The War Between the Neighbors and the Dogs
I thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that when we bought a house and stopped renting lodgings that our pet problems had ended. I hadn’t bargained for the HOA and the neighbor who believes Silence is Golden and imposes that rule on others.
I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ins and outs of HOAs. I had already absorbed one truism: Never count on an HOA to take your side. When in doubt the HOA will defer to the complainant, especially if you’re the new kid on the block.
The other key to détente with your HOA dawned on me a little too late considering the dogs were the primary reason for our newest real estate purchase. The schnauzers, all five of them, were true to their terrier roots. When they thought their property was being encroached upon, they barked up a storm. And since the fence was one of those I-can-see-you-through-the-slats kind, the dogs could track every movement on the other side — from the shuffling of footsteps to the whizzing of trucks traveling ten miles above the speed limit. Their reactions varied from sniffing under the fence to hysterical yapping. Most of the time, however, they merely ran to the fence, searched earnestly for movement and waddled back.
But I should have paid more attention to what realtors term the three most important criteria to buying a new home: location, location, location.
Our house is situated on a corner of a main street in the development. People use it as a through route to the dog park or as part of their exercise ritual. Sometimes their dogs accompany them, sometimes they are alone, and sometimes they walk in pairs.
It didn’t take long to conclude that a war between the neighbors and the dogs could break out at any moment. After observing the latters’ territorial behavior in the yard for about an hour, I realized where I had goofed. I had broken a rule that every dog owner should know and follow: Make sure your neighbors have dogs and that these dogs bark louder than yours. It’s a simple precept but hard to carry out mainly because it involved snooping and interrogation, two skills I do not excel in.
When I thought about it, I could have asked the realtor what she knew about my neighbors and their dog ownership. I failed to do that, and most importantly I failed the premier test, which involved walking the back fence and throwing rocks at the slats to simulate a real person making noise. That might have worked to ferret out any sleeping dogs in the neighbors’ yards.
In lieu of that I could have prevailed upon the landscaper to rev up his tiller to the nth decibel. If I didn’t hear any frantic barking, I could be sure my neighbors were dog free. But I didn’t perform either of those tests and I knew why.
I wanted to believe in the kindness of strangers. Yes, I was playing Blanche DuBois in a “Streetcar Named Desire,” and I figured that nice people know that dogs bark, right? It’s in their doggy DNA. Thus they would say to themselves, “Oh yes, that must be our new neighbors’ dogs saying hello. Aren’t they cute?”
Obviously I was deluded and into denial in a big way. What neighbor paying dues to an HOA is going to excuse a breach of etiquette as humongous as five yapping dogs and a cranky owner?
Still, I had one neighbor to aid in my defense: My next-door neighbor “David” owned a Golden Retriever, and we had chatted. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I learned enough to be certain that this dog had a basso bark that bested my schnauzer chorus. Yes!
I don’t much care for my dogs’ yapping either so if the barking goes on too long, we bring the dogs inside the house. We are not trying to disturb our neighbors. It just works out that way.
The Big Fight
The Big Fight came when my husband decided to change his sleep-wake schedule. In a unilateral decision that neglected to take into consideration anything beyond his own needs and desires, he opted to retire at around 8 pm and get up around 5 am. His reason? He liked the quiet of the early morning and he meditated then.
Personally I figured it was a ruse to eat several gallons of ice cream he had secreted away in the freezer. He was going to a lot of trouble to hide this, but I figured if the dogs didn’t mind being awakened at 5 am and he was okay with it too, then who was I to rock the proverbial boat.
The dogs seemed to be quiet around that hour. They probably were so sleep deprived that they didn’t have the energy to yap. Whatever the reason, I never heard a thing. Granted, I’m a pretty sound sleeper, but if there had been a disturbance outside, I’m sure I would have heard it. Right?
The Big Fight involved me, my husband, a youngish female, and a disembodied voice that emerged sometime during the skirmish and then disappeared as quickly as it surfaced.
As the camera pans over the suburban street scene, a bit of undefinable movement on the street side of the fence is sighted by my dogs. The movement may have been a twig cracking, a child dragging his wagon, or two cars colliding, but the result would have been the same. The schnauzers set up a shrill volley of yaps.
At this precise moment the aforementioned young female (let’s call her Pat) leans over the fence between our two yards and starts a conversation with my husband. I am farther away but I intuit a problem. Why now after months of living so close to our residence — and never uttering a peep except for a comment that the former owner of our house constantly ignored weeds poking up helter-skelter in the front yard — would she be initiating conversation? She was up to something!
From a distance, I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but I had a feeling that she and my husband were not batting the subject of weeds back and forth. I was right.
Pat: All we want is for the dogs not to bark at 5 am.
Silence pervaded the scene for two reasons. First, my husband is hard of hearing and second, this was the first time I had heard that our dogs were barking at 5 am.
Surprise is an important strategy and Pat had it down to a science. I don’t know how this HOA rep could definitively point the finger at our dogs, but I decided not to play that card. I just assumed she was correct. If I denied her claim, the next step would be an official HOA complaint. That would not be a great welcome to the neighborhood.
Me: Ok. What time works for you? The dogs are flexible.
Pat: After 6 am.
(From approximately 30 yards away and inside Pat’s house, a man yells 7 am.)
Me: (Deciding to ignore the voice from Pat’s house) Ok 6 it is.
Now at this point you’re probably wondering WTF do I mean by a Big Fight? That wasn’t a Big Fight. That was a tiny little skirmish. It barely qualified as a minor disagreement. And you would be right.
I forgot to tell you that the Big Fight in question ended up being a feud with my husband. After I pledged to Pat that on pain of death (and cross my heart and hope to die) I would not allow my dogs to even breathe heavily until after 6 am, my husband decided he needed to delineate the details of our contractual obligations. “I just wanted to get things settled,” he stage whispered to me.
With that he starts blabbing away to Pat, as I keep tugging on his shirt collar. “Step away from the fence,” I yell. I’m convinced that nothing good can come from this additional information exchange between neighbors. The more data Pat has, the more she will use it against us, if not right this second, then later on — before an HOA meeting.
I know how neighborhoods work and I’ve tussled with the Pats of the world so I knew that right now silence was golden for us. But my husband had already switched to lawyer mode and when he transforms himself into that goodie-two-shoes-logical-thinking-fairness-is-everything male, I know I am losing the battle.
I gave him one of my are-you-nuts look to no avail. I’m angry that Pat and my equal-rights husband are orchestrating this tete a tete. I’m thinking of strangling my husband. I’d strangle Pat too, but I’m sure I’d hear from the HOA about that.
While tussling with my husband and screaming cautionary words like “we’re done, let’s get out of here,” I hear a female voice weigh in on the fight. Pat, with the pert nose and the flawless complexion, says to me pointedly, “You’re awfully aggressive.”
Now this really ticks me off. I’m not being aggressive with her, just loud and jealous of her pert nose. I’m manhandling my husband aggressively because he is not obeying my command to get the fuck inside the house.
Pat takes this opportunity to give me a capsule profile of herself: “I came over here to politely ask you about the dogs barking and now you’re aggressive.”
There’s that ugly word again and now I get it. Pat wants my husband to know that she’s a perfectly behaved darling, and I’m an asshole. Mission accomplished, she tops off her Facebook summary with one last grenade: “I believe there’s something in the HOA rules that defines a no-noise ordinance as anything before 7 am.”
Ahh-ah, I think. I glare at my husband, trying to convey to him through the twitching of my eyebrows just how right I am about Pat and about dangerous conversational exchanges. It’s a lost cause. He doesn’t have the foggiest notion that I want to accomplish nothing more than to retreat to our house.
But unfortunately her words have provoked my limbic brain, and I’m forced to respond. Meanwhile my functionally deaf husband is still trying to work out a codicil on the agreement he thinks he’s negotiated with Pat.
I let go with my own bit of verbal ammunition. I’m not sure that I’m 100 percent correct since I’ve never really read the HOA rules, but I tell her truthfully that a lot of people are breaking this noise ordinance because for the past two weeks, three or four houses are having roofs installed. Hers included. “I’m sure the loud hammering has started before 7 am.”
That stops her in her tracks, but not my husband. He’s still working out the details of our dog-bark agreement, and I expect any second he’ll produce a pen and have me and Pat sign on the dotted line and exchange high fives. Meanwhile it occurs to me that here we are in the middle of the COVID pandemic screaming over the fence without our masks on.
As soon as that idea pops into my frontal cortex, I envision millions of droplets of viral germs swarming around my mouth and being sucked up into my nasal cavities. Suddenly I’m more scared of dying than I am of being bested by this young whippersnapper who probably picked up the “aggressive” accusation from some marriage counselor she and her husband are consulting.
Meanwhile my husband and I watch as Pat sashays toward her house. She probably intends to telephone the next HOA rep on the phone tree. I’m hoping that’s the last time I ever see Pat. She doesn’t seem especially concerned about the possible COVID transmission, so I figure she’s about as dumb as a doornail and probably doesn’t even know what the HOA or COVID initials stand for.
I figure we’re safe, at least as far as the barking thing, considering my husband has an “agreement” practically written in blood. Without Pat standing her ground, the Big Fight with my husband fizzles.
Except that “aggressive” remark keeps rattling around, looking for a nasty nerve ending to trigger. I take out my pent-up rage by allowing the dogs to bark uncontrollably at a FEDEX truck barreling down the street. Then I hurry all five dogs into the house.
Later that night we’re outside in the coolness, a light breeze rustling through the pine trees in our backyard. I notice how quiet and dark it is. Just the streetlights are on. It’s only 8 pm, but it feels like midnight. The lamps in the adjoining houses are extinguished and there’s a decided absence of human noise. Not even a TV disturbs the unrelenting silence.
Then it strikes me: I moved into a cemetery. No wonder I don’t hear a thing. They’re all dead. Zombies. The HOA must be full of them.