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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hounded in the Valley…

Cloud banked Ranier

Doggone it anyway. Can’t a fella and his bicycle have a leisurely ride (it’s the only way Gladys and I travel) in the Valley without being set upon by a pack of dogs? You know, I’ve seen it coming. I told myself way back last summer when I saw that heaving pile of pups on Johnny Deck’s lawn, “Doggone it, there’s trouble brewing here.” And as days, weeks, months, passed, that mound of pups grew into dogs, and pretty hefty hounds they are, too. Now over the years I’ve owned four dogs, and you don’t have to be a dog whisperer to know some basics about dog behavior. Here you have it in a nutshell: one dog’s a pet, two+ dogs are a pack and suddenly you’re dealing with pack mentality. I also know that dogs are not unlike humans where habits are concerned—a dog’s habit is doggone hard to break. An egg suckin’ dog lives to suck eggs; a chicken killin’ dog lives for a mouthful of feathers; a tire chasin’ dog lives for spinning rubber. Doggone it, once a dog starts chasing moving vehicles, there’s no 12 day program I’m aware of for doggie rehab.

Yes, I know the Valley is country, folks, and seems like the wide open spaces, but the pioneer days of elbow room are gone. Doggone it, let’s keep our animals in check, people, especially if you have a yard full of dogs. It’s just doggone unneighborly of you to let them roam free range. A couple years back we had a midnight visitation by a pair (two…there’s your pack mentality) of rabbit-crazed golden retrievers that splintered our deck trying to get at a hapless cottontail. The same dynamic duo dismantled the woodpile tunneling after their bunny victim. Canines errant have trampled my seed beds in planting time. And one of my doggone “pet” peeves is running afoul of a pile of dog stuff with the riding mower. Nothing quite cancels out the smell of fresh mown grass as pet pooh. And if the offensive substance lodges in the tread of the tires…well, the stench flies back at you with each revolution of the wheel and it lingers until the job is done and you hose off the tire.

There seems to be an attitude among many pet owners that ownership and love of a pet is justification  enough to suffer it on others as well. And that’s doggone aggravating.

Now let me return to the reason for this post. The last couple of months that pile of dogs on Decks’ lawn has unraveled itself a half dozen of times when Gladys and I ride into view.They’ve left off their scratching, and ambushed us en masse. Suddenly we have become the doggone source of entertainment for a whole yard of motley canine crew, at once surrounded by a flash mob of yipping and yapping mutts. That’s pretty much been the extent of this annoyance--until this past Monday, that is. And then the inevitable happened. Lumbering along on our way back from flood patrol, we are once again set up by that unruly pack of hounds. And this time a black Lab “pup”makes contact and snags my sweats just above my right ankle. Now it’s challenge enough to stay astride Gladys under normal riding conditions, but let me tell you, forward progress with a seventy pound black Lab hanging off your leg is not only difficult but doggone annoying. Not much damage, just ripped fabric. No skin broken. No bloodshed—yet. Not this time….

Another concern I have when Gladys and I become the center of this flurry of canine attention: what happens, say, when you factor in an oncoming vehicle whizzing along at forty miles an hour and suddenly the road is filled with dogs and some old codger on a vintage bike? I’m afraid a chance meeting like that could very well result in a goulash of dog flesh, pieces of bike and vehicle parts—and me as the main ingredient. One dog in the road is distraction enough, let alone a whole pack. It may be just me, but shouldn’t dogs do their frolicking on private property and not harass passersby using a public thoroughfare?

I’m on my way home licking my emotional near wounds when I notice a blue van with an official logo on its side parked in the corner lot by the Breezy Blends Espresso Stand. I wheel in and ride to a stop alongside the van. The logo reads: “Snohomish County Animal Control Services.” A coincidence, perhaps? Or is there justice in this fragile world after all! The officer inside is writing up an official report of some sort. My presence interrupts him. When we make eye contact, I don’t say a word but point to the tear in my pants. “Did that just happen?” he asks? I tell him, yes, and like a good reporter, fill in the details, give him the “where,” the “what,” and for good measure throw in the “whose.” The officer shakes his head. “You know,” he said, “I was just over there. I’ve already ticketed the owner once and he’s since told me he had thinned the numbers down to three and licensed them as per County ordinances.” I told the officer I was sure there were more than three dogs that rushed out to greet me. “Do you want to file a complaint?” he asks. I tell him, no, I’m just a guy out enjoying the Valley and that’s all I ask for. I try to leave a “light footprint” in my travels and the last thing I want to do is rile up the natives. After giving me some helpful advice on protective measures I might employ should the incident repeat itself in the future, the officer gives me his card and off I pedal home.

You know, why a dairyman—or anyone, for that matter--needs a pack of hounds on his place is beyond me. This is not Jolly Olde England; a dairyman, I’m sure, hasn’t the time to run his hounds  through the countryside after a fox. (Do we even have foxes here in the Valley?) It ain’t the Ozarks either, doggone it, where the good ol’ boys sit around a bonfire atop a ridgeback somewheres, drink moonshine, and listen to their hounds chase a ‘coon up the hills and down the hollers. Do dairymen need dogs to help herd their herd from here to there? Don’t dairy cows wander into the milking stalls of their own accord?Is the dairy business in such dire straits that a dairyman needs to run a puppy mill on the side? It’s my guess that this superfluity of hounds was the result of animal husbandry misapplied(an unplanned canine pregnancy, is my guess).

A follow-up with Animal Control officer informs me that a County resident may own no more than three licensed canines per address. (It appears that multiple addresses apply in this case, thus complicating the issue here.) I was also told that my “unofficial” complaint had precedent, all from bicyclists, it seems. I learn, too, that after our conversation, the officer went back to the “scene of the crime” and did a stakeout. He observed four dogs, none of which showed any inclination to chase motor vehicles. Apparently the Deck dogs prefer bicyclists—and Gladys and I, well…we’re about as elusive as a football tackling dummy. Sitting ducks is what we are.

As I’ve said, I like dogs. The four I’ve owned have been a special part of my life. My neighbors now have or have had dogs; my daughter has a dog. But none of us has had a passel of hounds. We didn’t and don’t let our pets roam at will to and fro in the Valley and up and down in it, causing all sorts of mischief. Call me a fussy old man if you wish, but any seventy pound hound dangling from your ankle as you bicycle down a public road is NOT this man’s best friend.

My last word on the subject: “Doggonit!” And don’t I wish…!

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