Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Dog-Friendly Back Yard

As I undertake the landscaping around our house, I'm trying to be very mindful of keeping the resident who enjoys the outdoor areas the most safe: Mr. Boone.

In case you're new here, Boone's the dog, not the husband.

Boone is the bright spot of every day and my best friend. I relish every moment I'm with him and am already sad at the thought that one day he won't be here. Now I want to go cry as I watch Marley and Me. That being said, I really want to provide Boone with the opportunity to enjoy a safe and secure yard everyday.

I bet most people are thinking any yard with a fence and a bowl of water is "dog friendly." You'd be wrong. In what is turning out to be a really discouraging sign for how I'll one day handle motherhood, I practically had a panic attack when I realized that gardenias, hydrangeas, and just about every shrub is considered toxic to dogs.

While we don't intend to leave Boone unattended in the backyard, the whole point of having a fence is to not have to keep such a close watch. I know the first time I catch him chewing on something, I will worry whether it's toxic and about "how toxic?" a toxic plant may be. Like just an upset stomach...or death... because there's a big difference. To avoid all that worry, everything has to be dog safe. Now my definition of dog safe may make some purist scream and send the PETA crew after me. But it's looking like a highly evolved state after the emotional journey I took to get here.

First, there was the initial stage of: "There will be no plants in our backyard. Let's look into AstroTurf." Like, who really wants beautiful green things and fresh air. Overrated if my little Booboise's safety is on the line.

That short lived silliness was followed by: "Our backyard will be 100% pet safe (not a single toxin)." I researched and researched and took my ASPCA plant list with me to Lowe's. I was sorely disappointed. I may have reverted back to Stage 1 for a few minutes. Every single plant I ever wanted or found appealing was toxic.

Finally, I tapped into my childhood and analyzed how my parents may have handled the situation. Now all the organic moms will start throwing BPA-free bottles in my direction. As a third child, I know a thing or two about lax parenting (and I wouldn't have it any other way, Mom and Dad). As it turns out, I grew to adulthood without any major damage. Through that comfort, I eventually reached the "good enough" stage that I'm at now.

I found a chart that lists plants that should be avoided by listing the severity of a dog's reaction to ingesting said plant. I don't know how this bad boy isn't everywhere, but I had to search high and low to find something like this and finally found it on an independent vet's website who's based in California. I warn you, this is about to get science-y. The amazing thing about this list, and the thing all other lists were missing, is it classifies any potential toxin as major toxicity (serious illness or death), minor toxicity (vomitting, diarrhea, upset stomach), oxalates (crystals in sap that can swelling, breathing difficulties, and "burning pain" when ingested) , and dermatitis (rash caused by sap, may be painful but not life threatening). Plants that fall into more than one category are listed as such. It's assumed that common plants not on the list are safe to pets, but the list is not all inclusive.

The list is crazy long, but here's a snippet so you can see how it work:

I'm using this list to guide for what can and cannot be included in our yard. Obviously, I'm aiming to find plants that aren't on the list at all (yay, roses!), but I'm filtering through the ones that may be safe enough. Anything that's not listed, I'm cross referencing my ASPCA list, which simply says whether a plant is or is not poisonous.

Anything that is majorly toxic or contains oxalates is 100% out of the question. It's just not worth risking it. If that's a chance you're knowingly willing to take, we can't be friends. I have a few hydrangeas I'll have to replant elsewhere before our fence goes up. Boone barely notices they exist, but it's just not happening.

Dermatitis is being taken under advisory, but it's not a deal breaker. It makes me comfortable that things rated as risk of dermatitis won't kill him, but I hate the idea that it's painful. I'm not in the business of preventing any and all pain, but I want to  avoid it as much as possible. I'm okay with these plants being in our front yard, where Boone will never be without supervision. I'm also considering these plants in our back yard, assuming they're in moderation and not particularly appealing to Boo. We have a couple of arborvitae (2,4) and he pays them no mind other than enjoying their shade.

Minor toxicity is not a big concern. We know that Boone has a very sensitive stomach so we have more than our share of experience with vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach. Not only has he gotten really good about controlling his...err...flare-ups...but it's an unavoidable fact in his life. Home-boy can't eat anything other than his sensitive stomach food and treats without getting the runs. Overshare, I know. Once again, I'm avoiding plants that may attract a lot of his attention and anything that obviously whets his appetite is out. The reason I have made peace with this one and only class of toxins (weird sentence alert) is because they are so prevalent; almost every shrub, bush, and flower I can think of falls into this category.

I feel confident that if Boone were to get a little two friendly with a minor toxin or dermatitis inducer, I could handle it with some basic pet first aid or get him to the vet if the situation escalated. The litmus test seemed to be will he die? Nada. Will he be in a lot of (unusual for him) pain? Nope. Might have a bad night? Okay.

For anyone interested, I have a whole heap of dog safety tips on my Pinterest board Boone's Page.

Disclaimer: While I'm know there are many other factors to consider for pets outdoors (shade, shelter, security, entertainment, human interaction, and general safety), this post is solely referring to my main concern at this point: landscaping. 

I'm fully aware that most dog owners do not have the convenience of planning their landscaping, from scratch, to accommodate the family dog. I'm not even suggesting you need to. I'm just saying that in my situation, there's no reason not to consider the dog's environment fully. We are starting from nothing and plan on having dogs for the rest of our lives. I also like to think, if our home's future owners are dog people, they will appreciate the consideration, although some will likely think it was unnecessary and others will say it's not far enough.

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