Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dogs in the Hood

Guest opinion by Scott Douglas


Scott Douglas is a resident of Hailey.

It has come to my attention they know about us. Block 51 East, Hailey proper, has earned a reputation for unleashed dogs, and, while the dog catcher is reportedly "very nice," and issued only a warning this time, the city intends to prosecute first-time offenders with $100 fines. Second time is $200, and third time $300, with a possible six months in jail, plus $63.50 in court costs. That's up from $25 last year, a rate hike greater than my property tax, but it isn't the money that bothers me.

My old dog Dave died a little more than a year ago at 13. Many in Hailey (and elsewhere) remember him. By the time we moved here in 2000, Dave was grizzled and ready for village life. He could hobble around visiting friends without feeling like prey, and he could supplement his diet with bagels and turkey sandwiches. He took to spending the lunch hour at Atkinsons', where he rounded out his figure and made a lot of friends.

The recent death of Hailey Atkinsons' manager Tom Kohler shocked and saddened many of us. He was such a kind and good-natured person. I met Tom through Dave. They had been friends, and Tom even welcomed Dave inside the store, where the old dog was seen as far afield as produce. After Dave died, Tom often said how much he missed him. The ladies in the pharmacy had also loved Dave, and he was in good with the deli folks. That the neighborhood supermarket, and Tom in particular, had so embraced my dog made it worth the extra dough at the register. The situation made for a more balanced and soulful community, and I was grateful to them for their tolerance.

Litha Kinney was a Hailey native and my neighbor before she passed away two years ago in her 80s. On the morning we met, it was 5 below, and she was chipping the ice from her car windshield with her fingernails. In the 1930s, Litha taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in Pumkin Center, commuting to work on a horse, before getting married and moving to the Alaskan bush where she spent 30 years teaching the Inuit to read and write. Twenty years a widow, Litha hated losing her strength to cancer, but she was more sweet than bitter. During Litha's last summer, Dave wore a path across her otherwise perfect lawn to sit with her on the porch. The two of them spent entire wordless afternoons just watching the cars and children go by, Dave panting from the heat, and Litha wrapped up in a blanket as at last the chill crept into her bones.

With the exception of a mulatto named Po, the present generation of dogs on my block is all black. A gang of four, they romp together in the mornings and evenings, moving freely between their respective yards, and often gathering in Litha's at sunset (the house is now occupied by dog-loving tenants). All four, including our 2-year-old, Bodhi, were rescued from the pound, and all four are stoked to be alive. They tear up the odd stuffed animal, but are otherwise peace-loving, non-barking, and keenly aware. While not yet the model citizens Dave became in his autumn years, they deserve a measure of trust, and the passing of Litha, Dave, and Tom need not signal the end of an era.

Another neighbor, whose politics range closer to anarchy than my own, and whose dog takes regular naps in the middle of Second Avenue, insisted the best argument was to go after the cats. "Cats do a lot more damage than people realize," he said. "They're the obvious target." In fact, I have just cause for malice. The only Hailey resident who ever spoke out against Dave's behavior was a cat owner. He objected to Dave's pooping in his alley garden but had no idea his own cats used the underside of my cabin as a litter box. But I've got nothing really against the cats (or their people).

When I tune into an issue, it crops up everywhere. Just the other day, I encountered more intolerance towards people and dogs while backcountry skiing in the north valley, but where Dave Dog had been old and friendly and a true veteran, those guys were just old, and where once there had been no conflict, there suddenly is. That's the net result of an unnecessary slap in the face.

As far as I'm concerned, the city could pick up some poop with my tax money, or at worst, cite me for poop patrol, but a hundred bucks ... I ain't payin'.




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