building and design to pay the bills. He became quite accomplished at it, winning the fourth season of HGTV’s “Design Star.” From there, he was tapped to host his own design and renovation show, “The Antonio Treatment.”
He took his English bulldog, Chewie, along with him on all of his design projects, and clearly adored creating spaces for the owners’ pets. So it wasn’t that much of a stretch when the producers of “Animal Cribs” approached him to be their host and designer, too.
On “Animal Cribs,” Ballatore aims to create harmony among the species in their own special living spaces—without breaking the bank.
“I’m all about taking what you have and working with the existing architecture,” he says. “I haven’t seen an unlimited budget since the early ’90s.”
Ballatore recently took time out of his busy building schedule to give realtor.com some tips on creating more harmonious habitats for your own furry/feathered/scaly friends. Even if you’re not creating an entire “Dawg Town” or “Python Playground,” as he’s done in the past, you’ll be able to pick up some slick suggestions to create your own pet paradise—for any shape, size, or species.
Don’t worry about resale too much
When considering creating a pet-specific living space, many homeowners ask, “But what will that do for the resale value of my home?”
Ballatore believes that pets are members of the family, and that “people should consider the best way for everyone to live so they can enjoy life together, while you’re there,” rather than be concerned about pleasing some unknown buyer down the road.
But make your pet areas human-friendly, too
“I love tapping into the family, how they live, what fits their lifestyle best,” says Ballatore. He thinks the best animal spaces are ones where both humans and pets can be comfortable together. So in one dry, dusty backyard, he not only created diversions for the dogs, but he also made a nice conversation area where folks can sit and watch the dogs at play.
“It’s about bringing the entire family together, not just having the dog outside. Everybody’s together, everybody’s safe, everybody’s chilling,” he adds.
But dogs aren’t the only pets this applies to. For goats, he’s created a tall tower with a ramp, so the adorable critters could see and be seen (they are indeed curious creatures). Even for snakes, instead of converting an entire large basement into a python paradise, he reserved one room for a stylish bedroom for one of the owner’s teenage sons, so he and his brother wouldn’t have to share a room with bunk beds anymore.
“People and animals are the same in that they need their own space,” he says.
Animals need enrichment
“One of the main reasons animals act up is that they’re bored,” says Ballatore. “The biggest mistake people make when thinking about their animals’ living conditions is not providing them with enrichment, diversion, something to stimulate them both physically and mentally. I think 90% of all behavioral problems stem from animals not getting the enrichment they need.”
The spaces he creates are always varied and intriguing, both for humans and animals.
Do your research
“Do research specific to the animal you’re working with,” says Ballatore. “What are the safe materials to use for different species? And get information from multiple sources, because everybody has their own opinions. Find out what’s specifically needed for your specific pets.”
For example, a surface that works best for dog runs might make a tasty but toxic treat for goats. For example, he says, they had to use special kiln-dried pine wood for a chinchilla enclosure, because some woods can be poisonous to the little guys.
“Do the same type of research you’d do for a baby nursery,” he advises.
The No. 1 priority is keeping your pets safe
You don’t have to create a big, fancy pet palace to keep your animals happy, but you do have to keep them in a safe enclosure where they can’t get out and wander into traffic. It should also be safe from predators.
“The first thing to do is mend all fences,” Ballatore says, adding that animals also need to be kept safe from the elements and extreme temperatures.
Make sure your surfaces are easy to clean
“Almost all animals love water features,” says Ballatore. But water can get stagnant and filled with algae if the wading pool or watering trough is not easy to drain.
“Make sure there’s a drain and a place for the water to empty,” Ballatore advises.
Then there are the caves and small spaces where animals like to burrow, which may be hard to reach to clean. Ballatore cleverly designed a series of doghouses so the tops came off and the owners could reach down inside to clean them, rather than having to attempt to shimmy inside.
Create multilevel spaces
There are very few species that don’t like some variation in their topography. Dogs, cats, goats, snakes, lizards, and birds all like to perch or climb or crawl up and down. Goats, in particular, like to climb to the highest surface, which is why goat yoga, during which these nimble critters climb atop of you, works so well.
In fact, “no one, not even humans, likes to be down on the ground all the time,” says Ballatore, who advises installing ramps, steps, raised beds, and other diverse surfaces in all of your animal areas.
Multitextured surfaces are also important
Ever notice how on hot days, your dog gravitates toward cool tile, shaded cement, or slick marble, while on cold days it likes to curl up on soft beds that retain body heat? There are other textures that are important as well.
Most species like to scratch their backs against something rough on occasion, whether it’s rolling on the grass, rubbing against a fence, or even wrapping themselves around a branch with rough bark.
And what cat owner hasn’t found out the hard way that the feline inclination is to use whatever is handy as a scratching post? Ballatore believes you should “provide all your pet’s favorite textures in their living spaces.”
Grass won’t grow? Try mulch
Dog owners are well aware that it’s difficult to keep lawns looking lovely when Fido is not only constantly digging them up, but also using them as a toilet. And every dog owner is well aware of the consequences of mud and dust being trailed into the house because the lawn has been reduced to a giant dirt patch.
Ballatore’s answer to this situation is simple: mulch—but not just any old mulch.
“Believe it or not, you can get dog-run-specific mulch,” he says. “The bigger barks are better for dog runs. Mulch in the back will also keep your house cleaner, because there’s no dust and mud to track in.”
“Animal Cribs” airs on Fridays at 9 p.m. on the Animal Planet channel.