Dog days

A column-writing boy just never knows when he's going to hit folks' hot buttons. In the past weeks, I admitted that my night-barking boy dog Rufus had annoyed a distant neighbor, and I stirred up a bunch of people who've been driven crazy by barking dogs. Believe me when I tell you, they're madder than al Qaeda.

To recap: My dog Rufus is an early riser. Some days back, he woke up a neighbor about 4am. The disgruntled neighbor called the Jowers house at 4:30 to alert us to the situation. My thought was-and still is-that's something you handle a little later in the day. I'd be a lot more likely to empathize with a sleepless person who hasn't launched a spiteful wee-hours phone attack on my house. Also, I keep coming back to the fact that there are two barky dogs to my left, and two barky dogs to my right. I live on a block of barky dogs. Mine's just one among many.

In the last week, I've learned that there are folks who believe that anybody who keeps a night-barking dog should be subject to swift, cruel, and unusual punishment. Here's an example of that worldview, from a reader who's troubled by my dog, even though she's 3,000 miles away: "If you think that a barking dog is something that your neighbors should just put up with, should your home be burned to the ground, or worse, my sympathy will not lie with you. You are a neighbor from hell, and you are an animal abuser. Worst of all, you aren't funny, amusing, or witty."

Forgive me, Lord. I have abused my boy dog and my neighbors. But worst of all, I ain't funny.

The gentle reader went on to tell me that I am a sorry excuse for a human being, because I make my dog live outside. She, and a couple other like-minded folks told me that dogs are family members, so they should live inside.

You people who are worried about Rufus' living conditions, listen to me: First of all, dogs have been around longer than houses. Dogs like living outside, they like going naked, and they like nothing better than rolling in dead stuff and eating poop. Even so, I'm convinced that dogs are smart enough to build their own houses if they want to. The day I see Rufus with a hammer, struggling to get a house started, I'll rush outside and help him. In the meantime, he'll just have to stay in his existing 400-square foot house, with his very own bed, and a fan blowing on him in the summertime. I have lived in worse.

Over the last week, I have grown a little bud of empathy for people troubled by dogs who disturb their sleep. I've learned that a whole lot of folks can sleep through thunderstorms, sirens, train whistles, and even sex, but a barking dog just sets 'em off. They get filled with the rage and paranoia that strikes people listening to a hellfire preacher: He's talking to me! He's saying I'm hellbound! They don't want to hear it, but they're compelled to listen. Next thing you know, they've got sleep-deprivation psychosis, and that's just a hard way to go.

Which brings me to this: Is it every neighbor's duty to keep his dog quiet, or does a sleepy-eyed man have a duty to get himself to sleep? Maybe it's just me, but I lean toward controlling my own fate. For instance, back when I was traveling with my rock & roll band, we stayed in dirty motels in the bad part of town. There was always some loud ruckus outside, and in my particular case, there was always the drummer having sex with a cocktail waitress in a bed six feet away from me. I handled this with white noise, which means I turned the TV to a channel that didn't have any programming, then turned the volume way up. I slept like the dead.

Today, if I were having trouble with noises disturbing my sleep, I'd get myself a white noise machine. I'd go with the "Sound Soother" from Sharper Image, which will treat a sleepy man to soundscapes such as "Yosemite falls, ebb tide, and thunderstorm." It's just $229.95, plus $99.95 for the optional powered subwoofer. Dang cheap for a lifetime of good sleeping, if you ask me. For folks who don't want to plunk down $300 for sleepytime noise, there are always $5 earplugs, which work dandy.

As far as working on the dog end of the problem, I've done my part. Boy dog Rufus is now the proud wearer of one PetSafe Deluxe Bark Control Collar. It gives Rufus a little shock when he barks. After two nights of the buzz treatment, Rufus doesn't bark until morning, when we take the collar off him. Now, before any of you anti-cruelty pyromaniac types start up, know this: I tested the collar on myself before I put it on my boy dog. It's not what you'd call painful. It's more like mildly annoying. Rufus is dog enough to take it like a man.