A New Dogmatism on Leash Laws

IT does seem that dogs are much more in the news of late than they were back before somebody thought up the leash law. Dogs, before it, were ``licensed to run at large,'' a seafaring term brought ashore. A vessel that sailed well ``at large'' was properly designed. But now, I see that a man sued because his neighbor's dog barked day and night and caused him anguish, and that a dog started a fuss by jumping a fence to bite a woman hanging out her wash, and that a Chihuahua keptcoming over to beat up some cats. It makes us wonder what has happened to the dogs, and I surmise it's the leash law. The leash has taught unfettered dogs some bad manners.

I said, long ago when city dogs began to proliferate and I read that one apartment house in New York City, alone, had 27 dogs, that nobody should be allowed to keep a dog unless he has 10 open acres. This is sufficient land, I think, to keep a dog busy and give him a sense of responsibility, but is also nothing a capable dog can't manage. If a dog can't handle 10 acres, he's not worth keeping. Hounds can take care of more, but not all dogs are hounds and we have to be fair about this.

Except for a bull robin extricating an angleworm from the sod, there is nothing in the sub-human species with more zeal, energy, and purpose than a dog sitting in supreme command on a porch, haunch on the deck and forefeet one step down, managing a piece of property that has been placed in his care.

A man who has an able dog can stop worrying about everything else except the taxes and cleaning the chimney, and he can go away secure in his mind that all will be in apple-pie order when he comes back.

It is reassuring to see a dog who has had an early and ample breakfast trot off down the road of a morning to look everything over and see that the community business is in fruitful activity, returning content after his inspection to sleep on the rug on the sun porch and enjoy the luxury he has duly earned. Dogs are not only man's best friend, but they are custodians who can be trusted when all else fails. We had a dog one time that used to get up on the roost and sleep with the hens, and not once in his time did a thief come in the night.

So what possesses a dog to bark all day and all night? He's disturbed. Somebody stuck a collar on his neck, attached a string, and there he is hung up in the meager confines of a backyard with nothing to do, and he wants to talk about it. His owner has complied with the law and has ``restrained'' his dog, so he feels no further obligation.

If you tell a man to tie up his dog and he ties up his dog, what have you to complain about? Dogs bark as a consequence of a long heritage. It is communicating, even if dogs bark when they have nothing to say. A dog that is baying the moon is performing some esoteric ritual, and it is absurd to say he is doing it to disturb the neighbors.

In the long sequence of farm dogs we had in our time, all were encouraged to bark as a basic canine exercise and privilege, but each was taught to cease upon command. So if a stranger approached, or a midnight skunk dallied under the rhubarb, the pooch was expected to let us know. But when a voice called, ``Hark your noise!'' our dogs knew that the terms of their contracts had been fulfilled and they could move on to other tasks.

We had a questionable collie one time whose duty was to keep the milkers in a group in the far pasture, which she did by nipping the heels of a straying cow until she was back with the bunch. One day Miss Hargroves, a village schoolmarm, came by gathering mushrooms, and the dog nipped her heels until she was with the herd.

I called the dog off when I went up in the late afternoon to fetch the cows, and Miss Hargroves indicated she had not been amused. I just told her that those 10 acres belonged to Petunia, that the dog was doing her job, and that the simple command, ``Charge!'' would have resolved everything.

There was no lawsuit, and I think if Miss Hargroves had sued Judge Jack would have laughed his head off. The Judge kept beagles. They were so finely trained that the dogs would look to see which hat he was wearing, and that told them which hound was to work that day.

I hope somebody remembers that story of the time Billy Graham saved Scotland. The bus was picking up the country people who would ride to Aberdeen to hear him preach, and along came this sheepman with his dogs. The driver told him he couldn't take his dogs on the bus, at which the sheepman merely waved a hand and with no further commands the dogs turned and raced for home, two miles away.

People who know dogs understand they they love obedience, and no smart dog would want to go to Aberdeen anyway.

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