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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors…

“He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

                *     *     *     *     *

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it/Where there are cows…?”

Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

Or dogs, Robert? Did you forget about dogs?Hot Dog!

I’ve lived in the Valley for thirty-six years and in all that time I can’t ever remember exchanging a single word with Johnny Deck. Our knowledge of each other is casual at best, a wave as he passes me if I’m on foot or pedaling Gladys. I always wave back. I doubt John even knows who I am, thinks: “Hmmm, there’s that old guy again”whenever we pass.

If you’ve followed my blog, you are aware of the issue I’ve had with Decks’ dogs (see post “Hounded in the Valley,” 12/15/10). Since that fateful day when I briefly wore an ornery black lab as an anklet, Gladys and I never leave the house without our hi-stream canister of pepper spray. The routine has been to slow warily at Meeus’ house, retrieve the can from my pocket, and ready it for use should I be ambushed by Johnny’s dogs. Twice I’ve had to dismount, canister at the ready, when that belligerent pack of hounds spilled out into the road in a threatening manner. I hung fire, partly out of fear I’d assault myself with drift from my own pepper “bomb,” but mostly because I didn’t want to harm a dog--Johnny’s or anyone else’s.

You can imagine my surprise—and delight—when I pedaled by Decks’ dairy the other day, canister of capsaicin teetering on the handlebar grip, and noticed a three-strand electric fence cordoning off the lawn from the road. “Now isn’t that grand!” I thought, feeling as if a huge weight was removed from my leg. Gladys and I floated home in high spirits.

All this led to my first up close and personal encounter with Johnny Deck and an ensuing dialogue both accusatory and tinged with anger. A day or two after I discovered Johnny’s electrified yard, I headed out for my daily exercise. This time I left my pepper spray holstered as I approached Decks’ place. There was that wonderful fence, just a good shock between me and canine catastrophe. I was so proud of that three-strand protection, you’d have thought the fence was my idea (in fact, the thought had crossed my mind a good many times…). “Well, now, I need to take a picture of that fence,” I mused, show it off, indulge my pride. I halted Gladys and had just snapped a couple photos when John stepped out his front door. I waved, said “Hello,” and he did the same. Back on the bike. Head out for home.Neighborly fence

Sometimes on a whim I swing through the Cascade Meadows parking lot—in the first exit, out the second--except now there’s a white pickup truck blocking my path. I recognize the driver. It is Johnny Deck. He gestures a “we need to talk” for me to stop and rolls down the window. “Why are you taking pictures of my house?” he growls. There are hackles in his tone. I tell him the fence was my subject, not his house. “Are you the guy who’s causing trouble for me!” Now I feel my hackles start to lift: “No,” I reply. “It’s your dogs causing trouble for me!” John asks if I’m the one calling County Animal Control and tattling on him. “Not me,” I say and share with him my meeting with the Animal Control officer the day John’s black lab took a swatch off my sweatpants. “The officer asked if I wanted to file a complaint,” I tell John. “No,” I said. “I don’t want to cause trouble for my neighbors.” I proceed to tell John that according to Animal Control mine was not the first complaint the County had had about his dogs but one of many. “And that’s why,” I told him, “I was so pleased to see your fence. I wanted some photo evidence of your ‘good neighbor’ efforts to make the Valley a safer place.”

Johnny softens  a little when he hears this and launches into a dismal tale about how a dedicated dairyman “accidentally” got into the dog rearing business. “The kids didn’t want me to spay the females,” he lamented. Of course biology took over at that point, thus that pile of roiling dog flesh his yard couldn’t contain. “The lab had a litter of nine,”John says. “Then the spotted female had a litter of six. I got rid of some of ‘em. This one’s spayed,” indicating the large black lab riding shotgun in the truck. “Seems to me,” I remark, “it would have been cheaper in the long run to have ‘em spayed and neutered in the first place. That fence looks like an expensive proposition, let alone the time it took you to string it up.” Johnny nods in agreement. “Thought you had changed livelihoods,” I laugh, “given up on the dairy business and switched to running a dog farm.” John chuckles a bit, shakes his head, drags the back of his hand across his forehead. At this point we’re on much better terms. I thank him again for the fence, for being a good neighbor, for making the Valley a safer place for traffic: cars, bicycles, and walkers. For being a responsible citizen. Johnny smiles and with a friendly good-by wave, returns to his daily chores: running a DAIRY farm. As coincidence would have it, just the day before I had mailed a thank-you card to Mr. Johnny Deck in which I had written the above sentiments. I’m sure it was in his mailbox the entire time we were clearing the air.

So now the Valley is  a safer place, thanks to Johnny Deck. And the next time John sees that “nosy” old guy out in the Valley, I hope he’ll recall with fond memories our serious little chat in front of the horse barn and give me a sociable, full hand wave when next we pass. Maybe stop, even, and as one friendly Valley neighbor to another, talk about whatever doggone subject that may arise.Blind corner unblinded(And thanks, too, Country crew for restoring sight to that blind corner east of Swiss Hall. Now I can glance over my shoulder and see if I’m being followed.)

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