We’re coming to the end of the season for our magnificent Mission fig tree. It was here when we moved in 41 years ago, and every year since, in the late summer and early fall, it has yielded hundreds of pounds of fruit. Crows feast on the bounty at the crown; Steve plucks figs from the middle and lower zones and eats them on his cereal. Some years I make jam, and we always give away as much as we can, but figs still fall off the tree and litter the ground around it. Tucker typically has gained at least 5 pounds every fig season, and every CCI puppy we’ve raised has discovered the deliciousness. Except Adagio.
It’s hard to say why he has resisted them. This year when the figs started to ripen, we took pains to limit his contact with the tree, taking him down to that part of the yard on a tight leash. But we’ve done that with all our CCI puppies. Allowing them free access to scavenging opportunities inevitably results in dietary disruption — not fun for them or us. Still, we inevitably let down our guard, and during those moments everyone except Adagio has quickly availed themselves of the morsels of pleasure.
Whenever we’ve seen Adagio approach one, we’ve sternly reprimanded him. So I wonder: is he more obedient than all the other dogs? Is his culinary palate less refined — or more? (Somehow that theory seems implausible.)
In recent weeks, it seems to me he’s been more eager to get near the tree and sniff around. A few times, we’ve seen him returning from its vicinity licking his chops. Still, we doubt he could have eaten more than a half-dozen pieces, if he got any.
Adagio is not scheduled to leave us and go on to his Advanced Training until November of 2019. If that doesn’t change, we’ll live with him through another season of the forbidden fruit. Somehow I’m guessing he’ll be less resistant to its charms the next time around.
Our fig crop was late this year. Normally, some of the fruit ripens in the early summer, but this year that didn’t happen. Only now, finally, is the tree loaded with juicy purple delicacies, so many that they fall off by the hour.
It’s been fascinating to watch Beverly’s reaction to this — yet another illustration of how different puppies can be. Every dog we’ve ever had has quickly figured out that ripe figs are edible, and over the years, the most common reaction is that they are a gift from the universe, to be pounced upon and gobbled up as quickly as possible. For us, this is problematic for several reasons, including that:
Eating lots of figs makes dogs fat.
CCI puppies aren’t supposed to eat random objects that they find on the ground.
Eating too many figs gives some pups diarrhea.
Beverly’s reaction to the crop has been unusual. She clearly enjoys slipping out to the lower yard to inspect the messy detritus under the tree. She sniffs and sniffs, and I have seen her delicately choose certain chunks to consume. She chews them, as if savoring the flavors. Alternatively, sometimes she selects a less-ripe specimen and races around the yard with it, tossing it around like a toy. At other times, she lies out in the sun, ignoring the temptation altogether.
It’s wonderful (and exceedingly rare) to have a puppy so trustworthy it can be allowed out in the yard without our supervision. Beverly is almost that trustworthy, but not completely. Mostly we keep her in the house, away from the temptation. But at those moments when we slip up, I tell myself that fig season will be over soon.
It’s the most challenging time of year for Steve and me as puppy-raisers: the figs on our huge old tree have ripened, and this year’s crop (like all its predecessors in our memory) is so abundant we can’t eat or give it all away. It’s literally raining Mission figs out there.
This has been going on for 2 or 3 weeks, and to our amazement and relief, Beverly for a long time didn’t seem to notice what was happening. The fig tree occupies a big part of our lower back yard, which also serves as our dogs’ principal toileting area. Yet even though we take Beverly back there countless times daily, she strolled right by the large black sweet-smelling morsels without lunging upon them and gobbling them down, as so many other puppies have done.
There are two sound reasons to discourage puppies from eating figs. One is that when labrador types are left to free-feed on figs, they get visibly fatter. Tucker’s been doing this every summer for most of his life. We don’t mind because he’s our personal dog, and we know that the season is short; the extra pounds will soon melt away. But Beverly belongs to CCI, and its rules are strict: puppies are supposed to eat only puppy chow — and only enough to keep them lean and trim.
The other consideration is that figs — we know from sad experience — cause many puppies to have diarrhea. So we resolved to keep Beverly from ever learning about their deliciousness. Unfortunately, Steve’s and my teamwork fell apart Friday afternoon. He was out gathering figs for the tart I was making. I went out to collect them from him, and Beverly trotted outside after me, off leash. I re-entered the house, and Steve followed a few minutes later, not realizing that Beverly was still wandering around outside. Fifteen or 20 minutes passed before I wondered where she was. We called her and she appeared shortly — paws muddy, fur coated with figgy detritus.
Miraculously, whatever she ate out there did not roil her digestive system; no diarrhea ensued. But clearly, the jig is up.
She’s eaten from the tree of knowledge, and now we really have to be on guard — not only for this rest of this season but also for the one next summer. (Beverly should be with us all the way until November of 2017.)
Fig season has begun. That makes Steve happy. He loves picking the sweet, dark purple fruit from our huge old tree and cutting it up to put on his cereal every morning. I’m less of a fan, but some years I feel so guilty about all that bounty — so much more than we can eat — that I make a jam which some of my friends like. For the dogs, though, the arrival of fig season is nothing short of miraculous. We can almost read our current puppy’s mind when he or she first discovers what’s happening: “OMG! There are tasty balls dropping out of the sky! They are SO much more delicious than dog food! You just sniff around, find one, and gobble it down. None of this agonizing waiting for meal time.” It must be like the ancient Israelites’ experience with manna.
Though the fruit only began ripening a few days ago, Kyndall has fully embraced the program. The lower yard, where the fig tree grows, also serves as the doggy toileting zone. When we take her there, she’s so distracted by the not-so-hidden fruity treasure that she often has to be sternly reminded to Hurry! (At the same time, the figs have a certain laxative effect that at other times makes Hurrying a matter of urgency. As at 5:30 a.m. this morning…)
Tucker’s an old pro. Some years he eats so many figs he grows visibly plumper over the month or so when the fruit is abundant. We’ve seen him standing on his hind legs to reach particularly tempting morsels. But as he has aged, his digestive system also seems less and less able to tolerate figgy binges.
So we try to rake up the fallen fruit and restrict the amount of time the dogs can get at it. But there are limits to how hard-hearted we can be.