Barking mad

KERRY MADDEN is the author of "Louisiana's Song."

IT’S 1 A.M., AND THE DOGS next door are barking again. Actually, it’s 1:15 a.m. on the alarm clock, 1:11 a.m. on the VCR clock and 7:27 p.m. on the white-noise-machine clock, which never says the right time because I unplug it and carry it from room to room to hit “rain” or “crickets” or “ocean” to drown out the barking dogs next door. Sometimes I turn up music or borrow one of my kids’ iPods. I blast the fan in the winter, keep the windows closed in the summer. The dogs bark the split second I open a book in bed. They bark while the coffee is brewing at the crack of dawn. My dreams in between are filled with the timbre of snarling dogs.

When I can no longer bear it, I scream out the window like a fishwife: “SHUT UP!” My husband hangs his head, and my children reproach me with “Mom!”

Let it first be said that I love dogs. Our messy house is a menagerie of children and animals — we have three kids, two dogs, two cats, two finches and a low-maintenance hermit crab. But the dogs next door bark and bark and bark. Let’s call them Thing One and Thing Two because my heart has been hardened by their high-pitched assault.

The owner of Thing One and Thing Two, let’s call George. His name is not really George, but my grandmother had a George back in Leavenworth, Kan., and I never really understood her raw contempt for him. But now I have my own George living next door, and if she were alive, I would call her up and say, “Ah, now I understand.” Because I hate my George with wild and free abandon, and I would sing it from the rooftops — only I wouldn’t be heard over his barking dogs.

My grandmother’s George did not wear shirts. My George often does not wear shirts either, a practice my grandmother called “common.” When my grandmother’s George dragged his trashcans to the curb, he beat his chest and howled a mighty Tarzan yell. This never failed to stop her cold, and she would get up off her glider, go into the house, slam the storm door, pick up her rosary and crank up the volume on “As the World Turns.” My George does not do Tarzan, but his chorus of barking dogs equals a thousand Tarzans.

George’s dogs live about 10 feet from our bedroom window. It’s usually the middle of the night when they scramble up in a panic, nails scritching across the back porch as they fling themselves hysterically into the yard to bark at nothing. Maybe it’s a coyote, a skunk, cat, raccoon, opossum, or it is actually nothing — but they bark until they are hoarse and defeated and scrabble back up the steps — scritch, scritch. I lie awake tense, waiting for the cycle to start over.

Recently, the dogs woke me again at 1:30 a.m. on the clock radio. I was home alone, husband and children away for the weekend. I went outside just as George drove up. I was going to be brave and confront him. Politely. I rehearsed the speech. I was very calm. And then he saw me waiting, so he didn’t get out of his car — he just sat there. A standoff. I wanted to entreat him — please, have mercy. Something like: “I have a book due. I feel like a crazy person carrying around this noise machine, rainstorm and crickets blaring, day and night.” But he wouldn’t get out, and I chickened out.

Another night, I did go pound on the door. He appeared and warned me, “You better get out of here,” like I was a thief. I said, “It’s your neighbor! Your dogs have been barking for an hour!” He said, “Uh, yeah.” Then he disappeared. Never an apology. Nothing.

My husband has gone over to talk to him several times, and the discussions take forever because my husband thinks that eventually compassion and empathy will penetrate his thick hide. Ha! In one conversation, George suggested that we cut down our backyard trees because they are to blame for his dogs barking, as they attract squirrels.

I left a poem by Billy Collins, called “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” in his mailbox. Part of it goes:

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.

I close all the windows in the house

and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast

but I can still hear him muffled under the music, barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,

his head raised confidently as if Beethoven

had included a part for barking dog.

My George has, so far, expressed no more response to the poem than any of our other pleas. In the meantime, I have purchased a product called the Dog Silencer Pro. It should arrive any day. It costs $89.95, and I am going to hang it on our fence with a prayer that the barks of Thing One and Thing Two will, as promised, set off high-frequency sound waves that are supposed to “annoy” but not hurt their ears, and that all will be silent. The salesman at Good Life Products said dog owners never order this product — it’s always the neighbors. They call up, desperate, and say, “Listen. Can you hear that? Can you hear it?” and hold up the receiver for him to listen to barking dogs.

I want this Dog Silencer Pro to be the miracle that will transform all our lives. Maybe those blessed high-frequency sound waves will carry with them the possibility of goodwill, forgiveness and even neighborliness — all festering resentments washed away. If not, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.