This story was written for the Reedsy contest "The Ordinary".
More specifically by the prompt: "Write a short story about someone tending to their garden."
Don’t come between a man and his dog
Wilbur Jennings was still reading his newspaper when Ayla, a German Short-haired Pointer, started barking at him. Wilbur looked up from his paper.
“Eleven thirty already?” he said. Checking his watch was a mere formality. Ayla was regular as clockwork. It was time for Wilbur to go outside for garden duty.
Every day, on weekdays as well as on weekends, Wilbur took the “shit shovel” from the shed at half past eleven in the morning. Systematically, as if he was pacing distances to find a buried treasure, he covered the complete surface of the lawn, shovel in hand.
This daily exercise served two purposes: whenever he found dog shit, he scooped it up and catapulted it into the shrubs that bordered the lawn. Wherever patches of grass were missing, he tried to restore the damage as much as possible.
“What were we thinking when we decided to take such a large dog?” his wife Thelma often complained.
Their previous dog —Zuma— was a small and cute canis vulgaris with an independent spirit. The couple had adopted the pet dog as a puppy. Zuma had never known another home and she was used to being alone in the Jennings’ ten thousand square feet garden when Thelma and Wilbur went out for work.
Wilbur had taught Zuma to poop out of sight, behind the undergrowth at the far end of the garden, and the little tail-wagger had done so until she was too ill to cross the lawn. By the time Wilbur retired, the poor animal was completely deaf and more than ten years Mr. Jennings’ senior —when counting in dog years, obviously. At the very end, the animal was nothing but skin and bones because she could no longer hold her food. With tears in their eyes, Thelma and Wilbur had to ask the vet to put their loyal canine friend to sleep.
After a few months of mourning, Wilbur convinced his wife to pay a visit to the dog shelter to look for a new dog. Thelma couldn’t argue with his point that he would feel less alone at home if they took a new dog.
Ayla immediately caught Wilbur’s eye. She was elegant, slender, friendly, curious, energetic; in short: she was everything Mr. Jennings liked in a dog.
“But isn’t she too big?” Mrs. Jennings asked.
Wilbur wasn’t deaf like Zuma had been, but he pretended not to hear her question. He had made his decision: he wanted to take Ayla home.
“How old is she and who was her previous owner?” Thelma asked the girl in the dog pound’s office.
“Ayla is a female dog of two years old. She has had two previous owners,” the girl answered after consulting an outdated file cabinet.
“In other words, if we take her, we’ll have a third hand dog,” said Thelma.
“Shush,” said Wilbur. “That’s not very respectful towards Ayla.”
The dog pound girl ignored the marital quarrel: “We don’t know much about the first owner. We were told that Ayla was bred for the hunt, but she was abandoned because she didn’t live up to the expectations of her owners. We couldn’t verify that story; that’s just what the second owner told us. He kept Ayla for half a year in his two-bedroom apartment.”
“A hunting dog in a two-bedroom apartment?” Thelma sighed. “That dog must have gone crazy.”
“That’s what almost happened to the previous owner too,” the girl said. “He walked Ayla several times a day, but the dog just had too much energy. After half a year, the man was exhausted, so he brought her to animal rescue.”
“That won’t be a problem for us,” said Wilbur. “We have a large garden.”
He paid for the medical costs, added a small donation for the dog shelter, and off they went with Ayla.
Ayla behaved like she had been locked up for a month when she was first released in the garden of the Jennings family. Actually, that was exactly what had happened. At the dog pound, she had been confined to a small cell, going out for a walk with a volunteer at most twice a day. It was as if she had to burn all the energy she had been saving up for weeks at once. She ran criss-cross from one side of the garden to the other, marking her new territory by peeing in every nook and corner.
“Now, that’s one happy dog,” said Mr. Jennings.
“Oops, not everybody is happy,” answered Mrs. Jennings.
Jingles, the cat of the neighbors had annexed the Jennings' garden as soon as Zuma lost interest in defending its boundaries. The cat chose the wrong moment to investigate what all the fuss was about. She was terrified when Ayla chased her into a tree.
“Have you ever seen a dog that can climb trees?” Wilbur asked in amazement.
“Technically, she isn’t climbing,” Thelma answered. “It’s more like jumping very high against a tree stem.”
In the first week at her new home, Ayla escaped from the garden five times. After that, Wilbur managed to secure every escape route.
A couple of months later, Thelma came home from a visit to her recently divorced neighbor. The former Mrs. Baker claimed that Ayla had probably escaped once more, because she had found dog shit in her garden. Wilbur acted as surprised as possible at this news. He didn’t tell Thelma that he had been scooping shit too enthusiastically on that particular day. He had swung one of Ayla’s droppings over the fence by accident. He didn’t feel guilty about it, though. He had always liked Mr. Baker. He didn’t like how Mrs. Baker had treated him.
Mrs. Baker had also been complaining about the smell. When fulfilling his daily task, Wilbur always aimed for the nearest border, but since Ayla had a couple of preferred spots to defecate on, piles of shit were forming on specific places alongside the lawn. The stench was overwhelming when you walked by one of those crap heaps. Recently, Wilbur had started burying Ayla’s excrement, but that was too much of a crappy job for a man enjoying retirement.
“I wish you could teach Ayla to do her business in the back of the yard, just like Zuma did,” Thelma told her husband.
“To train her, you need to be around when she’s about to do her business,” answered Wilbur. “Only God knows when Ayla is producing that shitload of crap she leaves on the lawn every day.”
Thelma looked at her husband with suspicion. She didn’t believe there was nothing he could do about the problem. Wilbur looked back with his most innocent look. Obviously, he had seen Ayla at work. He also saw how she scratched the lawn with her giant paws and claws after every number two —sometimes even after a number one.
“The lawn looks like a warzone,” Thelma sighed. “I miss the time when our biggest worry about our garden was the mole that irritated Zuma so much.”
Wilbur didn’t want to hear another word about it.
“There was a time you never even looked at our garden,” he protested. “You shouldn't complain about it now that there's finally someone enjoying the lawn.”
Thelma didn’t want to start a fight with her husband. Since he was retired and she was still professionally active, he spent more time with Ayla than he did with his wife. Thelma knew that Ayla had become the queen of their garden, with Wilbur as her obeying servant. She didn't want to come between a man and his dog.
Ah well, Thelma thought, a man needs his hobby. She reflected on what Mrs. Baker had told her about Mr. Baker’s new interests once he went on retirement. Of all the hobby’s Wilbur could have chosen, digging dung was certainly one of the most harmless ones.
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