Every night, just before the stroke of midnight, I hear what sounds like a dog being brutally murdered just beyond the confines of my bedroom window. The first time I heard the noise, I bolted from my slumber, peered outside into the charcoal-darkness, only to see nothing. The sound appeared to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. I was afraid to go outdoors on my own to investigate. I have a vivid imagination by day, a macabre one by night. Could these noises have been perpetrated as a decoy of sorts by a murderer, intent on breaking into my house and bludgeoning my family to death?
The sound–a howling, yelping, please-don’t-beat-me pack-animal kind of sound reserved for great distress–persisted for about ten minutes. On that first night, even my own dogs awoke, howling relentlessly, joining a chorus of other dogs in the nocturnal bark that had ensued throughout my neighborhood. When the clamor finally subsided, I retreated to sleep, taking comfort that my own watchful canines were guarding us from intruders.
Since that night, I have grown to expect to be aroused from my comfortable sleep by the beaten-dog sound, and every night, without fail, I hear it. While it is a sound of pain, I now recognize it as simply the very vocal wail of a hound, left outside by his owners, either oblivious or unconcerned about their pet’s disturbing nightly cacophony.
I’ve thought about getting in the car and driving around to follow the noise until I can find the offender, except it’s impossible in the vast night air to determine from which direction the sound is issuing. Plus, it’s warm and cozy in my bed, despite the rude awakening. Why add a brusque slap of cold air to my already adrenaline-charged body.
Fact is, barking dogs can be a problem. I know: I own such an offender. We call her the bark-a-holic. And because of her, I’ve got a little more tolerance for such offenders.
Bridget, an Australian cattle dog/Alaskan Husky mix, was an impulse buy. She charmed her way into our lives a few months after the death of our 10-year old Labrador, whose allergy-addled body had cost us a fortune in veterinary bills. We had vowed a lengthy period of dog abstinence, both to recover finances and to heal the heavy hearts of our children who had been gravely saddened by her death. We weren’t ready for another dog when we encountered a rescue league volunteer showing off an adorable puppy from an abandoned litter. With sapphire eyes that sparkled and pigtail ears with which my kids became instantly enamored, the dog plied her charms. How could we have done anything other than impulsively bring home the docile pooch? Plus, we were saving her from dog pound death, we were certain.
A trip to the vet, a diagnosis of parasites and a treatment of medicine, and our passive pup became a dominant tyrant, intent on ruling our roost, listening to nothing but the voices in her head and the call of the wild, something with which she’d clearly become accustomed after wandering alone along the back country roads for however long she did on her own.
No amount of dog training would undo what nature had already established within her, much to our dismay. Thus we had to learn how to outwit the dog. Bridget loves the night air. I suspect in a past life she was a vampire or something, because she prefers nothing better than to prowl in the dark, and to warn off any invaders from her terrain with her lusty bark. I have a feeling sinking her teeth into something might provide a good deal of satisfaction to top off her evening foray.
At first, we’d let Bridget go outside in the evening. We learned soon enough that as easy as it was to let the dog out, it was equally impossible to lure her back in. No amount of kindness, reprimands, or Scooby Snacks would induce her to come inside. Instead, she remained on the periphery of our yard, barking with unyielding fury at the unseen deer, foxes, maybe even coyotes in the woods behind our house. We therefore learned after a few nights of such futile attempts simply not to let her out after dusk. But she was wise to our ways. Soon we realized that we couldn’t let her go outside within a couple hours of dusk, like some werewolf that became dangerous upon sunset. Our contented afternoon dog would realize as the sun was descending that she’d better make herself scarce or she’d be trapped indoors all night.
In the meantime, we had an out of control dog that barked. And barked and barked and barked. We live in the country. Well, sort of. In a neighborhood, but in the country. Close enough to engender the ire of neighbors if your dog keeps them awake at night. And so it was that our neighbors began to loathe us.
“And bark and bark and bark–” I overheard my neighbor relaying to another neighbor at a Christmas party that first year.
I looked over at her. “You’re talking about Bridget?” I asked, half hoping that by putting that possibility out there, it would not be the case.
“In fact, I am,” she said. I didn’t sense much warmth in the answer. Exasperation? Perhaps. Who could blame her?
Oh, God, I needed to do something. We were new in town. The last thing we could afford to do was tick off the neighbors because of a nuisance pet.
Each time we devised a plan to keep Bridget housebound, Bridget would devise a plan to the contrary. In fact, she grew bolder and began breeching the electric fence. So well before the sun went down, she’s steel herself up, get a running start, and yelp her way through the power zap (we’d already resorted to the “stubborn dog collar” to preclude such episodes, but no such luck). By now, Bridget had an interesting yet imposing look about her. Gone were the frisky puppy pigtail ears, and in their stead, tall, pointing, imposing dog ears. And rather than the sparkly ocean-deep blue eyes, they’d morphed into pie-eyes: a cold hit-man shade of ice-blue in one, and part ice-blue, part brown in the other. Her tail curled up in a statement of power, and overall her appearance was one of “I can kick your butt so get outta my way.”
Needless to say, the neighbors were unimpressed, yet duly intimidated. Bridget had gotten her way. The first time we’d attached the stubborn dog collar on Bridget’s neck, we felt terrible. To powerfully zap the dog seemed downright cruel. And when she broke through the perimeter and got zapped, emitting an ear-piercing shrill that was immediately replicated by our talking parrot, it seemed all the crueler.
But soon enough, I was called upon to do greater battle than just the nine-volt neck zapper. On a cold February night, I hosted a party. My husband was out of town. I had the kids upstairs with a babysitter, and had a hundred plus women for a ladies’ night out bash that went off seamlessly, but for the incessant barking of Bridget in the mudroom. Frustrated by her intrusive behavior, I closed her into the dog crate for the duration of the evening, covering it with a sheet to seal her fate that night.
When the party had ended, I guiltily freed Bridget from jail. She was happy to see me, glad for the attention, and boy, she must have had to pee. I had a lot of clean up to do, and as I was carrying a bag of trash outside, Bridget dashed out the back door.
Now, earlier that day, my next-door neighbor had mentioned she couldn’t come to the party because she had to get up at four in the morning to catch a flight out of Dulles. So the fact that my dog decided to start barking at invisible boogeymen in my back yard at 1:30 a.m. would not hold me in good stead with my sleep-deprived neighbor.
I begged, cajoled then cried for the dog to come in. I ran down our expansive and steep backyard hill to try to catch her, but she has the speed and gait of a cheetah, and I that of a lumbering elephant, especially half asleep and after a couple of glasses of wine. I was gasping and wheezing as I chased the dog up and down the hill, her always ten strides ahead of me.
My first brilliant idea came straight from the cartoons of my youth: to lure the dog with the cat. I found one of our cats asleep on the sofa and took her outside, dangling her in front of Bridget’s line of vision. Normally, the dog–who herself is designed like a cat poised to spring into action–would take the bait. But she was making me suffer retribution for having missed out on the party fun, and wouldn’t budgee.
My next idea wasn’t very effective either. Desperate for something that could be launched at her to stop her in her tracks, I called the all-night emergency vet.
“I was wondering, if I spray that high-powered wasp spray at a dog’s eyes just to temporarily stop her, could I do permanent damage?” I foolishly asked.
“Uh, ma’am,” said the suspicious voice on the other end. “Can I please have your name and address?”
Not wanting animal welfare services to come after me, I hung up and put on my thinking cap. Surely I could outwit a dog!
With tears of frustration and exhaustion streaming down my cheeks, I sat on my deck, overlooking my dauntingly steep and wide backyard, desperate to catch that beast but–without a lasso and several years worth of rope training–unable to do so. And then it dawned on me as I stared blankly at my gas grill…
I quickly turned on the grill to warm it up (though warming it up was irrelevant, really). I went to the freezer and pulled out a package of Nathan’s famous all-beef wieners. And I slapped one on the grill. At two in the morning, there I stood atop the deck, my gas grill emitting the tempting aroma of a summer barbeque in the dead of winter, me hoping desperately that my obstinate barking dog would be lured by the aroma. Wise and mistrusting, Bridget reluctantly approached the grill, but never close enough for me to latch onto her collar. She wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Each time I approached her, she backed off.
Finally, she bolted back down the hill. But I wasn’t done. I grabbed the hot dog from the grill, and slowly meandered down the pathway, approaching the dog. “Here Bridgey-widgey,” I cooed, really wanting to say, “Come here you wretched spawn of Satan.”
I waggled the hot dog in front of her, and finally she made the false move. I snatched her collar, tossed the hot dog into the woods (I was damned if I was going to reward her hour-long display of bad dogsmanship!) and marched her sorry butt back up the long hill and into the house. I’m pretty sure the victorious refrain from Peter and the Wolf was playing in my head.
The other day one of my neighbors asked if I’d heard the mournful wail of the midnight hound.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve learned to deal with it, though.”
After having experienced my own cold night with a hot dog or two, a little hound dog wasn’t going to stir me from my warm winter slumber.