The dog that lives across the street from me spends much of its life in a squealing, yipping, futile pursuit of attention. When its master, or anyone, turns into the driveway, the dog begins yipping — loudly, frantically, desperately. But they pay it no heed and go inside, without a glance, much less a word of greeting, as if the dog, despite its cries, did not even exist.
And as it recognizes that it has once again failed to enter their sphere of consciousness, the dog’s yelps for recognition diminish in frequency and volume, ending, eventually, in a final, forlorn yip…...….yip……....……..yip.
This is not your usual mistreated dog in a box. It has a large wire kennel on grass, covered to provide a mix of sun and shade, protection from the rain, and a good-sized dog house where it often sleeps. I’ve seen a man bring it food, the way a jailer might deliver a meal, without a word, smile or a touch of affection.
I’m sure they think they are doing fine by that dog, treating it well, and speaking strictly from a physical perspective, they are. But what about its mental and emotional needs?
Sometimes I fantasize about standing in their driveway and yelling: “Hey, would it kill you to take 30 seconds out of your life to simply acknowledge your dog? Dogs are not lawn furniture.” Or, more discretely, expressing a politely worded version of that sentiment in a note pinned to their mailbox.
But I don’t, because I really don’t think they’d be receptive, or get it. Instead, I do nothing but listen, and my heart feels sad.
Meanwhile, a woman has moved in next door, into the rental that my landlord created from his carport. She is close, far too close, close enough that I can hear her clear her throat in the morning, smell her cigarette smoke and cooking odors, follow conversations that I’m not interested in.
Her grandchildren have come to visit. All morning there is acrimony, and she metes out a steady stream of punishment with what sounds like a little switch.
“Get away from that door!” Whap.
“Stop that right now!” Whap.
“Get inside!” Whap.
“I told you now!” Whap.
“What did I tell you?” Whap. Whap.
And then one of the kids whaps another.
“What are you doing?” Whap. “Didn’t I tell you not to hit?” Whap. “I don’t like it when you hit.” Whap. Whap. “Why are you hitting your brother?” Whap. “You’ve been asking for it all morning.” Whap. Whap. “Stop that crying.” Whap. “Are you going to keep hitting your brother?” Whap. “Pull down your pants so you can feel this on your bare bottom.” Whap. Whap. Whap. “Did you learn yet?” Whap. Whap.
All the kids are crying now, wailing, snuffling.
I walk next door. She is putting something into her car, and when she turns around, I say hello, keeping my voice low, my face neutral.
“Is everything all right?” I ask.
“They’re fighting,” she responds.
“Yes, but is everything all right?” I ask.
“I’m just teaching them not to hit,” she answers.
“By hitting them?” I ask.
“I don’t like it when they fight.”
“You’re trying to teach them not to hit by hitting them?” I ask again.
“Yeah, so they’ll know how it feels.”
“Has it been effective?” I press.
“If I want to swat my grandkids on the butt I will,” she replies.
And like the people with the dog across the street, what she’s doing isn’t physically severe enough to warrant a response from the cops or CPS or the Humane Society.
No, it’s just some of that run-of-the-mill soul-destroying, mind-warping stuff that’s perfectly legal — indeed, some would even argue it’s their right.