Homemaking: Pet detective picks up scent of cold case
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Toward the end, last year, our poor elderly West Highland terrier, Harry, became less discriminating about where and when he relieved himself. Every once in a while, we'd let him out and he'd pee in the yard, but most often, he preferred to drag himself out of his dog bed and go right in the middle of the living room rug, sometimes as we watched in horror.
All fall, I kept the rug cleaning machine in the corner of the living room and at least once a week would shampoo the carpet. After I took Harry to the vet for the final time, I wiped a tear, came home, shampooed the rug and thought that was that.
That was pretty much that, until spring came and with it, warm humid weather. Suddenly, all that dormant dog pee reanimated itself, and our living room started smelling like the New York City subway system during a heat wave. I got out the trusty rug machine, hit the power scrub button and cleaned the rug again.
Two days later, the smell was back. It would hit at odd times. I'd be sitting on the sofa watching TV and suddenly an odor would waft past that would make my eyes roll back in my head.
Memorial Day weekend, we had a three-day heat wave with no rain in sight. I carried the carpet out onto the driveway, soaked it with a hose and used the rug machine to suck all the water out. Then I did it again, using vinegar and water. Then, I cleaned the rug a third and fourth time with carpet shampoo. When we got it back in the house, everything was fine, until the first humid day, then ... bam, it was back with a smelly vengeance.
Any sensible person would, of course, throw the rug out and start fresh. We spent a lot of money on this particular rug, though, something we don't usually (ever) do, and my wife liked the way it looked, so her solution was to move it out of the living room into the dining room. We really only use the dining room twice a year, she argued, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it wouldn't be so noticeable.
The problem is that I actually do my writing, including this column, in the dining room. Because I was spending so much time soaking up the atmosphere, I started to read up on dog pee on the Internet. Turns out when a dog goes on a carpet and it dries, it leaves behind urea crystals. Urea crystals are tough customers, clinging to the carpet fibers, and every time they get wet, even from humidity, they come back to life and emit a foul odor. If you could find the actual pee spot, though, you can buy an enzyme spray that neutralizes urea. And the way to find the pee spot, the Internet said, was with a black light.
I was intrigued. I assumed black lights were solely for use by awkward teenagers who want to look rebellious without actually being rebellious. But black lights are also, it turns out, what CSI types use at crime scenes to make biological evidence (don't ask -- I mean it) glow.
This sounded cool. My 16-year-old daughter and I drove to the store and bought a black light bulb. When we got home, it was too bright out for the bulb to make anything show up, so I ran upstairs and grabbed a comforter off a bed. We put the black light bulb into a desk lamp and we got on our hands and knees under the comforter, and crawled around the room looking for pee spots.
We discovered two things. First, a black light doesn't work as well as the Internet says it does. Nothing glowed under there except, strangely enough, my daughter's braces. Second, if a peed-upon rug smells bad when you're walking through the room, if you crawl down close to the rug, with a comforter over your head, on a warm day, with a light heating the whole thing, it's overwhelming. At one point, my daughter got a little dizzy, and I thought she'd topple over on her side in a faint. It would be embarrassing to explain to the EMTs what happened to her. We gave up.
The carpet's too expensive to toss, so I'm guessing the pee wins out. I'll keep writing the column at my old spot, somewhere near the pee spot, in the dining room, but on humid days, it might be a little late getting to my editors. It's hard to type with one hand while holding my nose with the other.
First Published June 9, 2012 12:00 am