Keeping pets safe in your garden

By Jennifer E. Beaver

Last night, I was awakened by the faint but unmistakable odor of skunk– probably the same one my neighbor saw walking boldly down the street, strutting like Pepé Le Pew. A few weeks earlier, we heard the shrieks and chitters of happy raccoons as they discovered the fish emulsion-soaked soil in my backyard raised bed. All this in an urban garden in one of the most populated cities in the country.
Aside from the occasional odd nocturnal smell or sound, however, I’ve had little garden trouble from critters. I attribute much of this to the vigilance of Snap and Crackle.
Alert readers will remember Snap, my feline gardening companion, from my last column. His sister, the petite Crackle, assists in gardening duties but prefers to sun herself spread-eagled on the grass or driveway– a position that has often prompted my husband and me to comment that we were glad we didn’t have a daughter. Before you ask, I’ll mention that yes, we did have Pop as well– but he went off to live with a neighbor when the sound and fury of a remodeling project became too much for a sensitive kitty to bear.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that my cats are a match for the wild critters. But I do believe their continuous patrol helps deter some interlopers. Once I explained their guard duties to Snap and Crackle, they delivered three mice in quick succession.
From the beginning of civilization, cats and dogs have offered protection for home and hearth. Modern gardens, however, hold dangers for our pets that can cause illness or death. Cocoa mulch, for example, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or neurological symptoms if ingested. Many baits contain metaldehyde, a crystalline compound that poisons snails and slugs and harms pets as well. If your pet drools or has tremors and seizures, this may be the culprit. Pesticides of all kinds require conscientious handling. Remove pet dishes and toys before treating your lawn or garden with pesticides. In his “Ask the Vet” column (, Dr. Ray Cahill suggests keeping pets away from treated areas for 24 to 48 hours. If they’re exposed, bathe them in cool water.
Want to know which plants and bulbs are toxic to pets? Check out For pets and plants to coexist peacefully, plan in advance. Even some favorites, such as tomatoes or other nightshades, can cause problems. Consider planting in high-sided raised beds to keep your both your pets and plants safe.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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