True story. Last June, we saw our next-door neighbor "Ralph" (not his real name), standing in his driveway holding a pink leash attached to a very cute, very young American Bulldog puppy. Patrick and I rounded the corner to our…(and the puppy’s) delight. Ralph...not so much. Before we could even ask one question (What kind is she? How old is she? What's her name?) Ralph said, "It's not my dog. It's my daughter's dog." As if that very fact separated him from the living creature chewing on the pink leash.
And so it began, the dog that lived next door that wasn't really their dog. And this energetic puppy wasn't getting any attention, training, exercise or even a decent and comfortable place for herself in their concrete backyard.
Patrick and I are both dog lovers. All the neighborhood dogs know and love us, and the feeling is mutual. So early on, Patrick offered his dog whisperer skills to Ralph, free of charge, just to get this puppy off to a good start. But Ralph declined behind his usual excuse: "It's not my dog. It's my daughter's dog."
Sparing you the details (of which there were many), Roxy the puppy learned only bad behavior. And one morning, after chewing through the air-conditioner cord, Ralph's wife went to discipline her with a long piece of lumber. That was it. I snapped. Patrick snapped. I called Animal Services and reported them, while Patrick rang the doorbell and told Ralph EXACTLY how he felt.
Since that day, no one in Ralph's family will even LOOK at us, let alone partake in the kind of neighborly chit-chat that we had previously enjoyed. On the contrary, now they were literally turning their backs whenever they saw either us! Like we're the enemy and turning away from us protects them somehow...
For the seasons of her puppyhood, Roxy barked. All through their stony silence toward us, Roxy barked. Very early in the morning, late at night, Roxy barked. She barked when anything moved outside, she barked when she was lonely, she barked when she was happy. In fact, the only time she didn't bark was when she was sleeping. For a while, we tried talking to her through the fence in our very best dog-soothing voices. But Roxy barked even harder. Sometimes, Ralph would come out and quietly say, "Stop barking." She didn't.
One Saturday, she barked from 7 AM until after 10 PM. Ralph and his family had left her alone for the day, and she wasn't happy about it. (Did they even leave her any food and water? We didn't know.) It wasn't fair to her...and it wasn't fair to us. I finally wrote a note to put on their door. Already taped to the door was a note from one of the other neighbors who was equally displeased with the noise.
The next day, the ever- barking, miserable but hopeful, mistreated dog disappeared. We don't know if they gave her away, or if she's living at the daughter's house, or if she died of maltreatment, or if she ran away to a happier family. All I know is that our neighborhood has gotten noticeably quieter.
But as in life, there is a always a trade-off. Now that the dog is gone, Ralph and his wife have a new habit - leaving the back patio light on all night. They have no idea that their patio light shines in every window of our house, bouncing off walls and brightly lighting up the bedroom. (Imagine a full moon shining directly in your eyes and you'll get the general idea...) In all the years they've lived next door to us, the light has never been on. And now, it's on every single night. (They do turn it off during the day, or I would think they just forgot about it. No such luck.) I am deprived of my ink-black nights with star-lit skies, and began having not-very-charitable thoughts about our neighbors. I didn't like THAT even more than not liking the light.
So I made up a story about why they need the light on all night now that Roxy is gone. And once I thought of it, I felt much better about the light in the window. The story that I invented for my peace of mind is that Ralph's wife had something traumatic happen to her that has made her fearful. Now that Roxy is no longer there to bark at every movement, she needs the light on to feel safe.
Is that true? I have no idea. But I'd rather believe that's the reason they leave on this light - to soothe her as opposed to annoy us. For me, that adjustment made all the difference. And all I did, as a storyteller was to re-tell the story.
I share this story not for your sympathy or advice, only to offer you the new tool of rewriting the possibilities. I also now purchased a wonderful eye pillow to block out the light...