A nondescript black-and-white dog is our neighbor just across the chain link fence situated a few steps from our front door. I’m sure he is a wonderful pet and a good friend to his people.
There is just one problem: He is a barker.
I’m not talking about once in a while either. Just like us, dogs get excited, upset or hungry. And just as I have become accustomed to my one-year-old grandniece expressing these emotions by screaming her head off, I fully expect our canine friends to express themselves in the only way they are able.
But not every night. And I mean all night.
I suspect that this dog is lonely. Most of the time, he is outdoors in a wire dog pen, by himself. I don’t think I’d be too happy about that either.
Dogs are gregarious creatures, just like humans. The former naturally travel in packs with a defined pecking order, while the latter naturally congregate in families and communities. So leaving dogs alone for extended periods of time doesn’t seem fair to me. They just want to be with their people.
My wife says that some dogs are just yappers. While this is undoubtedly true, I don’t believe this is the case with our canine neighbor. I know this because when he is taken inside, blessed silence descends upon hearth and home.
Honestly, I am amazed at this dog’s capacity for barking. I am blessed to be able to sleep even with television, music and conversations going on all around me. I’m guessing that the explosion of a bomb or two would not wake me up (and if it did, I’d go right back to sleep). My wife, however, is not quite so lucky. That dog’s infernal barking will wake her up at one o’clock in the morning, and at two, at three and at four. One would think that, at some point, the poor dog would start to get hoarse and would eventually lose its voice, er, bark. Do dogs get laryngitis?
Several years ago, I read horrifying reports that some apartment dwellers in my native New York City were “debarking” their dogs to prevent their pets from being evicted from the high-rise rabbit warrens where they reside in close proximity to many hundreds of neighbors. I recall being confused at first. To me, the word “debarking” has always meant to step off a conveyance such as a ship or a train. It is the opposite of “embark.” I was taken aback when I learned that, in this case, “debark” meant to surgically alter a dog’s larynx so that a full-throated bark is converted to a tiny squeak. The phrase “cruelty to animals” comes to mind. And no, I don’t approve of declawing cats either. How would you like to have your fingernails forcibly removed? Barking and scratching are natural functions of dogs and cats and, well, if one’s current living situation isn’t conducive to these activities, I’d suggest purchasing a goldfish.
In fairness, I should disclose that, even here in rural northern California, we don’t exactly live in the quietest of environments. Freight trains come through here at all hours of the day and night, as do eighteen wheelers exiting the freeway just a few blocks away. As for our neighbor dog, he does not confine his incessant barking to the nighttime hours any more than the vehicular traffic or the freight trains do. Every hour is yappy hour. Here I sit in the middle of the afternoon; as I am not wearing my headphones, my background music consists of my little grandniece’s Elmo video and an endless chorus of “Woof woof woof! Woof woof woof WOOF!”
As you may imagine, we’ve been mulling over the possibilities for handling this situation appropriately. When I say “appropriately,” what I mean is a course of action that would be fair to both the dog and us, preferably something that will not unduly upset our human neighbors who care for the dog.
The problem is that we don’t even know our human neighbors. Admittedly, our track record with neighbors is not the best. In Modesto, we tried to be at least nominally friendly with the woman and her tattooed-from-head-to-toe boyfriend whose welcome mat was about three steps from our own. Until, that is, we stopped seeing him around and learned that he had been arrested for beating her up. In Fresno, we lived directly below two sisters who made a habit of getting drunk, having horrific, screaming arguments and breaking things. We finally called the cops on them. Out in the desert, the couple directly across the street from us disappeared with their two kids right after we learned that he had been hauled off to prison, charged with molesting his daughter. So you can see why I am more than a little bit gun shy at the prospect of just showing up with a smile and a hearty “Hi! I’m Uncle Guacamole from across the fence!”
One would think that I would occasionally see the neighbors come and go as they make their way about their daily business. But I haven’t. I’ve never so much as seen them step outside to feed their dog. None of the expected waving across the fence has occurred, much less the syrupy cup of sugar borrowing behavior popularized by Jane Wyatt and Donna Reed on the family sitcoms of my youth.
I suppose we could just walk around the block and introduce ourselves. While this might be the most direct and reasonable approach, none of us seems inclined to this course of action. As my nephews and nieces would say, “Awkward!” Rumors are that the property was previously occupied by decidedly unsavory tenants, that drugs were involved, etc. So I think it’s fair to say that we are not likely to show up on their doorstep with a freshly-baked pie.
We could always contact law enforcement and file a nuisance complaint under the noise abatement ordinance. That is, if such a law even exists in this county. I have no clue.
Looking online for suggestions regarding how to quiet a noisy dog, we found ideas ranging from spraying the dog with water (if I were a dog, I think that would just annoy the crap out of me) to blowing a whistle set at a pitch that only dogs can hear (I’d just bark more if my ears were killing me) to tossing an open jar of peanut butter over the fence. I had to laugh at this last one. The dog might think he’d died and gone to heaven, at least for a little while. But without a single glass of milk to be found, well, I’d say this tactic would likely be an effective method of bark reduction. Maybe we should try it.
Of course, the age-old question remains unanswered: Creamy or chunky?