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Shortly after I left the Air Force, my wife and I bought our first home. We were excited to have our own house and were eager to move in. We moved into the house in early April, 1997, coincidentally the same day there was a huge snowstorm that dropped almost 2 feet of snow on Massachusetts. I figured that's what we paid the movers for, and so I wasn't too worried about it.

No, the actual worry didn't start until about 2 weeks later when the snow melted. 2 feet of melted snow turned the back yard into a mud pit. That was okay by me, since I didn't intend to go out until it dried up out there. Unfortunately, our dogs didn't have the same self control. Out they went into the back yard to do the things dogs need to do, and then back into the house they came, covered in mud and soaking wet. It was okay though...they used the carpets, the curtains, and the funiture to dry off. The wife was not amused.

Since it rains and snows a lot in Massachusetts, and since we had no intention of turning our new house into a perennial pigsty for the benefit of our dogs, we sat around and tried to think of what sort of alternatives we could come up with. Leaving the dogs off in the woods of Maine to live with the wolves seemed inhumane. Teaching them to use a litterbox seemed impractical. Shaving them bald was an option, but the neighbors might think that was strange. We were rapidly running out of ideas.

Then it came to me...We had had a small chain link kennel in the yard of our house on the base. Now, that kennel didn't have a roof and it was really too small to hold both dogs comfortably for any length of time, but if we built a better one, we could solve all our dog problems in one fell swoop. Sure it would take a lot of time, but it would be worth it in the end and would give me the chance to buy all sorts of tools I would otherwise never have an excuse to buy. I presented the idea to my wife...

"You know, Hon", I said, "I could build the dogs a kennel."

"Umm, I'm sure you could dear", she replied. I sensed her doubt.

"Is there a problem with that idea?", I asked.

"Well", she replied, "I'm not saying you couldn't do it, but I would want it to look really nice, and it's not something you've ever done. Maybe we could just call a guy to do it."

There was that damned "guy" again, as if he had all the answers! Like the washing machine, I refused to let the "guy" get any credit for anything around my house. However, she had a point in that I had never done something like this before. If I pressed on and got in over my head, I would never hear the end of it. I needed an accomplice. Well, what I really needed was a fall guy who thought he was my accomplice. I knew just what to say...

"Well honey", I said, "I wasn't going to try to do it all myself. I was going to ask Marc to help me."

Marc was a friend from the Air Force who was also the best man at my wedding. My wife accepted him as an authority on construction because:

a) He had his very own tool belt
b) He was from rural Pennsylvania and wasn't all "citified"
c) His father had owned a carpet install business and that qualified as construction experience in my wife's book.

I didn't care what her reasons were, Marc was the right guy. He was a good friend and would be willing to help; my wife believed that he was Norm Abrams; and he was loyal enough to take the fall if things went badly. I couldn't lose.

"Oh well", she replied, "if Marc is going to help, I guess that could work" That stung a little, but I figured I had gotten what I wanted, so I should just let it go.

Marc came down that Friday night and sat with me to design the kennel over a couple of beers. In retrospect, the beers were probably a mistake. Let's just say that things look a lot smaller when you draw them on paper.

"So let's see", I said, "each dog should have his own 6'x12' run, and there should be a common area at the end of the runs like a shed, say another 6' long for the dogs and another 4' or so for storage."

"Okay", Marc said, opening another beer.

"Now the whole thing should be roofed to prevent the dogs from getting wet", I said.

"Okay", said Marc, taking a pull at his drink.

"Great", I said, "Now, we should plan on a concrete floor"

"Yep, I'm with you", said Marc. Things were going well.

"Okay", I said, "And we need to make it look like the house, so we should cedar side it..."

"Umm, What did you say?", he asked

"Ceder siding", I replied, "you make it look like the house..."

"you're going to cedar side a dog house?", Marc asked.

"Well yeah", I replied, "is that a problem?"

"Nope, it's your money"

"Good", I said, "and we'll need windows and a door to match the house as well"

"Wait a minute", he said, "You're going to put double hung windows in your dog house?"

"Well of course", I replied.

"you're going to put nice windows in a house for a dog?", he asked.

"Yeah", I answered, "It has to look like just like the house." Geez, sometimes he could be so thick...

He didn't say anything else, but he looked at me like I was soft in the head.

I guess at this point I should have payed more attention to his skepticism. He was after all from rural PA and his father did own a carpet installation business. Maybe it was the beer talking, but I figured I was going to do this thing and do it right. I wasn't going to skimp and then not be happy with the final result. I guess he figured since I wasn't asking him to pay for it, it was up to me if I wanted to squander all my money building a fancy place for a dog to live. In any event, he dropped it.

We drew up the plans on paper to figure out the materials list we would need. We decided to make the walls 8' high to save us from cutting every piece of wood we worked with. I hadn't really thought that all the way through, I guess, because we ended up with a "dog house" that was 12' wide by 22' long, with a roof height of about 12'. I could have used it as a third bay for my garage.

Well, that's okay, I thought. We're only going to do this once and we might as well do it right. I went to Home Depot to get the supplies. I was like a kid in a candy store. I bought just about every tool I could imagine and got all the raw material set to be delivered to my house. The one sticking point was the concrete floor. See, I hadn't really thought that through. 12'x22'x 9" is 192 cubic feet of concrete. That equates to over 350 bags. Handmixing 350 bags promised to be slow, painful, and messy. I broke down and called "the guy".

The guy came and laid the foundation for what came to be known in my neighborhood as the Taj Mah Kennel. The next day, the truck from Home Depot showed up and began dropping off the lumber, siding, windows, doors, fencing, and roofing that would make up the kennel. It took up a lot of space. I'll admit, I was a little intimidated. I think my wife could sense the lump in my throat because she started to have second thoughts as well. Fortunately, Marc came over that night to take stock and put together "the plan". His confidence helped my wife feel better. I was still intimidated. Well, I figured in a worst case, I would still have the tools, so this wasn't all for nothing anyway...

We got started early one Saturday morning in June. We figured we were looking at about 6 days work, or about three weekends. Had we known that we were really looking at 3 months work, we would never have hammered that first nail.

Anyway, if you have ever been around construction, you know that the early stages go very quickly and a lot of progress seems to be made. It's only later, as the detail work begins, that things slow to a crawl. I didn't really think about that, and so after the first day, I was pretty happy. The framing for all 4 walls was up and nailed together. I began thinking that maybe this wasn't going to take 6 full days...

My neighbor stopped by to see what all the ruckus was about. He looked at the building and seemed impressed.

"Did you pull a permit for that thing?", he asked.

GULP! Of course I hadn't pulled a permit. I was building a dog house. You don't get building permits for dog houses. Fortunately this neighbor was a good guy and since my lot was very private and you couldn't see the kennel unless you were standing in my back yard, I didn't see any trouble on that front.

"Think I need one", I asked.

"Yeah, I would think so", he laughed. "I've seen houses smaller than this kennel."

I resolved to go check out the mechanics of getting an "ex post facto" building permit. I went to the town hall on Monday and told them about my project.

"What are you building?", the building inspector asked.

"A dog house", I replied.

"Mister", he replied, "you don't need a permit for a dog house"

"Well sir", I said, "That's what I thought except it's a pretty big dog house"

"Uh-huh", he said, "well, I wouldn't worry about it. You just don't need a permit for a dog house."

That was good enough for me, but just to be safe I checked into what would have been required to get a building permit. I was told that I would need to get architectural drawings of the building drawn up, and that I would need to make sure it complied with the building code, incuding set backs from other structures.

Hmm, architectural drawings...that sounds expensive. Set backs...that doesn't sound so good either. See, one of the ideas behind the kennel was t make it easy for us to get our dogs in and out of it. As a result, we had built it right across the walkway behind the garage, no more than 4 feet from my house. Since the minimum setback was 20+ feet, and since I had already paid "the guy" a bunch of money to poor a foundation right next to the house, and since ripping up that foundation would be both expensive and painful, I decided to take the building inspector at his word - I didn't need a building permit. After all, I was only building a dog house.

We got back to work. Day after day, we hammered and sawed our way through the lumber pile Home Depot had delivered. Each new phase presented new challenges, which would have been troublesome, except they provided an opportunity to purchase additional tools. It seemed like a reasonable trade off - extra time for more tools and an education.

The work on the kennel took from the first week of June until the first week of October. I would never have believed it would have taken that long, but by the time I got done framing, cladding, siding, hanging windows, installing doors, roofing, painting, and stretching the chain link, a lot of time had passed.

Finally, the day came when the kennel was inhabitable. We put the dogs in their new daytime sanctuary. They loved it. The hay we had put down as a bed for them made their fur smell great and made the house smell great as well when they came in. The wife was impressed. Marc and I were very happy with what we had done. Even my neighbors came around to admire the building. I figured it had been a lot of work, but that it had been worth it. 4 months of effort would translate into a lifetime of having a safe haven for my dogs and a clean house, rain or shine. I basked in the warm glow of success, satisfied that the title "handy around the house" was now securely mine forever.

That lasted all of a year or so. See, about a year after the kennel was completed, I got a call with a job offer in Connecticut. The offer was too good by far to turn down, and that meant moving. I didn't see a practical way to move the kennel, and so we decided to leave it behind. The new owners planned to turn it into a changing house/cookout area for a pool they planned to install. Sounded good to me. Well, it sounded good right up to the point where the bank inspector came around. See, he had this concern that there was a large, unlicensed building on the property and wasn't going to approve the mortgage for the buyers until everything was brought into compliance with the local building code. That resulted in a visit from the building inspector. He remembered me...

"So this is what you meant by 'a big doghouse'? ", he asked.

"Umm, yup. It is a pretty big dog house, don't you think?", I replied

"Yeah, sure is...", he replied, "I think you have a problem."

uh-oh. My wife wasn't going to want to hear this.

"Problem?", I asked, "What problem? After all, you don't need a building permit for a dog house, remember?"

"hm-hmm, anyway like I was saying, you have a problem.", he replied, "you can either tear this thing down, or attach it to the house."

Tearing it down wasn't really an option. It represented 4 months of effort on my part and was the living testament to my handiness, even if I was moving 100 miles away and would never see it again.

"Attach it to the house, you say?", I asked. "what do you mean?"

"Well", he said, "if you attach it to the house, then it isn't an out building anymore and it would be in code."

"Done!!", I replied and headed off to Home Depot. I came back with all the materials I needed and extended the kennel roof to the roof of the garage. The new owner didn't seem to care, so the problem was solved.

So we moved to Connecticut, leaving 4 months of my life behind to be converted to a pool house and consigning my dogs to a wet, muddy existence in the Nutmeg State.

It wasn't all bad, though. I still have an awesome set of tools.

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