Near-east-side Madison residents must obey two commandments: 1. Thou shalt not paint over the natural, interior woodwork of thou's home and
2. Thou shalt not hassle, for any reason whatsoever, not even in jest, the owners of dogs.
I've broken both of these commandments. Breaking the latter is more serious business because on the near-east-side dogs and their owners rule and everyone else drools.
Dog owners on the near east side have special status. They're members of a sovereign nation, and they answer only to the unwritten rules of Dogdom. They keep the rest of us on a leash (unlike their animals), and they don't hesitate to yank it hard if we get out of line.
The citizens of Dogdom skillfully scramble their neighbors' scrutiny. Like those who throw the race card to reset the table of any argument, dog owners appoint hatred of animals to those who question pet-owner ways. No one likes to be called a dog hater. So we stop our yapping.
My wife, Peggy, worries as I write this. "You're just going to piss them off," she says. She's thankful for the responsible dog owners who live near us, including our immediate neighbors. It's true we're surrounded by connected pet people. As for the legions of disconnects, the ones who live in Dogdom, I've already been exiled to the other side of the moat, over here in the part of the Kingdom where people are accountable for noise and feces.
For every poop-bag-toting doggy-daddy, there's a turd-abandoning delinquent. Bowel bombs smear our corner lot. Children at play and their parents pay for this, slipping and sliding on the fecal dance floor.
If only this was just about turds. That'd be great. For each pooch silenced from its incessant, bored barking, there's a nearby dog that ruffs up the quiet of an entire Saturday morning. If the barker is skilled enough, like an evangelist at a tent show, he gets the rest of the hood's hounds to join in.
Andy, you might say, this is simply the price you pay for living in the city. There's no need to be hostile.
That would be cool if we all lived by the same rules. We don't. If I sent my teenagers down the block to scream into the window of a neighbor's house, he'd call the cops. Who wouldn't? Police come for teenagers, too. Howling dogs? Not so much.
If you're a dog owner, don't overreact to this, because I understand there's one dog that never snaps at toddlers or barks for no reason at all for an hour straight. Yours! Isn't it amazing that I know this and we've never met? The "my dog doesn't do that" crowd turns on me every summer at near-east-side music festivals. This is where I have the fun job of making announcements from the stage between bands.
After the inevitable, annual incident of a child getting bitten or a dogfight breaking out, I have the profound pleasure of getting on the mike and telling people with dogs that they need to take them home. That a child has been hurt. That dogs are fighting. That it's against the law to have a dog in the park.
These requests bring out the dog owners' warm affection, the kind of love pet people are so known for. When I leave the stage and return to the festival crowd and the owners see me, they look over their beers and say things like, "Screw you," which I know actually means, "Thanks for volunteering at the festival!"
To responsible dog owners, I say good job, etc., blah, blah. A few exist even on the near east side. When I see them, I beg them to work on the behavior of their offensive counterparts in Dogdom, the same way Americans visiting France sometimes confront loathsome acts of fellow U.S. travelers.
It's only a matter of time before the denizens of Dogdom sic their animals on me. When that happens, as the canines tear me limb from limb, as their white fangs gnash and tear my flesh, I'll forgive them. A serenity will come over me. When I float up toward the warm, white light, a smile will break across my face because I'll know I no longer have to deal with their owners.