Thursday, April 3, 2014

4.3 Thursday (St. Bernard's Day)

A dog where it belongs

Periodically I stray from the palmy precincts of the chateau and go down among the neighboring peasantry to outrage it by complaining about its dogs. Nearly everyone owns at least one such animal, and they all, to a man or woman, regard it as a 'pet' rather than as a (more fashionably democratic) 'companion.' This may seem a fine point, but it has wider legal implications: a 'companion' is possessed of rights in its own person, viz., the right of uncontrolled and pointless barking; a 'pet' on the other hand is chattel, and as such has no rights, while its owner has the unconditional right to allow the animal to bark perpetually and without purpose. My complaints, then, are taken as an attempt to trammel a human right, not merely a right extended by courtesy or regard to another species.

So, as I say, I am forced by circumstance to shoulder unwillingly the mantle of civilization and totter out on a quixotian errand. My years of knight-errantry on this particular fool's errand have taught me that the sprawling cowtown in which I reside has loaded the dice against the man who would live in peace and solitude, and in favor of the flea-and-tick brigade. A man may file a noise complaint free of charge, so to speak, and the offending dog owner will receive a warning. Subsequent complaints require at least one witness resident at another address, or a video "ten minutes or longer" of the lathered and yapping animal. ("Ten minutes - seriously?" I asked, to which the official did not deign a reply.)

Now, a video of that length would require a camera which I have no wish to own, require the considerable directorial skills of a flea circus impresario, not to mention the stealth of a Navy SEAL, in the execution. But, as I have also discovered, it is by far the easier alternative; a willing witness is impossible to come by.

It should be obvious that a code of omerta is implicit among the dog owners of any neighborhood, a sort of 'golden rule' of complicity: I'll never complain about your yapper and you'll never complain of my barker. If any third party (like the old crank at the chateau) should raise a demur, we will unfailingly close ranks on the question though we may despise one another on nearly every other point of humanity. 

What is not immediately obvious is how far this understanding has reached its tentacles into the larger society. It has formed a network of unbroachable silence that extends even to those unencumbered in their own households by the canine thrall. It is, by now, an essential thread in the social fabric.

I had engaged the consent of a near neighbor (one whom I have considered a friend of many years) to witness my recent complaint of a party keeping a roisterous kennel in their backyard, just beneath the belvidere above the north lawn of the chateau. His curiosity invariably leads him, in some destructive, technology-enabled spiral, to the internet, where he discovers from the city assessor's database that the owner of the property in question is his next door neighbor, and that the tenant about whom I have complained is this man's near of kin.

Now, as the owner of the property himself keeps a pack of noisy dogs, he has been a longstanding source of irritation to my friend, who I will call Lorenzo. But Lorenzo has, for the past quarter-century, harbored dreams of refurbishing his residence to the point of putting some sheet rock over his naked wall joists and adding an outbuilding or two on the property, all of which would require him to get a building permit from the city. And getting a building permit would require him to notify all the neighbors within a stated perimeter and, should there be objections, submit to a public hearing of his petition.

In short, Lorenzo spied a possible snag in his plans, decided not to give any possible or imagined ground of offense to his dog-owning neighbor, and (even though Lorenzo himself has no dog) to slink off in uncomplaining silence, withholding his testimony, offering neither aid nor succor. It is a tale older than time and sadder than humanity.

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