Oct 24, 2023, 06:28AM

The Dog Poisoner

The details are usually remarkably similar: it’s always a man, usually late-middle age or older, who lives alone.

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Every so often in the Portland area, the story appears. The details are usually remarkably similar. The man who lives next door tries to poison his neighbor’s dog. It’s always a man, usually late-middle age or older, who lives alone. Ostensibly a woman’s presence would ameliorate his sense of grievance and sway him from his plan. The modus operandi is typically poisoned meat thrown over the fence. Though it’s a relatively rare occurrence in any given jurisdiction, dog poisonings happen often enough so that a Google search reveals algorithmic questions like: “What should I do if I suspect that my neighbor poisoned my dog?” or “Can a person go to jail for poisoning a dog?”

It's a heinous crime, because the victim isn’t responsible. It’s the owners of the dog, who are either unwilling or unable to get their pets’ periodic incessant barking under control. Often the dog poisoner feels like he can’t go into his own backyard without suffering a tirade from the canine next door. He faces misdemeanor charges, fines, and possible jail time if caught.

There may be contributing factors that tilts the perpetrator over the edge. If you know your neighbor, communicate with them, even like them, there’s a good chance the problem can be worked out. In agreeable circumstances there’s a tendency to forgive occasions where there’s a breach of the agreed-upon rules—like never leaving the dog outside when the owners aren’t home, and honoring the peace of evening, nighttime, and early morning hours. Conversely, if there’s tension caused by parking issues, landscape infringement issues, or when formerly sympatico relationships sour with neighbors, the disturbance caused by a dog barking can feel like a personal affront, a goad to the worst stew of discord.

In a civilized environment, 99 percent of the time solutions are reached with reasonable people, and it never gets to the point where a socially-isolated or mentally-unbalanced person snaps and hatches a plot to kill the dog. But there are clear-cut situations where the owners of problem dogs willfully and/or belligerently don’t give a damn about the nervous tension created by their noisy animals. Prolonged barking and a feeling that you can’t access your own yard due to that barking can challenge the mental equilibrium of the best of us.

When caught, the evidence being emergency intervention, posthumous blood tests, or backyard cameras, local media is merciless with the dog poisoner. In addition to the print items that appear, often the local major affiliates will run with the story, visiting the home where the poisoning occurred, and interviewing the appalled dog owners as they introduce one or more of their (usually well-behaved) dogs. Such coverage is warranted, as it’s best to make an example of a person who’ll kill.

There are steps available to deal with the problem. Most local governments have noise ordinances that provide redress to neighbors disturbed by unregulated dog barking. Audio or visual capture of the nuisance barking is presented in evidence. The problem here is that law enforcement entities with more serious offenses to prevent and investigate can’t run around answering dog complaints. Online forums are full of anecdotal testimony to the effect that governmental intervention rarely provides lasting relief. In Portland, forms that tell neighbors of the problem can be printed online and mailed anonymously to the offending address. They’re often ignored.

Then there are the electronic solutions, short of the dog poisoner’s insane final solution. These devices are triggered by barking and emit an irritating high-pitched noise only dogs can hear. This is understandably controversial, as it moves beyond complaints and attempts at resolution by directly impacting the dogs.

Dogs bark, and often that barking, when appropriate, serves a purpose. As a career painting contractor, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the pained expression on homeowners’ faces when they show me around the house and our trek is assailed by aggressive barking. I’ve gotten jobs on homes where constantly barking dogs live, and I always pull away when the job is complete, thinking, Christ, I’m glad I don’t live next door.


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