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Green Acre #149: Doggie Dont’s

Step-dog Tallula probably can’t read, but she tries her best to respect the neighborhood flora. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

THERE’S AN ART to walking a dog in a city neighborhood like this one.

With a few grand exceptions, Washington’s Capitol Hill has narrow streets lined with row houses, most 100 years old or so where two SUVs trying to pass each other snort like bulls until one backs off.  

On some blocks the tree boxes along the sidewalk’s edge are cared for, one after the other a fireworks of flowers, as if there’s a competition. Massive rose bushes and tangles of day lilies.  A stand of peonies.

Many are also planted with yard signs about love and kindness, many quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. Down the block where Ryan Zinke, the unlamented former Secretary of the Interior lives, there are numerous variations on “Zinke Go Home,” even though he left that post months ago. It can’t be pleasant for him. This is a very liberal community.

Signs on Capitol Hill go way beyond simple “No Dogs” warnings. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Other blocks are hit or miss. Here’s a pretty one, there’s a patch of . . . dirt. We look for those patches of dirt, me and Tallula. Yes, Tallula is with us again for a few weeks as Baby and her Personal Prince Pete are traveling. Lisbon then Seville, where the sun is shining as I drag their sodden, mud-encrusted, 65-pound dog from tree box to tree box.

Trust them to find a Mexican restaurant in Spain. The menu Baby’s Personal Prince Pete posted on Facebook last night included nachos with the usual cheese, refried beans and guacamole, followed by “the same frikken nachos but with grilled chicken.” I wonder if Spaniards are better at Tex-Mex than the Salvadorans who rustle it up around here.

That was neither here nor there, but interesting, sí?

Back to the Hill and the quest for a spot to . . . go. The challenge is finding the uncared-for boxes and letting the dog loose, making a statement of sorts if you’re into gardening.

It’s not just the drippings and droppings that are of concern—though both are to flowers as beer is to slugs.* There’s also the scratching and tossing and itching and rolling that accompany canine evacuations, maneuvers that endanger tender stems just now emerging.

Some tree boxes will fool you, like the ones that line a stretch of pavement around the corner, planted with what look like hair plugs. This is a lawn that someone expects to happen. As a semi-known garden columnist, I realize this, even though the small rectangular plots have neither the typical wire hoop surrounds or the coy little iron signs with the pooping dog and NO! (It’s hard to make these tasteful and still make the point.)   

Such daring! I think to myself as I pass the plugs. Do they really expect people to understand that there is some gardening event going on and steer clear?

Of course, not even signs and hoops discourage some walkers, who appear to be openly hostile to flowers. “It’s public space,” they huff as Fido squats over a pansy.

Indeed it is: These curbside boxes are not owned by the residents of the homes they front but by the city. Fact is, even the entire front gardens of most if not all of our houses are owned by the city, which could exert eminent domain at any moment and install four-lane highways on every block to allow SUVs to pass one another without hostility.

However, that is no excuse for soiling soil that is clearly under cultivation. Such beautification projects are meant for us all to enjoy.

Then there are the cats. Someone said dogs have no memory, or maybe someone said I have no memory, I don’t recall. When it comes to cats, Tallula has a fabulous memory. There was one she saw maybe six years ago that has never reappeared, yet Lu will stop and stick her snout through the fence and wait, and wait, until I yank her leash.

Why do felines have license to roam, to taunt, leashless—hovering just outside the reach of paws, licking their nasty feet and grinning. I know they’re grinning. Mustn’t kill the evil cats.  

But back to crap.  I was grateful for this morning’s deluge as Lu had a bit of a bowel explosion. There was only so much I was able to scrape from the tufts of weed, depositing it in the handy plastic Washington Post bag that arrives each morning with the newspaper. A smear of brown was left amongst the green.

As I scurried off, hoping no one was watching, I gave thanks to Zephyros, god of rain, thunder and lightning, that this bit of effluvia would soon be washed away.

Leaving it for a flip-flopped foot exiting a car would be downright unneighborly.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

* Fun for kids: Fill a saucer with beer, drop in your slugs, and watch them shrivel like the Wicked Witch of the West!

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” urges dog-walkers to be as mindful as she is of little horticulture projects.

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