Wednesday

Underground fences don't make better neighbors, but they're a start.

Do “Good fences make good neighbors,” as a character in Robert Frost’s famous “Mending Wall” poem says twice?

Maybe not. But perhaps they are a good place to begin, especially when one has dogs, and a neighbor is absolutely not a dog lover. What do you do, when you have a neighbor with cynophobia, the fear of dogs? We've discovered we have a neighbor like that.

But wait. She has a dog. A very little dog, the kind she could carry around in her purse.

As an aside, I can recall that the only dog that ever actually tried to bite me was the same kind. I don't have to tell you what breed it was, but it rhymes with "chi-ma-ma." Only that particular dog was anything but "chi." And I eventually befriended that dog.

But that’s another matter. (Not profiling here. Just recounting personal history.)

Forgive me. I digress. Let’s get back to the fencing issue.

Our neighborhood has a community association. This is basically a group of residents who try to police the area, when it comes to rules about how we maintain our houses and yards, what color we paint our exterior trim, where we put our garbage cans, how long we display our holiday decorations, and that sort of thing. (There has been some dueling among residents over the years, as you might imagine.)

Oh, and they don’t allow fences.

The powers that be (so to speak) insist the idea behind the no-fence rule is to keep the neighborhood open and spacious and (Get this!) welcoming.

Why would we need a fence? Why would anyone?

Here’s the thing. We have two sweet, but high energy, dogs. They are friendly and athletic and sometimes loud (especially when someone else is barking). I take them on long runs several times each week, with their leashes tied to my belt. They jog along as a team, whether we are on scenic trails or on pretty residential streets or the shoulder of a busy county highway. No problem.

In our yard, we have clipped the dogs to a couple of turnout cables, snapped to corkscrewed hooks for short spells (for potty breaks and while we are out and about in the yard).


Once in a while, these two have escaped our grasp and sprinted loops on our property, or even across the street or through another yard or two, before returning to our call. And I won’t mention any names, but someone has let them out sometimes (usually in the pre-dawn or night hours) without hitching them up, insisting they will stay in the yard. Mostly they have, although they have slipped out now and then. (I’ve badgered this person dogmatically on this issue.)

I get it. As a runner, I don’t like it when dogs leap out unexpectedly. 

More than once, I’ve been brought down by a particular loose dog in an adjacent neighborhood. He is not mean, but he runs out and tends to get tangled in my dogs’ leashes. I've skinned knees and elbows, fallen on my dogs, and ripped a favorite pair of running tights in such instances.

I understand the frustration of encountering loose dogs, especially when they are untethered and wholly unaccompanied by their human/s (as that other family's dog often is). About a year ago, I contacted that dog's owner privately, as a friend, to alert her that her dog had tumbled me (and other runners and bicyclists) to the ground by racing into the street suddenly. I was concerned about safety, but also that someone who didn't know that family might react more strongly to the ongoing situation.

Even still, I occasionally find that dog out and about unsupervised (sometimes a few blocks from his home), but he seems to be growing more street-savvy. And my dogs recognize him now. They pay extra attention, as we pass his house.

These two are not exactly scary, but they are super running buddies.
Back to the offense. (Pun intended.)

An adjacent neighbor does not like our dogs, and she has tried to convince others that they are mean, vicious attack dogs. (They can be noisy, but they are a Lab mix and a Border Collie/Golden Retriever cross. Not exactly what I'd choose, if I was looking for vicious.)

A couple of days ago, these two clowns bolted past me (as I entered the house with groceries). 

This twenty-something neighbor freaked out. She began shrieking the moment our dogs exited our own house. 

She hollered and cursed at me, even as my dogs were on our own patio, right next to our house and at least 40 feet from the property line.

The younger dog sprinted a warp-speed loop around our own yard before returning to me. The older one went around to our side yard to do her thing, then jogged towards this neighbor's driveway, where this young lady stood, holding her toddler and still screaming at me and my dogs. (I am pretty sure the dog did not leave our own yard, although the woman was clearly startled and furious.) I called my dogs immediately, and they came to me. I put them on their yard cables.

I apologized four times across the two yards, but she screeched over me. So I went inside and put away my groceries.


The entire incident lasted less than 30 seconds. The dogs didn't actually get near the lady or her kid. 

And the neighbor lady was the only one barking.

About 15 minutes later, I walked over to her house (without my dogs) to apologize again for the mishap. (Again, I don't think either of my dogs actually left my yard this time. And they came to me promptly when I called, having done nothing actually wrong.) Still, I understood that she had been disturbed, so I went, hoping to preserve some semblance of neighborly peace.

I rang the doorbell. 

“I apologized earlier, but I don’t think you heard me,” I said, mustering the cheeriest tone I could, as she peered through the screen door. "I'm sorry my dogs seem to have bothered you."


And she came at me. 

“Your dogs are vicious and mean attack dogs. They are not nice dogs,” I looked down and saw her little dog running up just then. She stepped onto the porch. “I’ve told other neighbors how vicious and dangerous they are. If they get out again, I will call the authorities and have them taken care of,” she added.

“I’ve told other neighbors how vicious and dangerous they are. If they get out again, I will call the authorities and have them taken care of.” 

She also happened to mention that she is not afraid of the Golden Retriever next door to her, just the black dog that lives in the same house.

Well, then. She just doesn't like black dogs, I realized at that point.

She actually said, "I hate black dogs." (Don't make me go there, folks.) 😦

She actually said, "I hate black dogs."

It looks like the lines have been drawn. 

Long story short, we are installing an underground/invisible dog fence. It’s pricey, but we’re not giving anyone an excuse to threaten having our dogs “taken care of.” If this addition means we don’t have to cross swords with this dog-averse neighbor, then it’s worth it. 

You might say we are on guard, trying to do the right thing.

I’m not sure the installation of underground wiring is gonna make us best friends with this particular neighbor. Certainly we won't be chatting over the backyard fence that we are not allowed to have. I can’t guarantee our dogs won’t bark. If her kid someday happens to cross the property line (as kids are wont to do), I cannot promise my dogs won’t want to play. They'll probably roll on their backs to invite belly scratches. 

And if her tiny dog chooses to wander into our yard and bark at mine, as he did some time ago (in the only other interaction I have ever had with this woman), I cannot pledge that they will not approach him. (She screamed and swore at me on that occasion too, even though my dogs were cabled in our yard and could not come within 10 feet of her trespassing dog or within 20 feet of her property line.) 

But at least we are doing what we can to stay within the boundaries of neighboring by putting in the underground electric dog fence. 

That doesn’t mean we can foil this angry neighbor's anti-canine crusade, aiming to incite fear of our dogs in other neighbors. 

Meanwhile, my dogs are making lots of friends in the neighborhood.

A few families have youngsters who frequently play outdoors and call out to greet my dogs and me when we jog through the streets. 

"Hey, cute doggies," one little boy hollered a few days ago.

Another neighbor’s very young kids have given me pause, simply because they call out to me when I’m running with my dogs, and I haven’t stopped mid-run to let them pet my pooches. I am training for some longer races, and I run on the clock. Plus, I would not invite (or allow) little kids to approach any pet without parents’ presence and OK. Hey, what if a child is allergic to dogs? (Note: I followed up with their mother, and we plan to introduce them with parental permission and supervision soon.)

Dogs. You either love ‘em, or you … well, maybe that’s why good fences make better neighbors.



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