During my recent visit to New Zealand I came across an article with the wonderful headline "Lawn Order" in Listener, the Kiwi version of TV Guide. The article asked whether "a bottle filled with water and placed on your lawn will deter passing dogs from leaving a calling card."
Sounds ridiculous, right? But this bottle-on-the-lawn tactic is serious stuff Down Under, having spread swiftly from Australia to New Zealand and become an article of faith in both countries.Everywhere I went in New Zealand I saw bottles full of water scattered on otherwise neatly tended lawns. And everyone I asked about this told me that they had heard from someone that it was a sure-fire way to prevent dogs from doing their business on your lawn.
The bottles were the familiar 1 1/4 liter plastic soft drink containers. Only clear bottles seemed to be used, though sometimes the paper labels had been left on them. I was told that residents of some of the ritzy suburbs put out water in glass bottles that originally held expensive wines and liquors.
To me, the water-bottle idea seems almost as silly as the preventive used by some people in the States: If they see a dog coming onto their lawn, they stand near the front window and cross their fingers, and supposedly the dog will refrain from relieving itself.
The crossing of the fingers has an air of what anthropologists used to call "sympathetic magic." The crossed fingers symbolically lock up the dog's functions, as if the pooch had crossed its own back legs.
In the same way, the reason usually given for the supposed success of the bottle technique is that a dog will not foul its own drinking water.
But dogs, of course, know nothing about water in plastic bottles. So some people who scatter the bottles across their lawns say it's the glitter of the container, or the dog's seeing its own reflection in the water, that does the trick. Others claim that the bottles themselves repel dogs, and the water is just there to keep the wind from blowing them off the lawn.
In search of the truth, Listener sent reporter Denis Welch out to study the matter. Welch chose the town of Napier on Hawke's Bay, North Island, as the site for his research. "The answers to all of life's problems can be found in Napier," he explained. "And it also has the best Italian restaurant in the country."
I, too, visited Napier. I couldn't find the restaurant, but I saw plenty of bottles of water on tidy lawns. But then, I saw water bottles in virtually every New Zealand town I visited. Lawn order seemed to be a national mania.
At another point in my visit, the Wellington Evening Post ran a more serious piece on the subject. The newspaper quoted one veterinarian who called it "one of the most stupid things he has ever heard," and another who said he "saw one hound present his offering on top of a bottle."
One Australian vet, though, insisted that the tactic works, if done properly: "The full territory has to be enclosed with bottles, the water must not become stale, and the bottles must be shaken regularly to give off the right vibrations."
As I read the article I wondered aloud whether the litter of bottles scattered so liberally about a lawn wouldn't be just as offensive as an occasional doggy dropping. I commented to my wife on the remarkable naivete of the local people, wondering how anyone could think that bottles of water on the lawn would have any power over the neighbor's doggy.
And my wife said, "But I'm sure I saw water bottles on lawns in our neighborhood back home!"
I don't recall ever seeing such a thing, although we used to have a big dog that our neighbors probably would have liked to ward off.
So I leave it to you, readers. Have you heard of this lawn order stuff? Does it work? And if so - why?
Jan Harold Brunvand is the author of "The Mexican Pet," a collection of urban folklore. Send your questions and urban legends to Professor Brunvand in care of this newspaper.
1988, United Feature Syndicate Inc.