Capitol Corridor
University of California
Capitol Corridor

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

One day while I was walking my dog, I noticed mothballs spread strategically around a neighbor's yard.  We have tiny front lawns at our end of the street, and most maintain their lawns beautifully and take pride in their landscaping, or have switched to non-turf yards.  I assumed that the mothballs were being used as a pet deterrent.

The presence of mothballs set off alarm bells: my dog's playmate and friend was still somewhat of a puppy and like human toddlers, she put everything in her mouth.  After alerting her owners, I mentioned it to my husband also, who asked “aren't they toxic?” I assumed so but decided to do a little research.  I was shocked to find a resource online that described the truly terrible effects of mothballs (naphthalene) in the environment, and at the top of the list was liver or kidney damage if humans or pets ingest them. Secondly, the mothballs pollute the waterways and are devastating to aquatic life, and our neighborhood has storm drains that go directly to the bay. Further research mentioned mothballs made with another chemical, benzene, which also had undesired effects.  Both warned that off-label use (use other than that which it was intended) was illegal, as is the case with most pesticides.

This motivated me to try to correct the situation…a delicate matter considering that one needs to not make enemies of their neighbors.  I printed the resource article, went to the hardware store and bought a can of natural pest deterrent, which contains mostly capsaicin a component of chili peppers.  The label states it is non-toxic and discourages animals from going into your yard.

I then wrote a nice note explaining that mothballs are toxic, provided the fact sheet explaining the devastating effects of mothballs, and the can of non-toxic pest deterrent, and left it on my neighbor's porch.  I was relieved to hear from her that she had no idea of the harm that mothballs cause and that she would remove them immediately.  She also shared that she was told to use them by our local hardware store!  The very same store where I purchased the non-toxic animal deterrent. If the non-toxic material did not reduce the amount of dog visits to my neighbor's lawn, I suggested other solutions. A motion sensor for sprinklers to activate when the animal is in range can be effective, as well as asking dog owners to not allow their dogs to urinate on your lawn, either with a sign or in person.

I was not so successful with a neighbor who pointed to her lawn and said, look the dogs are killing my lawn! It was very clear to me that the lawn was going through a seasonal browning, common with her type of grass, and that her grass was cut so short that the roots were being damaged.

Many questions about brown spots in the lawn were covered in “Lawns ‘n' dogs” by Dr. Ali Harivandi, Emeritus Environmental Horticulture and the Turf expert, we had the privilege of learning from during my training classes.

Here is the link to a great handout that cautions against using mothballs

photo by Kathy Craig
photo by Kathy Craig

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 at 12:00 AM

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