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  • Writer's pictureDana Webster

The Greater Good

Warning: this post could be construed as a rant.

Our neighbours' dogs bark. A lot. And loudly. It used only to be during the day and into the evening which was hard enough to deal with but lately they've been leaving the dogs outside all night and, naturally, they bark then, too. Feeling pretty put upon as a result. We've resorted to closing all our windows and turning the fan on high to block out the racket; thereby, depriving ourselves not only of the gorgeous summer night fresh air but the sounds of crickets and frogs doing their nocturnal thing (did you know frogs travel at night? How cool is that?). This is not new. It has been a problem since we moved here four years ago. Only back then they had one dog who barked; now they have two in stereo. And a rooster. And chickens. Which attract the coyotes. Who howl with a primal sangfroid.

We tried talking to the neighbours but were shouted down. We complained to the Orangeville SPCA who were kind of helpful. At least the dogs no longer venture onto our property every day, killing small animals, rampaging through our pond, and jumping up on guests. Except for that time, a week ago, when the battery died on the Invisible Fence collar and one of them came over, again, for a "visit." Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. This is not a cats vs dogs issue. I love all animals (okay, I don't love spiders but I think I've mentioned that before and, anyway, spiders don't bark).

Here's the thing: some of us don't toss our fast food packaging onto the side of the road; we wait till we get home and throw it in the garbage bin. Some of us hold doors open for others just because it's the polite thing to do. Some of us say please and thank you. Some of us keep the party down so as not to disturb others. Some of us follow the rules of the road for the safety of all. Some of us apologize for transgressions. Some of us put down our phones when in the presence of others like at the check-out counter or when with family. Some of us wear masks during a pandemic because we care about the health of our community members.

Some of us train our dogs not to bark all the goddam day and night.

See where I'm going with this? Who are those people who seem, simply, not to give a flying flip about the rest of us? Whatever happened to the concept of greater good? The greater good is about civility, the cornerstone of any healthy and viable community of people. The greater good takes every affected person into account, not just ourselves. Sometimes it's hard to make everyone happy, I get that. We all live life differently. But doing our best not to discomfit others should be something to which we all aspire. Imagine the possibilities:

"Hey, we live right next door there and your dogs are doing a lot of barking. It's disturbing and upsetting. Do you think we could come up with a solution to this problem?"

"Oh my goodness, I had no idea it was affecting you in this way. We are new to pet ownership and not sure what to do. We will look into behaviour training. Thank you for bringing this to our attention."

Easy peasy. But it rarely happens this way, does it?

A few years ago, our first summer in Mono, we and our neighbours for miles around were terrorized by the bird bangers (propane fired cannons) employed by a local vineyard. Seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, every 10 minutes, 3 explosive cannon shots that rang across the Hockley Valley traumatizing not only birds but all of Mother Nature's critters. It was a nightmare of PTSD in the making. When the community protested, we were told the vineyard had "a right" to use bangers and, therefore, we were all S.O.L. How is that even possible? Dozens of households living previously quiet rural lives now being woken in the early hours of the morning with cannon shots and enduring those same shots throughout the next 12 hours. One family's right to grow grapes trumped the peaceful enjoyment of the majority.

Yeah, this kind of thing makes me angry. And I don't like being angry. It's icky and chafes like a prickly wool sweater against sunburnt skin. But sometimes anger is the only healthy option. For me, anyway, anger moves me into solution if for no other compelling reason than that I don't like being angry. In the case of our neighbour's dogs, we have lodged a complaint with our municipal by-law officer and we sent our neighbours notice of our actions.

Will it do the trick? I hope so. Boundaries. We in the mental health field are always going on about setting boundaries. Why? Because there are always people who want to take advantage, who just want things to go their way. And a civil society simply cannot thrive, let alone survive, without concession, without compassion, without empathy.

And so I end on this PSA: Wear a mask; save a life. Train your dog; save a neighbour.

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