Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: On Safe Containment as a Very Local Animal Welfare Issue
I have these neighbors whose dog apparently loves nothing better than to scale his fence whenever a friendly runner goes by. This is a problem, of course. Not only does he risk life and limb in this endeavor, vehicular traffic-wise, he also risks freaking the bejesus out of the average human being. A hundred pounds of American bulldog mix is a lot to watch barreling towards you … no matter how much you love dogs.
Nice people, these neighbors. After I’ve been slobbered over, bounced off of and thoroughly scratched up by this adolescent example of overexcited dogdom, his owners are all too happy to receive him when I bring him to the front door. They’re so genuinely thankful. Again, and again, every Sunday as I run past.
Which means they should have gotten the hint by now: This dog cannot be left alone in the back yard. It’s not a matter of if but rather when he’ll get hit by a car. In this dog’s case the geography of his house is especially problematic. The house fronts a busy four-lane highway where speeds of up to 50 mph are pretty common.
At least it would be quick, I caught myself thinking this morning. This time his owners weren’t home and I’d had to coax him back through his backyard enclosure’s side gate. I was worried he’d jump right back over and follow me again … right across the busy street, abuzz with traffic even on Easter Sunday.
Luckily, he proved capable of listening and stayed behind his fence this time.
Every single one of you probably feels my pain on this one. Who hasn’t had to wonder whether a neighbor’s serial offending, streak-across-the-street feline would make it to her next birthday? Or whether the beagle who begs food off the guys in the garbage truck on trash day realizes how big those tires are as she runs alongside them.
Which got me to thinking…
In Costa Rica the dogs are all over the street. Even the horses and cows wander free. The dogs sunning themselves by the side of the road seem to know just how far they can stick their tails out while the occasional water buffalo will offer you a not-so-friendly head butt if you dare to share the road with him. So what is it about us Americans that we’re so picky about confining our animals?
Well, for starters, the roads are paved for speed here. And our pets haven’t passed through the natural selection gauntlet on the issue of roadside awareness (I swear the animals read road signs in Latin America!). Then there’s the issue of animal welfare in countries where pets, livestock and plants are not so far apart in the minds of their owners as they are here.
But I digress...
Because I do live here, after all. So it is that when I have to scrape bits of kitten off the street before the neighborhood kids get a good look at cat brain right after breakfast, I tend to get angry. It shouldn’t be like this, I’ll fume. This is no bumpkin backwater and these are no resource-less people. So how hard is it really to keep the animals in?
Speaking as someone whose min-pin got out the last time I went out of town, I can vouch for the fallibility of any containment method. I’m not entirely insensitive to the stresses inherent to keeping animals in. (Trust me; I’ve been through more goat-proofing angst than anyone deserves, and I’m currently embroiled in chicken wing-clipping Hell.)
Moreover, I myself keep two outdoor cats. But if they do not roam — much less cross the street — I’m feeling pretty confident about the negligent possibility of vehicular felicide. Not that they don’t present other problems, that I will not deny, but still … by this I mean to assert that I am not rabid on the subject. Rather, I’d like to think I’m being just plain reasonable on the subject of making sure your dog stays behind his fence and your felines are not so fecund that their offspring spill out onto the streets.
So what’s a concerned neighbor to do?
Sigh … I guess I’ll just have to start running with a leash in my hand.
Dr. Patty Khuly