For publication in The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008
Now that things are settling down in Ottawa over the Christmas season, let’s get back to what’s important — dogs and chickens.
I sympathize with readers who have been writing in about barking dogs. Our family has suffered through more than a few of them.
Years ago, I wrote about a neighbour’s dog who lived a few doors down. The creature was let out at bed time and barked until breakfast.
There was also the donkey who woke up at about 4 a.m. every day just full of piss and vinegar and excited about life — his voice carried for miles.
The roosters I didn’t mind nearly as much. I like hearing roosters in the morning. At least they wait until daybreak, and by then you should be thinking about rolling out of the sack anyway.
I’m not so sure relaxing the rule on roosters would be popular in town, but a few chickens never hurt anybody. If you don’t like them you can wring their necks and not get in trouble — how many animals can you say that about?
But dogs, that’s another story. Mind you, at our current location, we are blessed. The noisiest canines in the neighbourhood are the coyotes. The neighbour’s dogs aren’t a problem. Sure, they let it be known every once in awhile when something is bothering them, but there’s none of that barking for hours.
A couple of times, when the humans have been away, their dog Jake figures out that something isn’t quite normal, and starts up. I yell across the hay pasture, “Jake! Be quiet!” And he stops.
One of our other neighbours mentioned one day that he likes to let his dogs out to chase deer just for exercise, and I had to break the news to him that, not only is that not a good thing to do, but it’s against the law.
We have dogs, of course, always have. One big, one small. That’s just the way it’s worked out. My first dog was Blackie, then there was Lucky. I don’t remember much about them except I think they both got run over by cars. (In my small town when I was a kid, dogs were free range.) I had a collie once, Robbie, and he was a barker. The neighbours very rightly complained, and I re-arranged Robbie’s outside schedule.
Then there was my beloved Sweetpea, who never figured out she was supposed to be a vicious Doberman. We had a kitten that she carried around in her mouth just to keep an eye on him. The little fuzzball would sleep curled up inside Sweetpea’s front paws.
Sweetpea and Casey (Syd’s little dog), had the run of our four acres when we were home, and were never problem barkers. In Sweetpea’s dotage, she began forgetting things and acting as though she had no idea what was going on at times.
One day, she ate a whole bag of briquettes.
It hurt me like nothing else when it came time to take Sweetpea for her last ride to the vet’s. It’s hard to convince yourself you’re doing the right thing as you hold that loving friend in your arms and let her slip away.
I wrote about Casey several years ago, too. Casey was all of 12 pounds, with the courage of a Rottweiler. When a neighbour’s big Chow came into our yard one day, Casey went to protect our territory and that awful Chow attacked him; he died a few days later. We never forgave the neighbour, though he half-heartedly apologized.
Now we have Cheyenne, a mild-mannered Golden Retriever, and Jackson, who is full-blooded miniature Aussie and 100 per cent comedian. They aren’t noisy unless they get excited, although Jackson sometimes cusses out a visitor.
We’ve never figured out why he turns himself inside out sucking up to some strangers and gives others such a rough time.
When Jackson needs something, he doesn’t bark. He growls, quietly, for about three seconds. Usually it’s because it’s dinner time (6 p.m. sharp), he’s out of water, or needs to go outside. If we don’t hop to, he repeats the growl thing until somebody pays attention.
As for Cheyenne, she never has been a talker. Other than the occasional throaty gruff, uttered singly rather than in succession, she’s a very quiet girl. Since she’s almost stone deaf now, there wouldn’t be much point in making a lot of noise anyway.
I don’t understand people who allow their dogs to bark, or to let them wander loose. It’s intolerably rude to let your dog disturb your neighbours, and requires a special kind of person to do that. The same kind who would answer a cell phone in the movie theatre, steal a parking spot just as someone else is pulling in, or push their way into an elevator when a half dozen others are trying to get out.
One of our favourite TV programs is The Dog Whisperer. A guy named Cesar Millan can solve any canine behavioural problem. He can calm a barking dog, an aggressive dog, a fearful dog, you name it, often within a few minutes.
Millan, whose methods are based on pack leadership, is controversial. In fact, he’s been slammed as supposedly inhumane. Based on the TV show, I think he’s a genius.
Point is, almost any negative dog behavior can be changed. That means the culprit is the owner.
My good friend Gloria Fraser, who has loved animals and worked with them all her life, dropped something off to me recently on this very subject. We don’t usually publish poems, but this one goes back a long way, and is a poignant reminder of man’s inhumanity to animals. The author is unknown.
I wish someone would tell me
what it is that I’ve done wrong.
Why I have to stay chained up
and left alone so long.
They seemed so glad to see me
when I came here as a pup.
There were so many things we’d do
while I was growing up.
They couldn’t wait to train me, as a companion and a friend,
and told me how I’d never fear, being left alone again.
The children said they’d feed me, and brush me every day,
they’d play with me and walk me, if I could only stay.
But now the family “hasn’t time.” They often say I shed.
They do not even want me in the house, not even to be fed.
The children never walk me, they always say “not now.”
I wish that I could please them, why won’t someone tell me how?
All I had, you see, was love. How I wish they would explain
why they said they wanted me, then left me on a chain.