“A neighbour has sent colony-wide memo complaining about the barking of the dogs of our neighborhood at 2-3am in the night...he says it "traumatises" his ailing heart...and has appealed to all to join him in lodging a "criminal case" against the dog owners...! should I be amused...? ...or appalled at the level of intolerance and self-centred existance we are slipping into?”
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A friend had this status up on Facebook a couple of days ago. Now, I feel sure that she makes some very valid points about tolerance and generosity. But I am in an unfortunate place where I find myself in sympathy with the aggressor. I have no doubt lost the talent for moral mensuration and that is lamentable. But it occurs to me in my defence that sleeping less than two good hours a night on a somewhat regular basis can do this to a person. While it is commonly believed that advanced techniques of torture involving sleep-deprivation can rapidly drive a saint to insanity, in lesser forms the same will, I can attest, severely compromise all of the more civilised propensities a person may have painstakingly cultivated. Benign tolerance, brotherhood and peaceability are first casualties. I defy anyone to view the world at large with anything approaching bonhomie, when one has been subjected to a marathon concert on the nerves several nights running. With this view, I ventured to suggest to my friend that she should perhaps consider pity along with her other options of disdain and shock, but I dimly suspect that I may have put myself beyond the pale as one of those unfeeling animal-hating ogres. I realise of course that denials are hopeless in such cases as these.
It is with the bitter smirk of hind-sight that I recollect that a few years ago I had found myself delighted that a St Bernard had come to make its home very near us. I was delighted by his size – the size of his face, the size of his tail, even the size of his voice box. I had gone so far in my misguided affection to think him a ‘cute little fella’. Another of the things I thought in those happy ignorant days was that I could sleep through an earthquake. Well perhaps it is true, perhaps I can, perhaps the subterranean rumblings that Ranger’s barks produce would measure higher on the Richter scale that your average earthquake, but that would mean more measurement…
Ranger, as you have no doubt discerned, is the St Bernard who lives down the lane. You have also wondered why it took me a few years to grow disenchanted of him. You see, it is not this voice that I object to primarily, but how ridiculously easy it is to rouse him to near apoplectic states of frenzy. Though to be perfectly honest, this was not quite the case always. Time was, he was a reasonable dog. But that was till the arrival of X. We call him X because we don’t know his given name. He is not the kind of dog you could just walk up to and start a conversation with, leave alone be so bold as to ask for his name.
Now, X has come to live in the house opposite us. X’s owners think he is the cat’s whiskers, and he in turn seems to love them. But any love that festers in his heart ends there, because he views each and every other of god’s creatures with the deepest loathing. Children, postmen, squirrels, birds, tenants, scooters, cars, balls, plastic covers that have the temerity to float up to their gate – all are hated equally – oh yes! and neighbhours. X is deeply suspicious of me. He hates it when I use the stairs to go to our own terrace. He hates it when I take the car out. If, on the odd occasion that I step out of the house, I am so lacking in all good sense as to even tend towards the halfway space on the road, all hell breaks loose. X is never satisfied ranting at me till every member of his household has come out to inspect what has upset him, and add reproach to insult.
I ventured a little background about X because it will better let you appreciate, I hope, how he is responsible for ruining the tone of the canine community in our lane. Ranger and all the stray dogs (they must number about fifteen at a rough estimate) once lived in relative peace. If the Strays teased Ranger occasionally, it was all in good-natured jest. They didn’t, for example, hold him responsible for his elevated social status or vaunt their independence in his face. But like I said earlier, all that has changed. X’s very presence has acerbated every canine nerve to the effect of having fatally changed the entire social dynamic.
X, as you can well imagine, loses no opportunity to insult, harangue and gloat over the Strays. (What he has to gloat over I cannot imagine, unless it is having had the guile to trick a set of humans into adopting him, because I assure you he has no other appealing points in appearance or temperament that he could possibly show off. Let it never be said that I am snobbish in these matters, but I can’t see that he is any better-born than all those he never hesitates to taunt. X’s is a singularly muttish countenance). The Strays who are always too cowed by his diatribe to ever offer resistance, suffer often from esprit d'escalier. Too late they realise how they should have given that insufferable poseur his just desserts. There is never anything else to do in such an event but to vent their frustration on poor Ranger. Ranger is like all those big noble beings that never voluntarily offer insult but are nevertheless very quick to take umbrage. A combination of being barked at to within an inch of his life on his daily evening walks which inevitably take him past X’s domain and then being teased and beleaguered by the revenge-seeking Strays is too much for Ranger. To be thus twice-outraged would prove too much for any creature’s nerves, I suppose.
However, none of this would have impacted my life so sharply but for the fact that all this give and take of insult happens almost always at the stroke of the midnight hour and continues with nerve-racking periods of mitigation through to the wee hours. The trouble is that once the human ear and mind have ‘tuned in’ to Ranger’s distress, there is no ‘tuning out’. It starts more or less like this. A noisy motorbike zooms past with the Strays in chase; you can supplant this by a foreign mongrel or a drunk on odd days for variety. This chase, ostensibly undertaken with the noble purpose of shooing away the intruder, invariably suffers a check right outside Ranger’s dog-house. Foreign dogs obviously pale into insignificance in the presence of such juicy preys as Ranger. Here the entire Stray gang stops to tell Ranger of their cosy little hunt, and no doubt sympathise with him over his unfortunately stifled state. Ranger, who is desperately conscious of the fact, is thrown immediately into throes of misery. Things are not helped by that unhappy cubby-hole he lives in. It may feel like a Japanese sleep-cubicle to Ranger, but both he and his audience cannot be unaware of its extraordinary acoustical capabilities. In amplification and echo it could give the Golconda a run for its money. I don’t think Ranger likes his own voice coming back at him. It is even possible he thinks that the returning voice belongs to X. It is a gory tale after this but it continues till either the Strays find other entertainment or Ranger works himself up into a state of exhaustion. But like I mentioned before, all respite is only temporary and all the more torturous for it. I assure you it is impossible to sleep when you’re desperate to. All this continues till the good milkman comes by at dawn and signals the end to the orgy.
My sister has offered several explanations for this particular phenomenon and its timing; they have ranged from the practical to the supernatural to let-me-amuse-this-poor-sleepless-wretch. I have been grateful for all this and sometimes distracted enough to fall asleep for a few pitiful hours, but a fresh thought has crept onto me which has ruined every last vestige of my peace. Summer approaches. Ranger HATES summer.