In the Garden with Simon and Rosee

I thought since I had reviewed a pet product for the backyard this past week I would continue the theme of achieving backyard feng-shui with dogs. Plus, I wanted to write a happier post because sometimes it can be so easy to get caught up in the negative experiences of life, and it’s important to remember the simple pleasures. Also, Earth Day was this past week and what better way to celebrate than to talk about nature.

Now, I have to admit that gardening has never been a favored past time of mine. I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I don’t care for bugs, or getting dirt beneath my fingernails. However, after having dogs, particularly big dogs, learning to love the outdoors has been a must. I think I’ve adjusted pretty well as I now look for interesting and fun places to take Simon and Rosee. During the week we all go on daily walks, but over the weekends it can be nice to go somewhere different. Luckily, there are a few nearby trails that we can go to and walk or hike, and we live fairly close to the Sacramento River where we like to take Simon and Rosee when it’s warm so they can swim. Well, Simon likes to swim, and Rosee likes to splash along the edge. Being outside is one of the main places Rosee and Simon like to be. They love to bathe in the sun, stretch out in the grass, and take naps in the sand (when we spend a day at the beach, of course). As a result, I knew our backyard needed to be dog-friendly. At the same time, the backyard did need to at least look appealing for humans because it’s still our backyard after all. Fortunately, my mom loves gardening and took charge.

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As you can see we tried the whole gardening thing when Simon was a puppy.
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Simon eventually tore up all the plants and was left with only dirt and rocks. This was only a few months later too.

The first order of business when it came time to create a dog-friendly backyard was to put in grass. Originally, our backyard did have grass, but after years of redoing and rearranging things we were left with barely any grass. Then once we adopted Simon it was decided that it would be easiest to put all new sod down. Now, it might seem easy to put sod down, particularly given the size of our grass area. The truth is that this past fall we put down sod in our backyard for the third (and hopefully final) time. I do have to say though, that the reason the past attempts at trying to grow grass in our backyard had nothing to do with the dogs. The first time the sod never quite took to the ground, and the second time grubs developed. Fortunately, the grass seems to be doing well this time around, which is good since it is the main place Rosee likes to lay while we play fetch with Simon.

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The second concern to address was greenery. Finding the right plants and flowers to put in the backyard can be a bit tricky when there’s dogs involved. Mostly because Simon and Rosee have a tendency to sample the greenery, and therefore it became important to ensure that any plants we put in were dog-friendly. There is a list on the ASPCA website of safe and unsafe plants for animals. Personally, I find this site and the list sort of confusing and somewhat difficult to navigate, and mostly end up searching for a few more websites/posts/blogs that offer relevant answers. Yet, it is there. Hopefully, someone else will have better luck with it than I have had. Originally, simple plants like pansies, impatiens, alyssum, and rose moss were planted, and they seemed to do well. They were hearty enough to stand up to the dogs walking on them, and looked pretty. We also tried planting some basic shrubbery, but those never quite worked out so well. Rosee had a tendency to continually chew on these plants, and Simon liked to encourage this habit of hers by digging them up. It’s quite funny now that I think back on it, although at the time I was far from laughing. Nevertheless, through trial and error we found which plants worked (by that I mean which plants Simon and Rosee left alone) and which ones didn’t.

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Rosee loves to eat these blooms.

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The next concern, let’s call it the 2.5 concern because it developed as a result of the second concern, was how to protect the plants from Rosee and Simon. The dogs enjoyed digging up and eating the plants, and if they weren’t doing that they would run over them when they were playing. I know I did say that the plants we chose were pretty hearty and stood up to the dogs’ giant paws, but we still wanted a way to keep the dogs out of the plants the best we could. Initially, we put everything in pots so that the dogs couldn’t actually step on anything. However, this didn’t stop them from digging up the plants. Enter: the wall.

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The wall was an idea that we got from an outing to our local Orchard Supply Hardware one day last summer. It’s made out of cinder blocks, and steps down to an opening in the middle. We decided to build up the wall three blocks high so it didn’t completely block the view of the plants and it was low enough so someone could sit on it as well. The wall is a pretty awesome addition to our backyard because not only does it keep the dogs out of the plants, but it looks beautiful and it helps showcase our plants.

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While we do have some planters (made out of leftover cinder blocks) that run along the side of the walkway, the main area of plants is that corner, which is now made into a focal point with the help of the wall.  Most recently, we had to put in the front gate because Rosee liked to run through the middle for fun. I swear she grinned every time she did it.

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The fourth and final concern to address was to find pieces of furniture that was comfortable and useful to humans, but usable by the dogs as well. There is a swing for the humans, and two dog houses for the dogs. IMG_1600

A gazebo was added for some much needed shade, and two giant utility boxes were put in for storage, although they now serve double duty as the dogs like to sleep on top of them in the afternoon.IMG_1639

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We used to only have one box, but Simon would cry every time Rosee was on it and so we had to get a second one. At least now we have more backyard storage.

So there it is: a journey through our backyard. It’s taken a few years of experimenting and experiences to get things right and an awful lot of replanting the plants that Rosee and Simon decided to dig up, but ultimately I love our backyard and so do the dogs.

Living In a Whole Other Dog Park

When my family adopted Pit Bull mixes I guess I was a little naïve. I expected to feed, train, and care for two great dogs. I expected to be happy, frustrated, hurt, cuddled, kissed, splashed, stepped on, and so many other wonderful things. I expected to love and be loved so unconditionally that little else could ever compare. I was and still am right, of course. Owning a dog is an extra-ordinary experience that is full of ups and downs, leaving little to the imagination. Seriously, having to sort through dog doo-doo and not hyperventilating does wonders to your self-confidence. However, as great as having dogs has been, I have to admit having Pit Bulls has been an eye-opening experience; one that my naivety (lessened over the years by mean girls and meaner teachers) could not have adequately prepared me for.

You see, owning a dog is one thing, but owning a Pit Bull lives in a whole other dog park. You get stares and scared faces and even nasty comments. Veterinarians refuse to do exams and regular people cower as you walk by, on the other side of the street.

That face will undoubtedly haunt my dreams!
That face will undoubtedly haunt my dreams!

One incident, many months ago, was one of the nastiest I have ever encountered. While out at a local park one morning Theresa and I had stepped into a small grove of trees because Simon wanted to poop there. As Theresa made Rosee sit and wait, and I had Simon and his leash wrapped around my legs while I attempted to pick up his waste we were suddenly bombarded by a woman. Without warning this woman walked through the small grove we were in, loudly exclaiming that she just loved to walk in the shade! Um. . . except that the little shade was currently occupied by two people and two dogs that took up said space, leaving no room for her. To make matters worse this woman just pushed herself in between Theresa and myself, waving her elbows around. To say she scared not only the dogs, but us humans is to put it lightly. Rosee immediately jumped up in hopes of jumping back to put space between herself and this woman, but in such a small space to begin with there was nothing Theresa (who was holding her) could do other than to lean into the bushes with Rosee. Simon, thankfully, had wrapped his entire leash around my legs and so was forced to stand right next to me, as I with a bag full of poop in my hands scrambled to step back and out of this woman’s way. The entire episode lasted maybe twenty seconds, but is something that I will always remember with the utmost clarity, and unfortunately it did not end there.

Theresa was pretty traumatized by this woman’s actions and having to quickly shield Rosee from getting upset, so we switched dogs (I was now walking Rosee with Theresa leading Simon) and headed towards our car. However, I needed a minute to go through the many stages of anger, so we decided to sit on the grass next to our car. Next thing you know this woman starts walking towards us yelling at us that we needed to put a muzzle on our dog, spewing nothing but hatred and misconceptions at us. Rosee for her part sat on the grass with me and simply barked at the crazy woman yelling at us. Theresa, over her trauma, took Simon and walked after the woman telling her that she should be more considerate and not just ambush strangers’ dogs. This woman quickly proceeded to walk away. Needless to say, we have not been back to this particular park, not because our dogs did anything wrong, but because neither of us knows how to just let go of the bad taste this experience left in our mouths.

The water has successfully been liquefied.
The water has successfully been liquefied.

But parks are not the only places full of intolerance and misguided fear. A veterinarian we took Rosee to last year took one look at her, became frightened and refused to perform her physical exam, even after I put a muzzle on her. I called their bluff when they tried to make me pay for the exam, they protested that without it they couldn’t prescribe her any heartworm medication. I reminded them that it was the veterinarian that refused to touch Rosee, not Rosee’s own refusal to be touched. I got the heartworm medication.

Certainly, I make no excuses for my dogs’ behavior. I have explanations. I can tell you why Rosee gets nervous around people and dogs, and that we are diligently working on it and she is getting better. I can explain that Simon loves people, but hasn’t learned all his manners yet (he still jumps) and again, we work on it as much as possible. I can tell people that my sister Theresa and I always make sure to have complete control of our dogs when we take them out into the world, and our evidence is the fact that they have never hurt anyone or anything. They are good dogs, just like the million other good dogs (Pit Bulls or not) that exist in the world. They are not perfect. They are not terrible. They are good. Simon and Rosee don’t deserve for misguided people to heap upon their shoulders stereotypes and singular stories about dog attacks and dog fights. Simon and Rosee and all the other good Pit Bulls in the world don’t deserve to be labeled for offenses they did not commit.

It's the monster of W. . . oh wait, it's just Simon.
It’s the monster of W. . . oh wait, it’s just Simon.

I was naïve in thinking that my dogs were just dogs. They are Pit Bulls. Rosee’s face gives her away quite easily, and most people look at Simon and call him a Staffordshire Terrier, which is just a more eloquent name for Pit Bull. They get treated like Pit Bulls, sometimes for the better, most times for the worse. You know something’s wrong with the world when your dog (Pit Bull) gets attacked by another dog, yet that dog’s owners are afraid of you and yours.

In fact just two mornings ago the four of us were out on our daily walk. We stopped at a crosswalk, looked both ways, crossed the street, and were promptly greeted with a mean, snarling, barking little black dog that had just escaped from its backyard’s broken fence. This dog went for the face, biting and lunging. I pulled Rosee (who had frozen in shock) back, grabbed her collar, and pulled her through the opening between two parked cars to the other side of the street. Theresa, who had Simon, pulled him back, but with the attacking dog still pushing forward into Simon’s face space she too had to drag him across the street. Finally, did the owner come out and grab his dog. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Simon and Rosee did not get bit and a car didn’t hit us on our haste to get away. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a sorry. No admission that his dog did something wrong. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Nothing. All we were left with was upheaval, fear, and anger.

Now, as you may know (whether from personal experience or other stories from me) these experiences and their following feelings are nothing new. I didn’t scream at the world. I didn’t cry at the injustice. I didn’t stomp my foot. I gathered my wits, my dogs, my sister, and moved on. But I have to tell you, I’m tired. I’m tired of dealing with other people’s stereotypical beliefs, of not being told “sorry” after attacks, of simply not having my dogs treated like dogs. Let’s face it, I’m tired of writing stories headlined “Guess who attacked us this month?”! The world can be a wonderful place, full of happy people and nice dogs. I’d rather write stories about that, but I have Pit Bulls. I bring my Pit Bulls out into the world. I walk them, I take them to parks, and I bring them around people. Doing such activities brings the stereotypes, misconceptions, scared stares, and nasty words.

Take that pesky bugs!
Take that pesky bugs!

Bright side? When the dog attacked us that morning Rosee and Simon did nothing. They just stood there. They let Theresa and I pull them away. They continued with their walk. In that one moment of time they were perfect. That moment, whether anyone else saw it or not, is enough to let me know that every mean word, every bad rap about Pit Bulls simply isn’t true.

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