Houses just aren’t built the way they used to be. Foundations crack and sink into the earth, walls and roofs collapse, failing to withstand even the lightest weight or slightest wind. Such shoddy workmanship is bad for the neighborhood, bad for home prices and bad for the residents.
Today, I have the pleasure of following Dottie on her rounds in the Fort Lowell neighborhood. She walks me through different parts of the community, patiently explaining the good, the bad and the ugly of the housing situation here.
As we approach deep right field, Dottie explains that these houses are well built and solid. To demonstrate, she selects a hole, buries her snout to the bridge of her nose, eyelashes brushing away loose soil, takes a deep breath and exhales quickly. Next, snout still buried, she roots forward and up, attempting to lift a section of earth. Unsuccessful, she retracts her snout, gives a pleased snort and shakes the dirt from her nostrils.
“Quality building. No movement. The entrance is built at the correct angle with the foyer deep enough to support foot traffic overhead, but short enough to provide emergency entrance for the resident. Nice work.”
Moving farther into center field, she zeros in on another structure. With an eye for slipshod work, she again buries her snout. This time the earth above fractures, unable to withstand the force of her testing equipment. Disappointed in the workmanship, she digs quickly with both paws, seeking the burrowing neighborhood resident. She blows loudly on her horn, using what she calls her Big Bad Wolf technique, and pushes deeper into the home, demanding answers. More knocking and horn blowing bring the same results. Unsatisfied, she makes a mental note to revisit the area on her next tour of the neighborhood.
“The lack of pride in workmanship is very disheartening. Look at this: the soil is completely wrong for this type of structure. Way too sandy for such a shallow entryway. Probably didn’t use an architect. I see that a lot in this area. Too many DIYers watching This Old House. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told them that’s an East Coast show. Our soil is completely different.”
Dottie knows a thing or two about back east, or at least the blue grass of Kentucky. Found as a young puppy on the side of the road, Dottie grew up learning the ways of the land. She studied at the paws of some of the greats and it shows in her technique.
“I watched and I paid attention. I’m a big girl so I had to learn to use my body. See how I get down on my elbows but leave my hips elevated? That allows me to get the leverage I need to really check structural integrity. If I tried that from a sphinx position, I wouldn’t be able to break through some of the more complex but cheap building techniques.
“The Big Bad Wolf technique is one I developed on my own. My mom always said I had a set of lungs on me so I figured I oughta use them. I bury my snout, checking integrity but before I thrust upward, I blow into the home. A well-built structure will protect its residents, insulating them from the sudden the gale force of the air. In addition, it should also shield them from the backdraft as I reverse the flow of air.”
Moving on to shallow left field, Dottie laments the state of housing in the area. Too many dwellings in limited real estate. Again, the soil is substandard and as a result the houses are shoddy, at best. “One wall short of a lean-to,” she observes. “Not worth the effort to examine;” she makes a note to pass on her general impressions to a colleague.
The 15-year old Dalmatian Pointer loves her job, that much is clear. After an intense forty-five minute shift, her snout is dusted with soil; dirt caked in her nares; mud balls hang from her small jowls.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Dirt is in my blood.”