The sacred trust we have with dogs

by Jordan Green

I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs lately. Hey, we dedicated an issue to dogs last week. There have been two well publicized incidents of puppies being burned, and last month Gov. Beverly Perdue signed “Susie’s Law,” which increases sentencing penalties for people who gratuitously torture animals. The tethering of dogs has also arisen as a topic of discourse, and the Guilford County Commission is reportedly considering a move to outlaw the practice.

So, yes, I’m a little bit slow on the draw, but give me credit for remaining focused.

I am emphatically in favor of a ban on tethering. I don’t think I’ll ever forget a big black dog named Shadow who was tied up in the backyard of my next door neighbor’s yard when I lived in Durham in my mid-twenties. The animal would snarl and yank at its chain when I ventured out the back door. The length of its chain circumscribed Shadow’s territory of bare ground covered with feces but allowed enough leeway that I thought he could bite my ankle if

I walked along the side of our house that adjoined its area, and I would walk around the long way to avoid him.

I won’t forget the time when my friend Todd, a former resident at our house, walked over to Shadow and immediately calmed him with a kind rub behind the ears. Todd disparaged our neighbors with an angry shake of the head for chaining up Shadow and leaving him to suffer without attention or affection.

The fact that Todd would violate the neighbors’ property to demonstrate a simple act of friendship to Shadow made an indelible impression on me.

I don’t typically write about animals and children. But I have spent countless hours in the last week logging housing code violations into a spreadsheet, making site visits, trying to track down landlords and probing the politics of city rental housing regulations. There’s a connection, trust me.

A lot of times, houses or apartments with code violations will have a story of good intentions behind them. Someone who wanted to help out a couple with a distressed mortgage, bought the property and rented it back to them, maybe. Or someone who wanted to save a beautiful, historic property from demolition and redevelopment. These same properties may have faulty wiring or no smoke alarms. Yes, the repairs can be costly and inconvenient. But having electrical wiring up to code, having a working heating system so that tenants don’t have to risk fire by using a kerosene heater, or having a working smoke detector can make the difference between life and death. Maintaining property requires a level of expertise and commitment that not everyone has. Someone who decides to take on that responsibility should be prepared to make an absolute good-faith effort to ensure the safety of the tenants who live under the roof.

The comparison breaks down somewhat in that tenants have rights and responsibilities of their own. Which means the responsibility for caring for dogs and other pets is all the more serious. You have to make sure they’re fed once or twice a day, have a place to use the bathroom, have shelter to get out of the heat and rain. They require companionship and an environment conducive to play.

For several years now, I’ve stayed at the house of some friends who live in the country near Julian for a couple weeks out of the year while they go to the beach with their grandchildren or travel in Europe. My duties were to feed the cats and dogs, bring in the newspaper and, before their cat, Oreo, died of diabetes, to administer a daily insulin shot. I’ve grown increasingly attached to Miles, an elderly canine gentleman with a pitch black mane of hair covering a medium-to-large body who has to step up on a wooden stool to eat his dinner because of persistent digestion challenges. His world is conscribed by a buried electrical barrier that encircles the property, a bucolic patch of landscaped ground, garden and woods. I’m pretty certain Miles is aware of the presence of every warm-blooded creature that sets foot anywhere within 500 feet.

I’ve come to love everything about Miles — the way he hops into the backseat of my car with a look of expectation when I drive him across the electrical barrier to take a walk down the lane, the way his shoulders and hips seem to shudder as he bolts out the door with the doggie treat that is his reward for finishing his dinner, and especially the way he rouses from the living room floor and plods into the bedroom to take his place on his cushion when I go to bed.

That last nightly ritual is nothing but devotion. I’ve resisted the idea of getting a dog. Who wants the trouble? Who wants to give up their independence? A dog is not a piece of furniture or even a mere set of responsibilities.

Little by little, I’m breaking down.