from Fruit Garden and Home
My Neighbor's Dog
by Ellis Parker Butler
My eldest daughter is now twenty-one years old and since she was a tiny thing just learning to climb upstairs on her hands and knees we have not had a dog, but I am now in the market for a dog, if I can find the sort of dog I want. One by one, as my children have reached dog-loving age, they have yearned for dogs, but I have been firm. "No dog!" I would say, firmly, and there was no dog.
For about nineteen years now I have refused to have a dog because it might annoy my neighbors. I have been a good and thoughtful neighbor, remaining dogless. I have let my children weep silent tears for dogs and I have been able to stand their weeping because of the fine feeling that nothing I owned was annoying my neighbors, but now I want to find a dog of the deepest and direst variety.
I don't know just where I'll find the dog I want. He has to be a sort of combination dog with claws like a mole but larger and stronger, a voice like a weeping hyena and wailing loon and all the bad habits of all the dogs on our street. I would like him to have a nose like an alligator, horny and tough, to pry the lids off my neighbors' garbage cans, and the weight of an ox, so he can push their garbage cans over and spill the contents on their lawns. He must be a non-sleeping dog, able to give vocal concerts day and night. He must be thoroughly trained to leap out at unsuspicious passersby and scare the wits out of them. Now and then he must nip a leg or bite a child in the face. He must be as large as a horse, so as to be a sufficiently great nuisance in flower beds, but he must be of tender years so that I can make that customary excuse: "Well, he's only a pup yet, you know." If I can't get a large dog of that sort I might get along with, a small one with the rabies.
Let me assure you, in the first place, that I have no objection to dogs. The dog, like the mosquito and the pumpkin pie, is all right in his proper place and when properly cared for, but I admit freely that I don't love the mosquito in my bedroom or the pumpkin pie when it lurks on the seat of a chair. In the large open spaces a dog is a delight; it is a pleasure, indeed, to have a farm dog fly out and bite me on the thigh, because the farm is the proper habitat of the dog. And a dog is all right at the end of a leash, or on a chain, or in a fenced yard, or on a lap, or in heaven -- but a dog from up street does not cause my heart to swell with love when he comes down to my house and digs up the zinnias. I shall not utter a peep if someone proposes an amendment to the constitution of the United States assuring to every male and female the right to life, liberty and a dog, but I can't say I love to have other people's dogs smeared all over my person and property.
One thing that is needed, if this free and easy dog owning is to go on, is a non-skid dog. The average dog of immature years means well enough but he runs too much to power and lacks control. One of my neighbors has a dog of a breed I should call the Voice Hound, and this dog is kept tied to his dog house in the backyard in a cozy spot where he cannot reach my neighbor's garden but is able to while away his few silent moments digging up my forsythia bushes. I have found that most neighbors are thoughtful in just about this way.
This dog, which should bear the name Agonized Fog-horn and be called Agostos for short, has two voices. One, when he is whacked and told to be silent, is a yelp; the other is all the sad and nerve-racking noises remaining after the yelp is removed. He can be heard for a mile. When he yowls our nerves quiver with pain; when he is silent our nerves quiver twice as hard, expecting him to begin yowling again. All day while his master is away, the dog yowls; when the master returns the dog yowls. But it is when the dog is turned loose for his gentle evening exercise that I turn my face away and my usual sweet smile becomes a pained grin, for then, in his natural joy, this large young hound leaps in huge circles through all the available landscape, and the available landscape is my yard.
On the straight-away he is not so bad but on the turns he skids like a Ford car on a greasy pavement and bangs against tulips, peonies, zinnias or dahlias, according to the season. To vary this he makes wild leaps through the shrubbery, coming out hither and thither like the careless breezes but hitting the annuals harder. And yet the people who own him are quite nice people.
Another dearly beloved canine visitor is the Hole Dog. He comes into the yard from the northwest through holes between the roses and perennials, finding a new hole each time, or making one. I think his home grounds must be hard on his feet for he comes to us mostly in the early spring, just after our beds have been spaded and harrowed and are soft and full of seeds. In an artless, innocent manner he walks all over the beds, stopping now and then to scratch for bones, evidently thinking the bone meal is the spoor of a bone. On some days he comes over and chases cats -- not our cats, we have none -- hither and yon, through and over our flowers, or leaps among the petunias trying to catch the swallows. Dear, playful fellow! That dog's highest ambition is to bite a postman, but I have not heard that he has bitten one yet. At night the more distant dogs come to our yard -- the noble Garbage Hounds. We hear them at all hours from dark till sunrise, nosing the lid off the garbage can, growling at each other over the shank of a late lamented lamb chop, playing craps with the sweet corn cobs. These, I am sure, are the fearless watch dogs, protectors of their owners' homes, but they seem to have the erroneous idea that their masters' homes are in our garbage can and that they must spill the contents of the can each night trying to find those homes. I hereby give notice that nobody's home is in my garbage can. Never yet have I put any home of any neighbor in my garbage can. I wish they would tell their dogs so.
A dog, well trained and kept where he belongs, is a pleasant and reasonable part of civilization. Now and then he may have some practical value, but his greatest value is in his companionship, and I don't think Mr. Spooglebuck is enjoying much of that dear companionship when Mr. Spooglebuck is twelve miles west from here in his city office and his dog is out back of my house chewing my garden hose. It is possible that that thought gives Mr. Spooglebuck that inner uplift so dear to cultured men, but I doubt it. I know mighty well it makes me want to give his dog another sort of uplift.
I have found that the dog that gives its owner's neighbors the most trouble and that is the greatest nuisance is the dog that is most worthless. By "worthless" I mean worth least to its owner. These are the dogs that are owned merely because somebody "wants to have a dog." They are owned by the people who don't need a dog and don't deserve a dog and who never care much of a hoot for the dog until someone makes a complaint, and then -- whoopee! A lot of these people seem to keep dogs for no reason but to be a possible source of anger when the complaints come in.
The worthwhile dog, in our town, does not stray around. He is too valuable to be allowed to stray for he will be picked up and held for a reward every time. There is always an advertisement -- or more than one -- in our papers, offering a reward for some dog that has broken loose and been picked up. Those dogs bother no one's gardens. I don't believe I want a dog of that kind. I don't want an intelligent, loving, manly dog that would be like one of the family; I want a worthless, roving dog that is never at home and thinks its family a poor bunch of bores and is ever and anon off and away to new scenes and flower beds.
About nineteen years ago, just after I came to Flushing, an uncle out in Iowa picked up a stray puppy and sent him to me in a box, by express. I had not asked for a dog, but he was such a fluffy little rascal I kept him. We called him Fluff, he was so very soft and fluffy, but in a few months he changed. He was as big as a small horse -- say as big as a Shetland pony -- and his hair was like the bristles on a wire hairbrush, and he had a bark like an automobile horn. We kept him tied to a water spigot in the side yard but he was as strong as an ox and one night he pulled the spigot up by the roots and went off, taking three twelve foot lengths of the iron water pipe with him. So we got rid of him; we gave him to a vegetable grower who wanted him on his Long Island farm. He used him to pull stumps, I think. For beautifying a garden I would rather have a bird-bath.
It seems to me that as these United States become more thickly populated and our towns and cities more crowded with folks, and one man's nuisance affects more and more of his fellows, and fences are coming down and gardens becoming more beloved, the old-style useless dog ought to go. There is no longer room for him. He is in a class with the street-walking porker and the peripatetic cow. The mere fact that he is called a dog does not excuse his worthlessness. On the other hand, the friendly, well-behaved dog, of good breed and desirable lineage is now so easily obtained that there is no valid excuse for having any other kind. The man who has a cow now tries to have one of too much value to be allowed to wander at large, and the dog ought to be considered in the same way. If a man wants one of those far-famed "one-man dogs" that love their owner to death and flies at the throat of every other man, woman and child, he ought to keep that dog at home, where it can love him, and not let it stray around among people like me who have tender throats and not a bit too much life insurance. And if a man has a Garden Hound that is only happy when digging up gardens he ought to plant special gardens of his own for that dog to dig up. I believe in being neighborly and any time any of my neighbors want to borrow a couple of eggs they can have them, fresh or stale, but I don't believe any man ought to be expected to grow gardens for his neighbors' dogs. If a man don't want to grow his own dog garden he ought to petition the city to grow a community dog garden where his dog could, let us say, dig up the marigolds on Tuesdays and Fridays and skid down the gladiolas Wednesdays and Saturdays. In connection with this the city could set aside one corner as a Community Garbage Can Park, and keep a few hundred garbage cans there for the wandering Garbage Hounds to rummage in.
Some day there is going to be a great uprising against worthless dogs. There will be posters pasted on all the walls calling all who have suffered from worthless dogs to meet at a great mass meeting to take action on this important matter, and there will be a huge parade headed by the United Association of Home-Grown Radish Producers, The Amateur Aster Growers' Union No. 7, the Sideyard Flower-bed Planters' Society and the American Garbage Can Protective Association. There will be papers read on The Loose-flowing Unmuzzled Child Biter, The Unleashed Rabies Distributor, The Unlicensed Gutter-pup and What Shall We Do to Unsnarl the Snarling Cur. I will make a humorous speech on "Dogs I Have Chased," in which my bitter bile will be carefully hidden in laugh-provoking phrases, after which one of the "horrible example" dogs that have been tied on the platform will probably bite me on the leg.
All this will be preliminary to the real work of the meeting, which will have been carefully planned in advance. After we sore-heads have fired our ammunition a respectable citizen, the owner of a good dog, will get up and say a few words. He will say he believes in dogs and owns a dog himself, but that he sees the time has come for those who really love dogs and want them to be permitted to exist in a civilized land to do something about the menace of worthless dogs that now threaten the right of any dog to exist.
"Fellow citizens," he will say, "you and I, who own worthwhile dogs, are the only people who are going to do anything to end this hideous state of affairs. Unless we act, and act quickly, our towns and counties and states will pass laws doing away with dogs entirely. They will be forced to do this by those who are weary of worthless dogs. Those who do not own dogs won't care what happens to dogs; those who own worthless dogs won't care what happens to dogs; only we who own the right kind of dogs are sufficiently interested in dog preservation to protect the dog, and we can do so only by a united effort to rid America quickly, and once for all, of 'no count' dogs. In this, I am happy to state, we have the promised assistance of every association of dog breeders and of every breeder of worthwhile dogs. Up to now we have had nothing but talk; I move now that we go into executive session, and I bet something will happen!"
I'll bet it would, too. I'll bet we would have fewer and better dogs. I'll bet the laws against unleashed and unmuzzled dogs would be enforced. I'll bet more people would have good dogs and fewer would have worthless dogs. I'll bet that in a short time we would hear of a new breed of dog -- the Non-Skid, Non-garden-digging, Non-child-biting, Non-rabies-having, Non-yowling canine. Yes sir, I'll bet you! But I won't bet much.