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Outdoor Oasis

Nurturing a Pet-Friendly Environment Outdoors


AFTER A LONG, COLD WINTER STUCK INSIDE, the idea of getting out in the garden, out in the yard, just outside in general, is enough to make most anyone jump for joy – especially four-legged family members. Working in the yard together, improving the yard together may seem frustrating at times, but with a little imagination, some research into petsafe products, nontoxic pet-repellents and some patience, everyone can enjoy a landscaped yard, vegetable garden and outdoor play time with the joy and the security of knowing the whole family is safe.

Balancing pet play areas and pristine landscaping may seem like just a dream, but it can be a reality with some training, prevention and a little acceptance. Spring is a great time to consider changes that might help everyone enjoy the yard more. Consider areas where nothing grows because the dogs always run there – perhaps that twofoot space near the fence. Adding a permanent rock or hard-surface border may be the best bet. Planting dense foliage is another option – if you can keep pets out long enough for it to fill in. Most animals like room to move. Dense foliage isn’t fun so they may stay out.

It’s also a good idea to consider a more informal planting style. A natural, freeflowing landscape can endure a few broken branches without losing its charm. This can provide another advantage by creating additional shade for pets on hot days.

Unsightly bare spots or dangerous holes are other common problems for pet owners. To prevent digging in flower beds, try burying chicken wire just below the surface. Cover the area with mulch to improve the appearance. Dogs don’t like the feel of the wire, but it won’t hurt them either, and plants can still grow through the wires.

Another option is to create a special digging area just for a pet. Combine sand and mulch together, throw in some favorite toys and encourage your pet to dig in this spot. Use a consistent rock or other ornamental border around spots the dog or cat is not supposed to enter. Use positive rewards to train the animal to stay away from these spots and go back to the “approved” digging location. Over time, it can give you more control of the certain areas of the yard.

Pet-safe repellents can aid in the training process. According to an article by Master Gardener Helen Kirkup, most animals will avoid the smell of vinegar, ammonia, moth balls and Listerine. Of course, smells must be fresh to work. It’s also important to insure that dogs don’t eat the moth balls. Bristled twigs like raspberry branches spread on the soil around favorite plants may help prevent further inspection, but watch for thorns in paws the first time. Some plants, like scented geranium Mosquito, citronella plant and coleus canina may have repellent properties.

The idea of a plate full of home-grown corn on the cob, lightly buttered and salted, on the summer grill is enough to make many people’s mouth water. Others may grin at the thought of eating a fat tomato right off the vine. Of course, that’s assuming there are any ripe fruits to be had with pets around to take the first, and perhaps the last, nibble.

For the greatest chance of success in the garden, consider adding a fence or adding another pet-approved digging area inside the garden. Training pets to go to one area of a garden with a digging hole including favorite buried toys, or special plantings like catnip and cat mint, may keep them occupied and away from the human favorites. Of course, spring is a time when many savvy gardeners amend the soil in their vegetable garden to provide the best growing conditions for new plants. Soil amendments include aged manure, compost, specialized soil mixes and more. Many of these amendments contain animal manure, fish parts and other things that smell bad to humans but yummy to pets.

This is another good reason to consider fencing pets out of the garden. To keep pets happy, offer treats, and keep toys close by as well as a place to watch their favorite person work. Make the fence see-though instead of a complete privacy fence. This may actually make pets feel more secure reducing the chances of barking.

Pet deterrents or nontoxic repellents like those mentioned above may be another option in the garden.

For those who started 2012 with a new puppy, it may be best to visit area farmer’s markets this year instead of trying to garden on their own. Puppies love to dig. Waiting until the dog is more mature can make gardening a more successful experience for everyone involved.

Of course, all materials, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used by pet owners should be safe to use around pets. It is essential to read the labels of all purchased products for pet safety information. It’s also important to keep these chemicals separate from pet deterrents and other sprays that may be bad tasting but not harmful. Separate these products. This will help minimize chances of mixing spray bottles and potentially harming your pet. Keep pets indoors and off plants until the danger has passed. Also beware of yards and lawns on walks with posted fertilizer signs. Keep pets off these areas. Harmful chemicals can be collected on paws during walking and licked off later, causing digestive issues or other problems.

Pet-safe landscaping materials should be used to prevent cuts and other injuries. For instance, metal garden edging with a top cap can be dangerous. Top caps often fall off as they age or become exposed to weather. This can expose a sharp edge causing cuts to tender paws. Consider using metal edging with a rolled top edge or a variety of pavers, brick or plastic, that are easy on padded feet.

As temperatures warm, it is also important to remember that pets don’t have the allover cooling system that people have. Make sure water, shade and food are available at all times and keep poop cleaned from the yard. Both domestic and wild-animal feces may contain harmful bacteria. Keeping the yard cleaned regularly will prevent problems and illness.

Avoid plantings that may be poisonous to pets or cause stomach upset. This may seem like common sense, but the list of indoor and outdoor plants harmful to pets is extensive.

React quickly by calling your veterinarian if you see your pet acting oddly, salivating or wobbling, vomiting or stumbling. Bee and wasp stings may be painful to pets, even though the bites are difficult to locate. The best idea is to watch your pet for strange reactions and be ready to seek care if necessary.

For a list of toxic and non-toxic plants, go to: http://www.aspca.org/petcare/ poison-control/plants/.