In the Garden:
New England
June, 2008
Regional Report

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When it comes to apples or most any other fruit or vegetable, Sophie would happily eat 5 A Day.

Gardening With a 5 A Day Dog

My yellow lab, Sophie, is very single-minded. She lives for food ... fresh or rotten, it makes no difference. She'll tear into a garbage bag if given half a chance, gorge until she makes herself sick, then do it all again the next time the opportunity presents itself (which isn't often, I assure you). She also happens to love fruits and vegetables. She used to make a beeline for the tomatoes or tomatillos or strawberries as soon as we let her outside. She stole more veggies than the deer, groundhog, and rabbits put together. So we fenced in that garden.

Then she developed a sudden interest in the blueberry patch. So we fenced that in, too. In fall when the apples ripen and drop to the ground, she snuffles through the leaves until she's found every one. Good thing she can't reach the sour cherries that are reddening now on dwarf trees, but I'll bet she's trying to figure out how to reach them.

I have a friend who adds her family's leftovers to her open compost bin and her dog pays it no attention. This amazes me. When my dog visits, she makes a beeline for the pile and nothing will distract her. It's in her bloodline, I guess. So it's no surprise that we have to enclose our food scrap compost in a plastic tumbler. But I recently had several yards of manure-based compost delivered, and this has proved to be Sophie's new favorite spot to sniff around. The other night she sampled some (the breath tells all), which means she can't be trusted around that either.

A Taste for Black Gold
Our efforts to contain her culinary curiosity are not just for our benefit. Danger lurks within many organic materials common in yards and gardens. I just read in the local paper about how more pets are becoming sick from their owners compost piles. A local veterinarian says his practice has seen an increase in compost-related illnesses this spring. Bacteria, fungi, molds, and yeast can produce toxins that can cause serious illness, occasionally death, in pets, especially dogs. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine cautions homeowners to keep all meat and dairy byproducts out of compost piles because of clostridial toxins, among others, that can cause serious illness or death.

Cocoa hull mulch is another common garden material that can present a hazard to dogs because of the theobromine and caffeine. Dogs are especially sensitive to these chemicals, which in low amounts can cause gastrointestinal distress but in large amounts can be fatal. According to the ASPCA Web site, ingesting over 5 ounces -- a couple of big mouthfuls, I figure -- can be dangerous. For some reason Sophie was never particularly interested in cocoa mulch but I stopped using it when I found out the risks.

Plant Hazards
Occasionally Sophie will chew a few blades of grass, which could be risky if we used any pesticides (we don't). There are quite a number of plants that are poisonous to pets; examples include azalea, foxglove, lily of the valley, rhododendron, rhubarb, and yew. Any poison control center can advise if your pet gets caught red-handed with a questionable plant.

Insect Snacks
My dog thinks June bugs and moths exist purely for her entertainment. Lying inside the screen door at night, she saves the house from those marauders by attacking the screen until her owners wise up and shut the door. Until recently I allowed her to catch June bugs for an after-dinner snack. Then I read about cicadas being harmful to pets because of their chitinous shells, and I figure June bugs might fall into the same category. The chitin is not digestible, so a quantity of bugs could cause vomiting and constipation. Another item scratched off the menu.

Even without the freedom to run free, Sophie manages to sneak forbidden fruit now and then. And, thankfully, dogs' stomachs can tolerate an incredible amount of disgusting detritus. Of course, her fixation on food has (supposedly) made training her easier. For a carrot stick dabbed in peanut butter, she'll follow us anywhere.


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