For fur parents, holidays present a host of joys: – dressing up your pup or kitty in all kinds of ridiculous costumes for Halloween. Then comes fall and raking up leaves, which means all kinds of piles of scarlet and gold for Rover to jump through, into and race around. With Christmas, pet stores everywhere offer pet parents opportunities to take photos with Santa, purchase caps, beards, and even candy-apple red jackets to look like Santa. For the wee ones, it’s not too hard to find supplies to dress Rover up like Rudolph or Clarice, Frosty or the Grinch’s dog.
But while all these fall rituals for our loved ones occupy our time during the change of seasons, let’s not forget what is happening outside.
Ever think about what might be hiding in, around, or under those leaves? When you rake up those leaves or pull up what appears to be just “a pile of weeds,” those piles might actually be sheltering some friendly insects, such as caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers and others that later that not only are critical to the ecosystem for their contributions, but also are a food source for bats, birds, opossum, raccoons and other critters that reside up the food chain.
Along with the fall and holiday rituals of pet ownership, now as we set about building our winter gardens, what about being as mindful to greenery as we are to making sure everyone with four paws stays safe during the change of seasons? Many fur parents keep a “humane backyard” in offering birdseed, fresh water sources and safe spaces to wildlife by ensuring their four-legged loved ones do not endanger wildlife.
To build on this “humane backyard” principle, Nancy Lawson, editor-in-chief of All Animals, a magazine of the Humane Society of the United States, offered a list of tips in a column she penned in spring 2014:
1) Leaf it! A fine layer of leaves offers warmth and protection for the Luna moths before they are moths (the chrysalis stage) as well as various butterflies, who seek out brush piles, piles of garden greens, and tree cavities to spend the winter.
2) Stick it! Sticks might be hazardous for walking or romping in the yard, but choose wisely those that might need picking up. Dead stems and stalks actually could be host to hundreds of insect eggs. Mantid eggs, writes Lawson, resemble dead leaves. She also recommends leaving out stalks of plants that could provide seeds and needed sustenance for migrating birds.
3) Cruise the grass! Before mowing, talk a walk through the greenery: you never know who might call it home. Rabbits, turtles and other small nesting creatures might be endangered by a loud, unwieldy mower. Also consider the type of grass you grow: native grasses and sedge are more hardy and a friendlier host to wildlife.
4) Keep it clean! Artificial lawn fertilizers and pesticides generally are hazardous to lawn residents and most insects in their egg forms. Consider adopting organic practices, such as mixing a poultice of hot pepper with chopped garlic and positioning several around key points of a green space. Otherwise, artificial chemicals can cut short the lifespan of many wildlife species.
5) Beauty is skin deep! Late blossoms and last vegetable produce are a thrill for the last splash of color they provide to a yard – what’s prettier than that last tomato or those last miniature roses? But remember, our winged, migrating creatures could use the sustenance those plants provide as they head south. Leave the blossom. Think about leaving the tomatoes, too (consider cutting them up and scattering them in the leaf pile; they taste pretty gross this time of year!)
For more information on keeping a backyard safe for our fur kids, see the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For additional information on maintaining a humane backyard for wildlife or a backyard that is a haven for all creatures, see the Humane Society home page or Nancy Lawson’s Humane Gardener feature.