Saturday, September 09, 2006

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

Most of the houses on my street are either seventies suburban brick tract homes or 1940's clapboard bungalows. There is, however, one real, honest-to-god trailer. It's white and beige, is missing a couple of windows, and apparently houses roughly thirty people. When we first came to the street, it was a meth lab, but the inhabitants were arrested soon after we moved in. It was vacant for a while, then another family took it over. I'm not sure how many people actually live there, but there really are about a half-dozen camouflage-clad mullet monkeys who move in and out on a regular basis.

While I don't like to be the designated Gladys Kravitz, keeping tabs on the rest of the neighborhood, these people really push me to it. To put it bluntly, they are, in and of themselves, a cultural experience; not watching them would be like not watching a train wreck. Further, there is also the matter of self-preservation. About three months after they moved in, my wife noticed that they often took walks around the neighborhood, pushing a stroller. This, in itself, is kind of nice: the mother, nicely clad in a clean midriff shirt and a pair of Daisy Dukes, arm and arm with the father, wearing freshly-pressed camouflage pants, a faded black AC/DC shirt, a John Deere cap, and the wispy beginnings of a moustache, the wind teasing his glossy mullet...

This would be a nice scene, apart from the fact that the stroller was empty. My wife, who is both wiser and more paranoid than I, immediately assumed that they were planning robberies. I'm not sure that she's right, but one of my friends in the neighborhood was recently accosted while taking a walk at night. Apparently, some things have gone missing, and the mood of the neighborhood is getting a little ugly...

At any rate, my wife and I were driving down the street one day and observed our trailer neighbors shuffling around the front yard. As we passed them, I realized that they were playing croquet, using their house as a backstop. On the one hand, I took this as a lesson to stop underestimating my neighbors. On the other hand, I decided (as did my friend John when I told him about it) that WASPs are a continuum, not a fixed identity.

At any rate, these neighbors are dog owners. I would say "dog lovers," but I'm not sure that's entirely true, as they seem to go through more dogs than South Korea at festival time. In the two years or so that we've shared the neighborhood, they have had at least four dogs. Today I nearly hit the latest one with my car. He was moseying across the street, not paying attention to anything. It is worth noting that three other dogs of theirs have all entered the great pound in the sky with the assistance of moving vehicles.

Part of the problem is the fact that cars go fairly fast on our road. We live right off a rural highway, and it sometimes takes a little while for the speed to drop from 45 to 25 miles per hour. However, this wouldn't really be a problem if my neighbors put leashes on their dogs, fenced them in, or otherwise tried to keep them from wandering into the road. However, they seem to like letting their dogs wander free, and are apparently incapable of drawing a connection between unrestrained dogs, fast cars, and "pressed Fifi."

What's really galling is that the trailer neighbors aren't even the worst pet owners in the neighborhood. My next-door neighbors (yes, the dreaded Linkii), have two dogs; one is a male and the other is a female. The male, a rottweiler, likes to bark, snap, and snarl at anyone who comes within twenty feet of his yard. The other, a beagle, simply sits in her enclosure, baying incessantly. When I first met my neighbor's son, James, the black dog was snarling at me. The boy turned to him and yelled "Sambo, cut it out!" A little shaken, I asked the dog's name.


"Sambo?" I repeated, staring at the black dog.

"Yeah, Sambo. You know, like in the Lion King?"

"You mean SIMBA?"

James smiled. "Yeah, Sambo."

Aaanyway, Sambo is an outdoor dog, which means that he spends all his time walking around a small patch of hard-packed clay, at the end of a ten-foot chain. While this is, generally, one of the most miserable things I've ever seen, it gets particularly difficult when the beagle goes into heat. Sambo is...well...a whole dog, and between the two of them, the sound gets pretty unbearable.

I think the worst pet owner in the area, though, is the neighbor, identity unknown, who always feeds his dog outside. The food attracts a skunk, who eats from the food bowl and sprays the rightful owner. This happens almost every night, through most of the summer, and makes the neighborhood almost unliveable. As bad as the stench is for me, though, I can only imagine how miserable it is for the dog's family.

So my problem is this: why do my neighbors even bother to have dogs? Clearly, they are absolutely uninterested in taking care of their animals, and apparently have no sentimental attachment to them. These aren't hunting or herding dogs, and they don't seem to serve any real purpose. The owners must be keeping them for companionship, yet consistently treat them like prisoners of war.

Now, I'm not obsessive about pet ownership. For example, I use the term "pet," not the phrase "animal companion." For me, the dividing line is shit: if I'm cleaning up Sparky's crap, then he's my pet. When he cleans up mine, then we'll be equals. However, as much as I try to be realistic about animal/human interactions, I can't wrap my mind around the absolute cruelty with which my neighbors treat their dogs. What's worse, Animal Control refuses to do anything about these assholes. Apparently, pitting your dog against a skunk, leaving him out all year, and allowing him to wander into traffic does not constitute poor pet ownership.

Sometimes I want to move to Mars.


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