by Shraddha Balasubramaniam & Christina Caughey
The turn of the 21st century brought countless innovations and changes to the world. One of most noticeable differences is the evolution of the family unit. The nuclear family – consisting of a pair of adults and children – has ceased to exist as the standard. Something that has remained constant, however, is the ownership of pets: “It is estimated that more than 50% of American households own at least one pet”.1 To put this number into perspective, “in the United States there are over 72 million dogs and nearly 82 million cats”.2 Animals have grown to become an integral part of many family units, and like any important family member, they also require special treatment and protection in the kitchen. Therefore, we believe that kitchens of the future should integrate the unique needs of our furry companions.
Pet ownership is nothing new: “The pleasures of dog [and cat] ownership are certainly evidenced by the popularity of pet dogs in the human population. Such a relationship with dogs [and cats] started with their domestication in Mesolithic times”. 3 We can trace pet ownership back for hundreds of years in various cultures throughout the world. Years of research have detailed many benefits to owning a pet: “Our political economy includes a multibillion-dollar service industry that provides veterinary medical care, food, breeding, and assorted paraphernalia. Pets provide pleasure, companionship, and protection, or the feeling of being secure. Pet owning decreases blood pressure and increases life expectancy for coronary patients. Pets provide an excuse for exercise and a stimulus to meet people. They help children learn to be gentle and responsible; they help young couples prepare for parenthood; and they give their owners the pleasure of having children without some of the parental responsibility. Pets help people to deal with the loss by death of a friend or relative. Not least of all, pets are useful in many kinds of psychotherapy and family therapy”. 4 The list goes on and on.
Bringing animals into the home has brought countless benefits. But it is important to be aware of health risks they may present: “Improper handling of pets, along with improper hand hygiene, was identified as the primary risk factor for the majority of pet-associated infections. In numerous outbreaks, disposing pet waste and water in kitchen sinks was consistently identified as a cause of human infection, representing an additional source of bacterial exposure for food and kitchen surfaces”. 5 A look back at past and current practices in the kitchen will help guide designers to make better decisions.
In the past, animals were treated very different from the rest of the family. Animals were exclusively kept outside. There, they would eat, play, and go to the bathroom. Dogs and cats were treated nearly identical to farm animals. They were typically not permitted in the home. (Although some people continue to feel this way– overall acceptance into the home has greatly increased.)
Years of domestication led to the outdoor doghouse and a domesticated style of eating and drinking from bowls and plates. Here we see a distinct raise in status for pets with more “human-like” treatment. With this came the advent of pet paraphernalia – items that are made exclusively for use on animals.
Shortly thereafter – animals were completely welcomed into the home. For many, especially in larger cities and apartments – the lines between “human” and “animal” boundaries are blurred. There are as many varied levels of boundaries as there are pets. Some people cannot imagine sharing their bed with an animal – while others simply cannot imagine sleeping through the night without their furry companion.
For some, the importance of total family integration has already translated into custom solutions in the kitchen. These solutions include unique storage for food and water, interactive toys and integrated nooks for lounging out of the way for pets to feel like they have their own space within the kitchen. Some owners go so far as to even keeping their pets engaged by installing little play areas like tree houses for cats to climb and dog kingdoms for their pets to keep themselves busy when they are immersed in some serious cooking.
The future of pet friendly kitchens: A kitchen within a kitchen
The future in kitchens could combine the human sensibilities of the past with the technology of the future to create a kitchen within a kitchen for our pets. Here, pets can cater to their needs in a timely fashion that would reduce the dependency factor on the owners. Key areas in which the kitchen design would have a huge impact on the lives of homeowners are:
- Feeding/Water Supply
- Waste Management
- Feeding/Water Supply – like humans, animals have to eat and drink to stay alive. Unfortunately, in our fast paced lives – getting home in time to feed our pets can be difficult or impossible on some days. To ensure that our pets do not bear the brunt of our busy schedules, one of the prime advancements in the pet friendly kitchen of the future would be automated food distribution and water replenishment. In today’s tech friendly world, we have apps for everything. We currently have the ability to monitor our home and control the central air. Similarly, homeowners could schedule recurring feeding times for their pets or even activate a feeding at a moment’s notice with just the touch of a button. This would not only provide consistency in their pet’s routine – which is crucial to training but also allow the homeowners more amount of flexibility in their own schedules by not having to rush home to feed their pet.There are a few companies that are already catching on to this idea. Maitre D’og is a device that prepares food and water at programmed intervals throughout the day. We would like to take this a step further to have similar devices built into the cabinet that could be programmed and controlled from remote locations by home owners, which would thereby create a product that is a complete combination of both form and function.
- Waste Management – As discussed earlier, disposing of animal waste in the kitchen can be rather unpleasant. No owner wants the lingering smell of waste in his or her kitchen. A kitchen composter is a great way to contain the smell – and make good use of it. Kitchen composters can be small and built into the cabinet.
- Entertainment – It is important to remember that although we have pets for our own emotional support and entertainment, they still need to be occupied when we’re not around. They constantly love to play with things we don’t want them to touch and find the need to share whatever they see us using. One way to keep pets entertained would be to have interactive toys that could engage bored pets from exploring human devices. These toys for pets could be anything from a game of ‘fetch’ for dogs, or popping a little treat if they are well behaved, all commands programmed to sound like the voice that they want to listen to- their master. If our pets are occupied – there is much less of a chance that they would be getting into trouble.
- Communication – During our research we discovered that many pets suffer from separation anxiety when their owners leave the home. In todays world pets are like partners to some individuals, and like any companion, they too need reassurances to remind them that we care. Side effects of separation anxiety often lead to destructive behavior. Although nothing compares to genuine physical human interaction, pets can greatly benefit from the face-to-face and audio connection that can be provided by a simple video chat program.The world that we live in today can be fast paced as well as incredibly lonely. Pets give many of us incredible levels of joy and comfort in our lives and form such an integral part of our home that these tiny humans need their own world within our world. We believe that creating this support structure for them would not only create better environments for them to thrive in, but also introduce them to the technology that influences such a big part of our lives today. This idea not only creates a shift in human-pet interaction but also paves the way to pets being more independent when it comes to their basic needs. We believe that simplifying these basic needs in caring for our pets will provide our clients with a much more relaxed, richer and wholesome experience within their homes
- 1. Rabinowitz PM, Gordon Z, Odofin L. Pet-related infections. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(9):1314-22.
2. American Animal Hospital Association. Market research statistics – U.S. pet ownership. Washington, DC: AAHA; 2007 [cited 2011 Oct]; Available from: http://www.avma.org/reference/marketstats/2001/ownership_2001.asp#companion#companion.
3. Macpherson, C. N. L.. Dogs, zoonoses, and public health. New York: CABI Pub., 2000. Print. 67
4. Shell, Marc. “The Family Pet.” Representations 15.Summer 1986 (1986): 121-153. Jstor. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
5. Smith, Angela, and Yvonne Whitfield. “Household Pets and Zooness.” National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health January (2012): 1-31. Print.
Friis RH. Essentials of environmental health. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2012.