The case of the mysterious potted plants
By Pamelia Barham
Living on a farm in Summerfield with lots of animals, I’ve become an amateur animal behaviorist. And among my pets, the one I have occasion to observe most often — or keep an eye on — is my rescue dog, Bridgett, an Irish setter.
Bridgett is bad about carrying things off and bringing an assortment of unusual — and sometimes unwanted — objects home. Our boots have been known to go missing, only to show up in the barns or behind the well. Once Bridgett brought home a hubcap and another time, a garden hose with the nozzle attached. It is not unusual to find shoes, tools, gloves, empty feedbags or outdoor furniture cushions in the front yard. This one spot has become Bridgett’s personal trove (some would say junkyard) where she keeps her stolen treasures.
One day when I came home from work, Bridgett was lying in the front yard, surrounded by five one-gallon plastic milk jugs that she’d deposited near the porch. She was very happy to see me, as always, and with tail wagging back and forth, she would proudly look at the milk jugs and then at me. I walked over to her and picked up one of the jugs, wondering where they all came from. Each had a young tomato plant in it, so I gathered them up and put them under the car shed where Bridgett or squirrels or other tomato-loving critters couldn’t reach them. Each day for a week when I got home there were more jugs with tomato plants in them. I added them to the first crop under the car shed, away from Bridgett, and watered them. I figured whoever had gone to the trouble of planting them, wouldn’t appreciate it if they all shriveled and died before producing any fruit.
The following Saturday morning after breakfast I noticed Bridgett coming through the woods behind our house with another jug in her mouth. I watched for a while, as she placed it in her favorite spot in the front yard and wandered back into the woods.
I followed her through the woods to a creek bank where there were dozens of jugs just like the ones in my shed. She fetched another and headed home with her prize.
I recalled seeing a trailer on some property whenever I rode my horse along the creek bank, but I never knew who lived there or saw anyone around.
I decided to saddle my horse and ride down that way to see if anyone was at the trailer. The trailer was set in an open clearing surrounded by trees, and for the first time I saw signs of human life. I said “Hello” and two very friendly fellows returned my greeting. I asked them if the tomato plants in the jugs along the creek were theirs and they said “yes.” Apologizing profusely, I told them about Bridgett making off with the others and bringing them to my house. I also explained to my neighbors that I had been watering their plants, which they were welcome to come and retrieve. They seemed very relieved and jumped in their pickup and drove to the house, where I met them on horseback. They gathered up the plants and thanked me for looking after them, and I assured them I would put Bridgett inside the fence so she wouldn’t be bothering them anymore. As the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors,” — especially if your neighbor is a nosy Irish setter.
Later the next week when I pulled in my driveway after a day at work, I was shocked to see the dirt road leading down to the creek crawling with law enforcement officers. Five men in handcuffs were leaning against a car, and I recognized two of them as my neighbors at the trailer.
“Ma’am?” It was one of the sheriff’s deputies, instructing me to wait in my car. A drug officer identified himself to me and asked if I knew anything about the people in the trailer behind me. I told him “no,” but explained how my dog had brought quite a few of their tomato plants to my house, which I had returned.
“Is this what the plants looked like?” the officer asked, holding one of the milk jugs.
“Yes!” I replied, adding that these were the same plants I had watered until I had found out whose they were.
The officer smiled at me and revealed that the crop I’d helped cultivate wouldn’t yield any fruit this year — or ever. And it was then that I learned it is hard to distinguish a young tomato plant from a young marijuana plant. Maybe it’s time to switch from animal behavior to botany. OH
Pamelia Barham still likes to ride her horse through the woods and is considering a career as a detection dog for Bridgett.