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Man's Best Friend A Victim

By Tom Hennessy

August 26, 2004, LONG BEACH, CA--It barked day and night, in sunshine and in rain. It barked when cars went by or when the street was deserted. It barked 24/7. When we moved away, the dog was still barking. But since it did so behind the wooden gate of a house across the street, we never saw the pooch. It would be inaccurate to say we fled Cerritos years ago to escape that dog, but leaving the pooch sure was a bonus. The dog was never walked, as far as we could tell. Nor was it ever allowed in our neighbor's house. What was the point, we wondered, of having a dog under such circumstances.

I remembered that pooch last week when a letter came from a friend, Miriam Yarden, aka Dog's Best Friend. One of the founders of the Long Beach Dog Park, Yarden specializes in dog behavior. The subject of her letter: barking dogs ignored by owners. "You see him in every community," she said, "a dog relegated to the yard, porch or outdoor run; in effect, abandoned emotionally and socially. He is fed outside, and on a hot day he may have finished his water, and his bowl is empty for hours. In winter and rain, he shivers. In summers, he languishes from the heat. All year round, he suffers."

At the dawn of time, she notes, man and dog were partners. Man shared his food and dry quarters and brought the dog into his "pack' the family. But you do not have to go far in most neighborhoods today to find humans who have abandoned the partnership, but still insist on having dogs. In such cases, says Yarden, the dog can go in one of two directions. "He may become listless, lethargic and emotionally deprived. Or he may become hyperactive, fearful, noisy and aggressive even vicious."

As for providing protection, Yarden dismisses the notion. "Dogs do not protect back yards. They may bark at people, cats, other dogs, birds, butterflies or falling leaves, but this is not protective behavior. This is boredom, and an intruder can easily override it with an offering of food or friendship. However, if the dog has free access to the inside via a dog door, he will protect the house because it is his den as well. Such dogs are the best and most reliable protectors. At the same time, they are also protected from the elements, abusive strangers, dog-nappers and poison."

Issue in L.A. Yarden's timing coincides with that of the Los Angeles City Council. It voted last week to draft an ordinance that would ban the practice of permanently chaining dogs in yards. (No, I don't know if the Cerritos dog was chained.) The impending crackdown has the support of organizations such as the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, whose president, Robert Goldman, has been quoted as saying, "These are the dogs that bite. When someone ties a dog to a chain in their yard, you've got a dog that is a time bomb."

Other cities, such as New Orleans and Washington, D.C., have enacted such laws. Los Angeles would be the first in California to do so. And if L.A. passes the law, can Long Beach be far behind? Well, yes. Our own City Council is not famous for jumping on the bandwagon of progressive legislation. But then, there is always the possibility that a person with a backyard dog, a 24/7 barker, may move next door to a council member.