I didn’t want another dog. Our last dog had been a beagle. I had bonded with the idea of a hound after seeing the most adorable drug sniffing dogs in an airport once. They were very well behaved. Our beagle: not so much. This dog was untrainable. It once leapt onto the counter to eat a bowl of raw chicken that was marinating. At least it was stupid: we made it several years before it figured out that our picket fence was actually breachable in any number of ways. But once it figured that out, the world was its oyster.
So I got to know the dog officer. She would regularly find our escapee wandering somewhere in town, and bring it back. Or tell us who had found it, so we could go fetch it ourselves. The dog officer provided a valuable public service.
When that dog died, I was beyond thrilled. Finally, we could take as long as we wanted at a social event and not have to worry about getting home to let the dog out. We could leave food on the counter. We could walk across the kitchen with a slice of pizza in hand and not have to worry about a dog flying through the air to snatch it away.
Really, the only service that dog performed was cleaning up any morsel of food the kids dropped on the floor. So I got a Roomba.
So that dogless bliss lasted about 10 minutes.
Then I got this:
So, clearly, we were getting another dog. My wife had already picked out a rescue on petfinder.com, and the next thing I knew, we were a family with a dog once again.
But this dog was different than the beagle. Well behaved. Good natured. Loyal. Loving. Pretty much the perfect dog. For some reason, the shelter named him “Ben,” so we just went with that.
Unlike the beagle, Ben is not stupid. So he wasn’t fooled for one second by our fence. He is also not particularly fond of being contained. We tried leaving him on the deck once, and he ate the storm door trying to get back into the house. (To be fair, there was a civil war reenactment happening on the town common, including cannon fire.)
So we invested in one of those invisible fences. A wire runs the perimeter of our land, and the dog wears a collar that beeps when he gets near and gives him a shock if he gets too close. But he’s smart, so that pretty much never happens.
And with that fence came the freedom he wanted. He became an “outside” dog. He wants to go out first thing in the morning, and we have to beg him to come back in at the end of the day. He keeps an eye on the neighborhood. He has barking conversations with neighbor dogs.
He likes to hide under a dwarf Japanese maple in front of our house and then pounce out to surprise people walking by. He’s a prankster that way.
And that brings us back to the dog officer.
One afternoon, I was in the kitchen and the kids excitedly came to get me.
“Dad! It’s the cops!!!”
I went to the door, and there is our friend the dog officer. I step outside to chat.
“Yeah, so the reason I’m here is. Well. There was a complaint about your dog.”
“Someone is complaining that the dog is barking.”
“Well, they blocked their caller ID and didn’t leave their name. So it’s anonymous.”
Thinking: you can block your caller ID when you call the cops? Really? That doesn’t seem plausible.
OK, so what are the rules about barking dogs?
“We have quiet hours from 10pm to 7am.”
Uh, our dog is always inside during those hours.
“Yes, I know. But we have a complaint, and I’m required to come tell you that.”
So you are telling me that an anonymous caller complained about my dog barking, but there is nothing wrong with my dog barking.
“I’m just required to come tell you.”
OK. Well, thanks, I guess. I think I’ll go back inside now.
That was odd. I know the dog officer isn’t paid much. Maybe she gets a combat pay bonus if she has to deal with people or something. So that was the last we heard of that for a few weeks.
At this point it’s probably worth pointing out that we really don’t have a “barky” dog. He barks at strangers. Sometimes all the dogs in the neighborhood will get into a long discussion and he takes part. He howls at sirens and church bells (which is actually pretty darn cute). He’s just, you know, a dog.
So, one night, while my wife is preparing dinner, the kids come running in again: “Dad! The cops are back!!!”
So, once again, I go out to visit with the dog officer.
“Yeah, so we had another complaint.”
“Yes. Still anonymous.”
OK. So we aren’t breaking any rules, so I guess we’re done here, right?
“Well, we have a three complaint rule. After three complaints, there is a dog hearing.”
But you said there isn’t any rule about dogs barking during the day.
“That’s true. But there are other ordinances about noise, and nuisances.”
Uh. OK? Well, have a nice day.
And my wife and I both have the same immediate reaction: to the internet!
We live in a small town, but the bylaws are all online and easily searchable. So we each take a shot trying to figure out what the rules are. I already know that our town has no noise ordinance. There was a rather infamous feud between a B&B that hosts weddings, and their neighbors. The owners of the B&B were gay, and the neighbor was a raging homophobe, but the dispute took the form of noise complaints. And in the end we all learned that our town has no noise ordinance. At all.
I figured there might be a dog ordinance that would apply. Nope. Keep them on a leash when off your own property; clean up after them. That’s it.
So at this point, I’m kind of looking forward to the next visit of the woman I’ve started referring to as the ducking fog officer.
She did not disappoint.
It was a particularly miserable day. Cold. Sleet. Nasty. She came by at mid-day, but I happened to be working from home.
“I have another complaint, but it’s different this time.” This time she has a bright green sticker in her hand emblazoned with VIOLATION.
“They are concerned that your dog was out all day in this weather.”
Yes. So are we. The damn thing won’t come inside. There he is, watch, I’ll call him. (Ben just stares at me.)
“I understand. But there’s a state law. If you have a dog outside, he needs to have proper shelter.”
Would leaving the garage door open be sufficient? Or, perhaps, since he can come in any time he wants, would my house be considered proper shelter? It suits the rest of my family pretty well. We have heat and everything in here.
“No. He really needs a dog house filled with hay.”
“Yeah. That’s the law.”
OK, well my wife is in the city anyway. She could pick one up. And I have a friend with sheep, so I can get some hay from them. Would that take care of it?
“Yes. That’s all I need.”
Great. Well, thanks for stopping by.
“Uh. There’s also another barking complaint. And this is your third one.”
Yeah. About that. There’s no such rule.
I looked it up. There is no noise ordinance in town. The dog ordinance doesn’t cover barking. There is no three-strikes rule. Dog hearings are only required for dangerous dogs.
“Uh… well I was told…”
Yeah. You were misinformed. Tell you what. You go figure out what law we’re breaking, and get back to me.
“Huh. OK. I guess I’ll have to go talk to Eric.” (Eric is the police chief. He and I are not close friends, but we are friendly. He’s a very reasonable, and very bright young man.)
Never. Heard. From. Her. Again.
Over the next few weeks we watched the saga play out in the police logs of the local paper. Dog noise complaint. Officer conveys there is nothing they can do. Perhaps go talk to the selectmen? Dog welfare complaint. Officer advises call SCPA. And so on.
Eventually we learned through our kids exactly which neighbor kid had a mom that hated our dog. Rumor has it they are moving. I’ll miss them so.