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A tribute To A One-of-a-kind Garden Dog

...Pee on plants? He wouldn't dream of it
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

Visit her website at

November 17, 2002

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Teddy last Christmas with my father-in-law, Ray Cunnington.  

Dogs have a reputation - often deserved - for being hard on gardens, crashing through planting beds and peeing on everything in sight. But for years I had the perfect garden dog - sadly he died at age 12 last spring at the height of daffodil season. Teddy was a small blonde one-of-a-kind mixed breed with floppy ears. He was smart, affectionate and oh so touchable. He had the brightest smile and the neatest turned-up feather boa of a tail. And, unlike most dogs, Teddy could purr (though a cat might scoff at that claim).

In his puppy days, Teddy kept me company while I lived in a cabin in cottage country, accessible in winter by snowmobile only. He and I travelled frequently by plane to Northwestern Ontario, where my husband was working at the time. He flew in jets and bumpy two-prop planes without complaint. He loved boat rides and tolerated noisy snowmobile rides. But when we moved to Hamilton, Ont., he turned into a remarkably fine city dog, hardly needing his leash for walks.

Best of all, when I took up gardening, he was naturally garden savvy. No digging in the beds for him, and he quickly learned what "out of the garden" meant, disobeying only if a neighborhood cat had the nerve to drop in. But Teddy's best garden trait was this: he never lifted his leg on a plant in my garden.

How he figured it out I don't know, but I suppose the notion that peeing on plants was not a good thing occurred to him as he watched me dig, plant, transplant, prune and otherwise fuss over plants. For Teddy, the appropriate lift-your-leg spot was the lawn, not trees, not shrubs, not flowers. While we lived in the city, this self-imposed rule seemed to extend to our garden only. On other people's plants, particularly if they were close to the sidewalk, he did the usual male dog routine, adding his calling card to the rest.

But when we moved to 10 acres in the country, his fastidiousness spread to include the neighboring tree farm, our daily walking destination. He never lifted his leg on acres of trees, nor at the golf course across the road where we enjoyed so many wonderful walks in the last winter of his life. I'm sure he considered all the neighboring trees as part of a giant country garden we presided over. Over the years, I became so used to this lovely behaviour that I'm now put off when I see canine barbarians letting loose on plants.

The garden job Teddy performed with utter devotion was squirrel patrol. In the city, old phone lines stretching high over the back fence served as a squirrel overpass. Teddy was such a fierce squirrel chaser, they knew enough not to set foot in our garden. Thanks to him, I never lost a single tulip to the bushy-tailed menaces. These days, my in-laws who live and garden at our old address, complain that the cheeky creatures frequently dig things up and bite the heads off flowers.

Teddy chased squirrels almost to his last day, though in his senior years he was mostly a happy couch potato. But even curled up on the sofa, he kept an eye out for his enemies congregating at our old walnut tree. We had a routine: I'd be sitting at my desk working, when I'd hear an unmistakable half bark, half growl from the living room. This was my signal to run to the study door and throw it wide open so my squirrel patroller could barrel through unimpeded.

We've dug scores of planting holes for trees on our property, but burying Teddy was the toughest digging job we've ever had to do. His resting spot is by a handsome pin oak, one of the first trees we planted after moving to our country property. This fall I surrounded the oak with daffodil bulbs. In the springs to come, I hope they will naturalize and continue to bloom for us in fond remembrance of Teddy and all the seasons of joy he brought us.

Yvonne Cunnington is still trying to teach her new barbarian, a handsome white husky-collie cross called Toby, not to pee on plants.

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