May 2008

Country dogs

By David Feela

When John Denver wrote his song “Country Roads,” no doubt he had a rural vision, one where serpentine back roads wandered past farmhouses and barns, where a few cows and horses dappled a landscape of rolling hills and green meadows. Clearly, John Denver imagined these scenes from a hotel suite or perhaps with a bird’s eye view from his ultra-lite glider, for had he been walking along any country road in my neighborhood he’d have been preoccupied with shaking a snarling dog loose for at least a quarter-mile.

I don’t know how people handle their dogs in West Virginia, but I can assure you in Montezuma County people generally don’t – handle them, that is. Instead, they set them free on “the estate” to harass motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians that travel past property lines along any public-access road. Maybe they believe their dogs function as security guards or low-tech surveillance devices. I’m not sure, but a dog on my tail means at least two crouched in a bush. Bad dog, the neighbors will say, but secretly they must be pleased to have put the fear of dog into someone.

There’s an idiosyncrasy when it comes to raising and keeping dogs, because the attitude that lets dogs roam in the country is not such a wideopen problem when it comes to town living. An unrestrained dog on the street is a sight completely free of animal bigotry. In town are the supposedly enforceable leash laws, ordinances, animal-control officers. The dog loose on the avenue is often lost, abandoned, or truly a bad dog that has broken its leash. The dogs I’m complaining about are the pastoral pooches, cultivated canine terror machines, lunging and barking at any animated figure making its way down the road. These dogs are cared for by the careless.

The dog, of course, isn’t to blame. When I hike I’ll inevitably consider which route is less plagued by unleashed or unkenneled animals. If I’m riding my bike I’ll psych myself up to race like Lance Armstrong past any farmhouse where I know – by experience – that a dog or two will come charging. In my car, of course, I’ll do the opposite – slow down – just in case one of the dogs gets caught under a tire.

A friend of mine owns an electronic device which emits a high-pitched sound dogs can’t tolerate. When she goes out for a walk in her neighborhood, she carries it with her like a sidearm. I don’t blame her. I wish I owned one myself, but I’d be tempted to re-route its power and turn it on the dog owners – straight through their satellite television hookups – like a Taser. Get your dog out of the road, I’d say, because being chased isn’t making my day.

Actually, I don’t want to glorify that Dirty Harry mentality. When I close my eyes I imagine riding along on my bicycle with all my neighbors’ dogs quietly sitting and staying at the edge of their driveways, one paw raised, offering an interspecies greeting. In their backyards their owners are chained, the keys to their SUVs dangling from their collars.

I know, the idea is a bit Orwellian, but surely when it comes to animals on the farm – dogs in particular – Napoleon the pig was right: Four legs good, two legs bad.

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County.