“Ideal for property delineation, garden fencing, non-aggressive animal boundaries, and many other projects,” stated the label.
Still, by any criteria, it ain’t much of a fence.
It doesn’t mark the property line. It doesn’t keep possums out of the tomatoes. And it doesn’t keep squirrels out of the bird feeders.
But then, like I said, it ain’t much of a fence.
Welded 16-gauge wire, coated in green vinyl. Strung out on 30-inch metal T-posts spaced three feet apart. Twenty-four inches tall, with a 4-by-2-inch mesh. On a good day, I can step right over it. On a bad one, I sometimes trip.
It all started as a way to keep the dog in the yard.
Our first dog was so smart we never needed a fence. He’d instinctively figure out the lay of the land wherever we lived, waddle out each morning to mark his territory and then visit the neighbors in hope of a handout … all the while intuitively avoiding busy streets, aggressive children and working up a sweat.
He lived to be 17.
I figured all dogs were that disciplined. I stand corrected.
Our second dog was so out of control that we kept him in a kennel anytime he was in the house, and leashed to a 24-foot cable anytime he was in the backyard. He’d bolt at every opportunity, at which point we’d spend fruitless hours searching the neighborhood for him. Inevitably he’d turn up later at the back door, soaking wet and/or covered in filth, usually chewing on the remains of a dead varmint, which he’d then vomit up all over the floor.
Which is why we switched to a house dog for our third dog. She was a tea-cup Yorkie who weighed about 3.5 pounds. She only went outside on a leash, and then only to do her business next to the patio. The rest of her time she’d spend in the house, sitting on the furniture, bossing us around.
Our fourth dog was nothing like his predecessors. He was neither smart, nor wild, nor bossy. But he did have a bad habit of wandering off the minute you took your eye off him, so the need for some sort of backyard enclosure became paramount.
Hence the fence.
When I first laid it out, I simply started from the corner of my northeastern neighbor’s chain-link fence, then headed west until I hit the impenetrable line of bridal wreath bushes, and then turned south until I hit the corner of the house. Next, I precisely measured out the fence stakes, carefully pounded each 6 inches into the ground and meticulously crimped in the fencing.
Problem solved, I figured, and it only took a half a day to accomplish.
The next morning, I awoke to find a couple of wooden stakes jutting out of the ground about 8 inches south of my new fence, connected by a taut white string with little ribbons tied to it. When I went out to examine it, my northwestern neighbor came out to have a little chat with me.
“Noticed you put up a fence,” he said amicably.
“Yep,” I replied proudly. “Just strung it to the fence next door. Pretty nice, huh?”
“Yes, it is nice. Unfortunately, you strung it across my property.”
“Uh … your property? I just assumed the fence line was the property line.”
“Well, it’s not. But don’t worry, I took the liberty of staking the property line so you’d know how far to move your fence back. You know, when you get around to it. No hurry. In the next day or two will do.”
Surprisingly, it only took me 10 minutes to yank out half a day’s work. And only two hours to jam it back in, this time 6 inches south of the now-demarcated DMZ.
The fence worked well enough to restrain our fourth dog, but not so well in restraining our fifth dog, who would simply burrow under it and then run off. I solved the problem by edging the bottom with rocks and logs, at which point fifth dog demonstrated his athletic prowess by casually leaping over my borderline border boundary to chase a nearby varmint. Which turned out to be a skunk.
We eventually resolved the issue by keeping the fence and getting rid of the dog, who now lives with Sara’s dad.
Our latest dog, Bickle, is a six-pound Yorkie full of p*** and vinegar, which he likes to spread liberally all over the back yard to mark his territory. Like a North Korean border guard, he’s also obsessed with patrolling the fence line, where he barks at all perceived threats, including birds, squirrels and the next-door neighbor’s 3-year-old grandson.
Last Monday, I let him out at 11 p.m. for his late night constitutional. He immediately bolted to the northern line limit and started yapping like a seal in heat. Since it was too late for birds, squirrels or grandchildren, I decided to grab a flashlight and go investigate the ruckus.
As I scanned the darkness, I found the dog dancing back and forth along the fence line, barking furiously at a glowing pair of amber eyes. As I moved the beam upward, the light revealed the largest fox I’ve ever seen. I mean the thing was the size of a collie. It was placidly watching my dog through the wire mesh from about a foot away. I couldn’t tell if it was merely curious. Or hungry. Or both.
It was time to intervene. Armed only with my trusty flashlight, I began walking toward the fence. The fox simply ignored me, until I got within about 20 feet of it.
“Get outta here!” I grunted, at which point it finally sauntered off into the darkness.
Since then, I’ve taken to escorting Bickle outside during his nightly sojourns, which pretty much defeats the whole point of having a fence in the first place.
The only solution I can come up with involves purely Trumpian logic: either build a bigger wall … or get a bigger dog.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.