Dog Life in the Big City

When we brought home Ewok, our Brussels Griffon-Shih Tzu, last November, one of my biggest concerns was what the winter would be like for him. He was brought to Chicago from the South, so it’s pretty unlikely he ever saw snow - at least not the way Chicago does snow. But I was especially worried that taking him outside to relieve himself would get difficult (not to mention cold) as the winter months wore on.

This was Ewok after he walked into the fresh snow, not realizing it was soft and fell right into it. It was cute, but also made me sad for his wet little beard.

This was Ewok after he walked into the fresh snow, not realizing it was soft and fell right into it. It was cute, but also made me sad for his wet little beard.

Our first solution was the standard “pee-pads.” We bought a box of these white cotton pads with a blue edge. They claimed to be leak-free and prevent messes, so I was sold. They also claimed to release some sort of scent that would attract our new house guest to them, making the stress of housebreaking less bothersome.

Oddly enough, they reminded me of diapers. The way they came folded in the box made me think back to my babysitting days. I guess, technically, these pee-pads were aiming to achieve a similar goal, and left a bit of a stinky mess behind, too.

The standard look of a doggy “pee-pad” – not exactly appealing to have sitting in your home.

The standard look of a doggy “pee-pad” – not exactly appealing to have sitting in your home.

Ewok was pretty good about using the pads when he needed to go when we weren’t home. His aim wasn’t always very good, but at least most of the mess was somewhat contained. I just couldn’t stand the way they looked in our house. Plus, if you don’t pick up the pad right away, you have a pee-soaked rag sitting in your hallway. After a month or so of these pads appearing all over our home, I decided we needed to find a better solution. They also felt pretty wasteful, throwing away this large pad with a small amount of pee on it. So I turned to Google.

Enter Fresh Patch. With the support of Shark Tank, the Fresh Patch company has blown up over the last couple years. Their business is all about replacing these ugly, smelly, wasteful pee-pads with something that is more natural. They send you “hydroponically grown, dirt-free grass” in one of three sizes that you can store in your home, your patio, or on your balcony. It allows your dog to get the sensation of relieving themselves on grass, without having to actually be taken out to a yard.

The grass is real. It's not some artificial, look alike. It naturally absorbs odors and liquids, just like the grass you see outside does, with the convenience of not being outside. Obviously, this small patch of grass can't last as long as the yard outdoors, so it does have to eventually be replaced. But the science behind it is really straightforward - it does the same thing that all other grass does because that's what it is. And because it's a natural product, when it comes time to replace the patch, you can dispose of the old one in your dumpster or wherever your trash is picked up by the city. 

I’m sure you can see the appeal of a product like this as a Chicagoan. Yards aren’t exactly that easy to come by living in the city. And if you live in a high rise, it’s even less likely that you’d be able to get your pup outside every time he needs to go.

Compared to pee-pads or artificial grass, the Fresh Patch is easier to use. We just put it down and Ewok is free to go as he pleases. We don’t have to rinse the grass off or dump any trays of pee out – it all just gets absorbed. We simply pick up his poops just like we would if we were cleaning up after him outside. We’ve even found it to be more sanitary to just flush his poops down the toilet! No smelly poop bags in your garbage – everything is disposed of where it should be.

The Fresh Patch comes in 3 sizes: standard (16” x 24”) for dogs less than 25 lbs, XL (2’ x 4’) for multi-pet households or dogs over 25 lbs, and the mini (16” x 12”) for dogs under 10 lbs. We use the standard size Fresh Patch for Ewok. He’s only 8 lbs, so while we could probably get away with the mini, we’ve found the standard fits our lifestyle better.

Ewok sitting on his new Fresh Patch.

Ewok sitting on his new Fresh Patch.

The first month was pretty hit or miss. It was January and pretty cold outside, so having an option for Ewok to go inside that didn’t create a ton of waste or look so unsightly was nice. However, we definitely had our learning moments.

Fresh Patch operates in two ways: single purchase or a subscription model. Since we were just trying it out, we opted to purchase the one and see how it goes. With the subscription, you can sign up for auto-delivery on a 1, 2, 3 or 4-week basis. Seeing these options made me worrisome about how long this patch of grass would last. At about $30, buying the patch monthly isn’t too bad. But if they only last 2 weeks, I couldn’t see this being a sustainable option.

Fortunately, with Ewok’s size, the patch lasted about 4 weeks before the dying grass started to turn him away from using it. I placed an order for another patch and waited until it arrived.

The patch ships in a lined cardboard box, so you can just remove the lid and place the grass down for your dog to start using. Although they claim that liquids won’t seep through the patch, we didn’t find that to be entirely true. After Ewok had used the patch for a couple weeks, we had to move it because it was located in an inconvenient spot, we found some damage to our floor where the patch had been sitting. Turns out the grass doesn't quite absorb all the liquid. 

Fresh Patch sells various sleeves and trays that fit the patch so you don’t have to have the cardboard visible or so it’s not sitting flat on your floor. Buying a sleeve just for the sake of aesthetics seemed wasteful to us, and I didn’t feel like paying an extra $20 for a plastic tray to go under the grass. One of the issues we had with the pee-pads was that Ewok would occasionally miss, and that problem didn’t really go away with the Fresh Patch.

To solve this, we actually just bought a boot tray from Target. It was larger than the Fresh Patch, so it added a bit of a buffer around the sides. Now, Ewok’s misses were contained to something easier to wash (and less permanent) than our hardwood floors. This also helped solve the problem of liquid seeping through. Any excess liquid hits the boot tray barrier before staining our floors.

There are a few downsides to the patch. Though they claim it doesn’t smell, it does have a grassy-scent. Because it is real grass, this is likely unavoidable. After sitting for a few weeks, it does seem to smell somewhat stale, but that’s usually around the time we order a new one anyway. It hasn’t been enough of an issue to keep us from purchasing more.

Additionally, when ordering these in Chicago, we’ve learned an important lesson. It matters when you order the grass. These patches ship from California, and it takes roughly 3-5 days to get here. If you order the grass in the late half of the week (Wednesday – Friday), there’s very good chance it gets stuck on a struck over the weekend and the extra time in transit takes some of the life out of the patch. We received a couple grass patches that looked far from green when this happened. Their customer service was really responsive and sent us a new one, expedited. That was when we learned about the extra days in transit and are very careful to always place our orders on Sundays to ensure they arrive within the week.

We long for the day that we have a home with a beautiful front and back yard where Ewok will be free to roam as he pleases. But for now, while we live in a condo building with much shared space, having another option to keep our pup happy works well for all those involved.

And a happy pup is what we strive for. 😁

And a happy pup is what we strive for. 😁