By Patricia Gail Burnham
California’s northern coast was once covered with redwoods. Used for pilings, sidings, and fence posts and boards, redwood is the West Coast’s fence of choice. When I moved to my present house ten years ago it had a new cedar fence on the north, an old redwood fence on the south, and the front and back were open. I fenced the two open sides and have since faced a decade of maintenance.
Redwood resists the insects and rot that can cause wood to decompose, but if it gets wet too often it will rot in three to five years. When I had to replace the same posts again I switched to pressure-treated posts that contain toxic substances to repel pests and prevent rot. I use the posts everywhere except puppy yards and small exercise yards where they are likely to be chewed.
When I helped a friend fence her yard, we installed only pressure-treated posts. We put the boards on the inside to prevent the dogs from reaching the fence posts or rails.
Building a new fence is easier than replacing rotting posts on an old one because you don’t have to remove the old posts. The more concrete you pour around a post when you install it, the harder it will be to remove.
If appearance is not important, an easy way to add years to the life of a fence is to cripple each rotten post by setting a new (preferably pressure treated) post just behind the rotten one and nailing two-by-four strips to connect the old post to the new. I crippled all the posts on my old fence and am starting on the fence I put in 10 years ago.
Storms and high winds can put the final strain on a rotten post and cause it to fail, so repairs are needed in stormy weather. I was feeling sorry for myself setting posts during a storm in 1992 but finally finished. The fence had been built with the cheapest materials, which makes it hard to repair. Neighbors who own the fence report storm damage to me, knowing I will repair it because I have more to lose if dogs get out of the yard.
After I fixed my fence I heard the storm had wrecked the fence of another greyhound person who wasn’t lucky enough to find the damage before her dog did.
Sharon had obtained Sky from the dispersal of Arborcrest. The big young dog was Winners Dog at the western specialty and took another major that weekend. He finished easily and became the top special on the West Coast. He sired one litter. At the 1991 Eastern Specialty he won Best of Show. More importantly, he was Sharon’s best friend.
While I was fixing my fence, Sky found a weak place in Sharon’s fence and disappeared. A frantic search was conducted. The swimming pool in the next yard was covered for the winter. The searchers looked under the cover but the water was murky and they saw nothing.
A day or two later, they noticed scratch marks on the rim of the pool. A second search found Sky’s body in pool. He had run onto the pool cover and fallen between the cover and the pool edge into the water. He pulled himself up, leaving toenail marks on the edge, but could not climb out and finally drowned. The greyhound world was saddened and Sharon was devastated. It’s a very tough way to lose a favorite dog.
Telling you this sad story motivates me to do fence patrol after and even during a storm. My neighborhood has a lot of geriatric wood fences. Every time there is a big storm many fences are blown down and their owners act surprised. They shouldn’t be. Fences blow down because the supporting posts have rotted at ground level. By walking along the fence and pushing against each post you can tell if a post is in an advanced state of rot.
Pushing against a solid post is like pushing against a wall — nothing moves — but if you push against a rotted post, the fence gives and flexes. The post must be crippled or removed and replaced. A fence won’t blow down until a series of posts has rotted through. Since they don’t all rot at the same time, you’re on notice to repair them.
My office understands that after a windstorm, if my fences need repair, I will not be at work until it’s finished. In order to know if repairs are needed, I must walk along the fence and push on each post to test its soundness. If the weather is bad and I resist the idea, I remember Sky and the swimming pool. That motivates me!
This February’s storms blew down many fences. I found a well cared-for Australian Shepherd looking for a ride home. She had no ID and didn’t seem used to being on her own. I brought her to animal control, where her owner reclaimed her a few days later. Between the floods and the damaged fences, animal control was filled with lost dogs.
Go out and check your fence today.
Bio – Gail Burnham has written hundreds of magazine articles, plus two dog training books illustrated with greyhounds, Playtraining Your Dog in 1981 and Treats, Play, Love: Make Dog Training Fun For You and Your Best Friend in 2008. She contributed regularly to Celebrating Greyhounds the first five years, most notably the Kira series which was a finalist in the Dog Writer’s Association writing contest. She won a DWAA award for the poem, The Red Bitch’s Hunt, which was part of a series of poems about Coventry and the Red Bitch. Currently she is retired, still writing about dogs, and is is living a very active life with the descendants of the original Tiger.
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