One of my children is in trouble with the law….
About midnight a few weeks ago, just as I was falling asleep, I awoke with a start as Ziva, our two-year-old Great Dane puppy began barking like mad. Instantly, I knew we had heard the same thing: the sound of someone jiggling our front door handle. By the time I got downstairs and looked out the window, the individual had disappeared into the night but their fresh tracks in the snow led across our lawn into the dark of our neighbor’s yard. Although we usually do not let Ziva bark late at night, we let Ziva outside on this occasion to bark for a few minutes, just to let whoever it was know that we have a very, very big dog….
This decision to let our dog bark outside and, hopefully, scare away any nefarious people lurking about is one made in specific response to the reality of the neighborhood in which we live. It isn’t a bad neighborhood but it is a transitional area and there is a fair bit of petty and not so petty theft on a regular basis. On our street there have been numerous break-ins in the past year. Neighbors just a few doors up have had a big screen TV stolen and, on another occasion, their car window was smashed for the beer in the backseat. Other neighbors have also had their cars broken into and many have complained about people trying front and back doors at night, just to see if they are open. We even had an expensive bike stolen from our garage recently: it was chained to the wall and the chain had been cut through like it was butter. Ziva woke up barking like mad on that night, too, but we thought she was just being annoying and so we ignored her.
In light of these petty thefts, which average about two a month in our little neighborhood of 1 square km, we have started letting Ziva out to bark more at night and, when we go out to see what she’s barking at, we often hear footsteps or a bicycle disappearing into the dark of the alley or woods behind us. We’ve spoken with our neighbors on both sides of our house and both have said that they don’t mind Ziva barking—in fact, they have said that they appreciate the added security that her barking brings to their houses as well.
But now, Ziva is in trouble with the law. We’ve received an official, anonymous complaint that her barking is annoying one of our neighbors.
It is true, Ziva does enjoy barking, especially at night, especially when people are riding up and down the ally on bikes checking garage doors, house door, and car doors for things to steal. Ironically, the city recognizes that dogs often bark at things that are out of the ordinary or that they perceive as a threat; a statement to this effect comes with the official notice of a barking complaint. The suggestion, in such cases, is to keep the dog from hearing or seeing things outside that will make it bark, which defeats any actual function that a dog might perform in alerting his or her people that there is someone suspicious in the bushes. (For readers who wish to suggest obedience classes or that Ziva is neglected, let me mention that she is a well-trained, well-exercised dog who is with us all day and that she lives in a state of comfort that exceeds the living standards of many children in developing nations. Thus, simply exercising her more or obedience classes aren’t the answer in this situation.)
Now, we’re faced with a dilemma: do we confront our neighbors? Do we go door-to-door with our collective tails between our legs, apologizing and justifying ourselves to each house on the block or do we get a shock collar and put a stop to all Ziva’s barking?
I’d like to say that there is a deep spiritual lesson in all this. But as I consider the Sermon on the Mount and passages like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” and “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court” it seems that the lesson is pretty simple: the heart of the Christian faith is relational, it is about life together as a community, in a community. There is no hard and fast rule about how to deal with a barking dog in a semi-crime-prone neighborhood. The implication, though, is that complaints, disagreements, and disputes are to be settled together, in conversation, with respect and love for the other person. So, it looks like we’re in for a walk down the street…