It may just take a village …
The other day I heard an anguished story from a customer whose neighbor’s dog barks a lot. Sure, he knows he could call Animal Control, but he’s afraid of what might happen to the dog if the owners got a summons, or even a warning.
They work long hours, which the dog spends alone in a pen in the backyard. He has a dog house, but it isn’t adequate when it’s very hot, or very cold. Sometimes his water bowl freezes. Sometimes they don’t get home to feed him until midnight. My customer feared his neighbor might just get a shock collar to stop the barking. Compounding the dog’s miseries to get peace and quiet is not what he wants.
From many years of working in animal shelters and serving on various governmental task forces, I’ve despaired over how we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Didn’t somebody say that is the very definition of irrationality? For our failures in integrating companion animals harmoniously into our communities, we prescribe ever stronger laws, more enforcement, harsher penalties. As though having a dog whose distress affects your neighbor is a sort of petty crime, like littering, where, if we apply enough pressure, you will just stop doing it.
Pets are so important to people that they try to shoehorn them into lifestyles that are not a great fit. It seems we need them more than ever. Nobody gets a pup intending to make him miserable. They adopted him, craving the companionship of a dog. If the puppy isn’t house trained when they have to go back to work, and he gets into trouble in the garage, they put him out in the yard and hope for the best. They feel guilty and inadequate, but don’t know how to cope.
When the neighbors complain about the distress howling, then our civic enforcers respond with threats and punishment. Those of us whose dogs are luckier — because they can come to work with us, or they are older and quieter — smugly congratulate ourselves for being “responsible pet owners.” But how far does that get us toward congenial and pet-friendly neighborhoods?
Let’s try to imagine real solutions to this ubiquitous set of neighborhood frustrations, instead of expecting more of the same judgment and punishment to produce different outcomes. We could start by remembering the dogs and cats of our childhood, and noting all the things that are different now, affecting their lives and ours. What remains the same, and makes all the difficulties worth tackling, is the nature of the solace and joy pets provide. After that, we might be in the right frame of mind for some practical and creative problem solving, incorporating a little solidarity and empathy.
What if a homeowners’ association, for example, instead of obsessing over the enforcement of rules, created a sub-group of pet owning households, who would each pay small yearly dues toward keeping a dog trainer and a mediator on retainer? They would facilitate initial, and then annual, group meet-ups, for getting to know each other and identifying long-standing conflicts, if any. The “rules” would simply require that pet owners request help from this team when needed, and anyone in the HOA (pet owner or not) should contact the mediator for assistance resolving problems of pet behavior.
An apartment building, a trailer park, a housing development — any community of households could adopt this strategy, where the goal is harmonious coexistence through each pet owner’s assisting others to enjoy their animal companions to the fullest extent possible. Paying dues so that professional help is available immediately to anyone having trouble ensures that problems are addressed in a timely way, and by a team with a stake in the whole community’s success
But the meet-ups might just be most beneficial of all. They could lead to all sorts of mutual assistance, social cohesion — even friendship. Imagine the sextiped village .. .and ask, why not here?
— Laurie Raymond has spent 55 of her 66 years living, working and playing with animals of all kinds. For the last nine years she’s been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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