Dogs bring people together.
Living up to their best-friend reputation, they can help us forget our difficulties and differences and instead focus on simple things worth savoring, such as a nice spot to sit in the sun.
Ask any people about their canine companions, and they’ll share tail-wagging tales of new friends found, thanks to their four-legged instigators.
That gave Roger Pajo of Fair Oaks an idea: Why not let dogs become ice breakers for neighbors to get to know each other?
“We have a lot of dog walkers in our area and, with all the negative (stuff) going on in the world these days, I wanted to create a spot where we can put all our differences aside and just mingle with our furry friends,” Pajo explained.
With that thought in mind, he made his front yard extra pet-friendly and hung up a sign proclaiming the busy corner in front of his home as the “Fair Oaks Village dog stop.”
A faucet supplies clean fresh water to a stainless steel drinking dish. A large covered pot provides free dog treats. A bench invites visitors to rest and relax along with their pooches. But that was only the beginning.
A landscape designer, Pajo started decorating. He hung blooming baskets of flowers to add to the corner’s village charm. He set out bowls of fresh plums, peaches and pluots picked from his backyard trees. In the spirit of the Halloween season, he added hay bales, pumpkins and gourds to this little oasis.
Then he invited people to snap photos of their pets and promised to post them – not just online, but physically at the rest stop.
“I post them as soon as possible – and the community loves it,” Pajo said. In the month or so since he started the “dog stop,” more than 20 guests have shared photos ranging from Felix, the expressive basset hound, to cheery golden retrievers.
With its free-roaming chickens and animal-friendly attitude, Fair Oaks Village has been a perfect neighborhood for a dog stop.
“It is just a really neat idea,” said Jeanne Rodgers, who visits with her dog, Oscar the Aussiedoodle (half Australian shepherd, half poodle). “We go by there every day. Our neighborhood has many, many, many dogs. I’m so impressed with how (Pajo has) kept it going. It’s all decorated now. The water is always fresh and clean. It’s just a wonderful thing.”
Rodgers enjoys looking at the photos of other dogs and dog walkers at the dog stop. “I usually see someone I know,” she said. “It’s such a community-building kind of thing to do. It’s so nice to see something so positive.”
Oscar enjoys his visits, too, she said. “He likes going over there and smelling everything, picking up scents of other dogs to see if they’ve been there, too. It’s kind of like their Facebook.”
Of course, Pajo’s own two dogs – Lucy the beagle and Alex the black Labrador – have gotten in on the act, too.
“They started off being territorial,” Pajo said. “They didn’t want to use the water bowl because other dogs had used it. But now they’re cool. When they see another dog come by, they jump up on the couch (in the living room) and bark hello through the window.”
Surrounding the dog stop is water-wise landscaping. Pajo has converted his former lawn area into a front yard retreat for people, too. He and his wife, Martha, and teenage daughters, Gabriella and Samantha, like to hang out on a patio overlooking the dog stop in the shade of colorful maples. A trickling waterfall and stoned-lined rain garden add to the natural ambiance.
A lush bank of green “no-mow” fescue covers a slope leading to the dog stop, edged with colorful sages, ornamental grasses and more flowering perennials.
“I trimmed the drought-tolerant fescue like a meadow,” Pajo said. “I water it every two weeks. It’s still green and visually cooling, but uses a lot less water than (traditional) lawn.”
Dogs may not know the difference either, but Pajo doesn’t encourage that aspect of his doggy rest stop.
“I don’t endorse dogs doing their business at the dog stop,” he said. “I don’t provide bags or a trash can – I didn’t want to smell poop all day. But people are pretty good about carrying their own bags and picking up after their pets.”
In the months to come, Pajo expects to expand his dog stop into more community-building. With six large horse troughs servings as raised beds, he’s creating a front-yard vegetable garden with intentions of sharing his bounty.
“It’s going to be a free vegetable stand for the community – the Fair Oaks Village Produce Exchange,” he said. “The dog stop is just the beginning.”