And Then You Win:  A Brief History of the Dog-Free Zone (Dog's Little Acre)

Editor's Note; Rifling through the files The Planet found this vintage Bob's little Acre and could not resist rerunning it because it was Rosie's writing debut. Readers who enjoy her work can find more by clicking Columns, then Advice, in the Navigator.

The Alpo Lady had made the front flowerbed luxurious, finely pulverizing the dirt to a depth of 12 inches and then, as if that weren’t soft enough, covering it with another foot of fluffy hay. The only thing that would have made it any nicer would have been a partially decayed opossum. But Alpo doesn’t go in much for carrion and anyway you can’t have everything. So I pushed the hay around a bit to make a dog-sized depression, dug up some fuzzy plants that were making a dent in my side, and settled down for a snooze in the sunshine.

It was not to be. No sooner had I entered the REM state, where I was just at the point of dispatching the rabbit I had pursued successfully – a consummation only too rare during waking hours – than my dream was shattered by Alpo’s piercing shrieks:

“My petunias!”

She was keening over the fuzzy plants as if they were corpses. It could be argued at

this point they were. “Did you do this, Rosie?”

I tried looking innocent but it was no good; I could feel the telltale dirt hardening into a

brown ring around my nose. Well, how was I to know she was saving them for something special?

“Get off!” she shouted. “Bad dog!”

I slunk away, affronted. The situation was unfortunate but in my opinion hardly grave enough to warrant such language. I thought I’d heard my last Bad Dog when we finally reached an understanding concerning the ultimate stages of my digestion.

​​As a rule Alpo and I got along rather well. She was one of those big slobbering​​

breeds that need a lot of exercise and that suited me down to the ground. We spent most afternoons charging through the woods where there were squirrels to bark at, tree roots to dig under and any number of things to pee on. Interesting place, the woods. Lots to do.

Even inside there was never much fuss. Alpo’s place was furnished mostly in stuff she retained from college though believe me she was no chicken. Everything was shabby and dog-friendly and faintly redolent of cat, an animal with which I cohabit well enough though perhaps with less sentimentality than Alpo assumes. FYI, when a dog licks a cat it is not so much a matter of kissing as of tasting.

Anyway. Alpo and I might have lived together in perfect harmony had it not been for:


Alpo’s house was a pleasant dump and her car a rolling sty out of the window of which I was proud to hang my head. Why, then, should her yard look like a page from a seed catalog? Her tidy flowerbeds were a slap in the face of my poop-rolling species, an abomination no dog could tolerate.

For now, though, I retreated to the verbena patch and watched with interest as Alpo began hammering railroad spikes around the remaining petunias. When she ran out of those she made do with bamboo skewers from the kitchen, erecting spiky stockades around each plant.

“That’ll fix your wagon,” she said. I wagged my tail in courteous response, imagining the chewing enjoyment the skewers would afford me throughout the summer, and wondering if she had lost her mind.

Some people said so, but Alpo maintains that insanity is a matter of degree. When she talks to me in falsetto, though, I’d put her up against anybody: “Mama wuvs Woesel to pieces! To widdle bwack pieces! It’s widdickilous!”

But the falsetto had developed in response to a certain nervousness I’d evinced in puppyhood, when normal tones of voice induced accidents detrimental to both my self-esteem and the carpet, so I supposed it was meant kindly and did not hold it against her.

Now, though, as she looked up and saw how my paws had absentmindedly occupied themselves, she did not speak in falsetto:

“My verbena bed!” she screamed. “It looks like Kansas in 1935! Bad dog!”

Really, Bad Dog twice in an afternoon! And she hadn’t even allowed me to finish my dust bath. Hurt, I sought asylum beneath a rosebush.

From which position I commanded an excellent perspective of the next entertainment: Lugging out a roll of lightweight fencing, Alpo erected a sketchy oval prison around the few verbena and irises that had escaped my depredations. “This is now a dog-free zone,” she announced grimly, and then:


I looked down at the snapped-off branches on which I reclined. Is that what they were called? It seemed an unattractive name for a flower that made such a charming bower. And the pink ones, I thought, had been unusually tasty.

I dodged the trowel she threw at me, inured by now to her histrionics, and went to root sullenly through the compost pile, and to deposit the ultimate product of my digestion in the vegetable garden.

Alpo, meanwhile, was cutting the bottoms out of coffee cans and placing one protectively around each of the surviving impatiens. She toiled earnestly for some hours, then straightened up, regarded the fruits of her labor and –

Burst into tears. “It looks like Tobacco Road!” she wailed. She repaired to the porch, sobbing noisily.

I looked with pleasure at the landscape of rusty cans, railroad spikes and chicken wire I had helped create. I do not know much about this “Tobacco Road” but I expect the dogs there are very happy.

The message, clearly, is that even the most powerless among us can change the world to suit us if only we persist. It is as Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you – then you win.”

Roosevelt Ford Wallace lives in Deerhead Cove with her chauffeur, housekeeper and Alpo Lady, Robin Ford Wallace.

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