We once had a neighbor with some anger issues. Our relationship started out pretty well with me taking a casserole over to the house when the family first moved in. Little did I know that there were at least 12 to 14 people living there and four of them were adults. I fear my casserole didn’t go very far. But the head of the household came over to meet us in our driveway and invited us to enjoy a meal at a local restaurant he managed. All seemed to be well.But things turned sour over the months ahead. I suppose the issues mostly surrounded his dogs which were left outside and barked constantly and seemed to run in attack at anyone who walked by. Pity the poor people who walked by with their own dogs on a leash. Those attacks put the fear of God into them and their pets. The postal service and other delivery people simply left notes at the curb rather than approach the house.
Now, Terry and I both had dogs when we were growing up. We love dogs. Our lives in and after college just never seemed to fit with the proper care of dogs so we inadvertently turned to cats. They are pretty self-sufficient and self-cleaning. Many times I’ve wished we could add a dog to the mix, but we don’t want to do that if we can’t properly care for it.
So we didn’t have a problem with the dogs across the street. We know dogs bark. But these dogs barked incessantly. And their unprovoked attacks on passersby changed the entire neighborhood. Ours is a rural subdivision with no sidewalks or street lights. Folks just walk themselves and their pets down the street, greeting others they meet or those of us working or sitting in our yards. But as these dogs persisted in their aggressive behavior, we noticed that people with small animals would pick them up as they walked by. Eventually, everyone just stopped walking through our block because they were fearful of these dogs.
I never got back up to that house again because I was afraid of the dogs. I tried calling the house, but there was never an answer even though so many people lived there and the head of the house, the restaurant manager, had his office there. When I couldn’t reach him any other way, I sat down and wrote what I thought was a nice letter and I told him I was doing that because I thought, perhaps, his office was in the basement so that he didn’t know about everyone’s fear of his pets. He never responded.
We weren’t the only ones in the neighborhood who were growing increasingly frustrated with him. But everyone who had any contact with him determined that he was a bully; that he didn’t care what anyone else felt or thought and he was going to have his own way.
One sunny afternoon, I was out on my front porch and things were pretty quiet. No barking dogs. Then a couple of young women came down the street. As I recall, they were Seventh Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group that makes a practice of going door-to-door to hand out their pamphlets and spread their version of the Good News. At first, I didn’t even see them. Admittedly, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have made myself so available. But I did hear them knock repeatedly on the door of the house across the street – the one with the dogs and the bully. Still everything stayed quiet. I was surprised about that as they talked briefly with whoever came to the door. They said their good-byes and headed back to the street.
But before they even got to the street, the bully or his family released the dogs from inside the house. Sheer terror erupted from the young women. I dropped whatever I was reading and I ran out into the street to meet them and to help. By that time, I knew there was an invisible fence that the dogs probably wouldn’t run through, but they didn’t know that.
These girls, and I say girls because they were so young, were literally shaking so hard out of fear that they were collapsing into the middle of the street. I managed to get them up and move them into our porch chairs and ran inside to get them both glasses of water. It took at least 30 minutes for them to calm down enough to move on. During that entire time those dogs across the street were barking.
I know the girls reported it to local law enforcement because I handed them the phone and gave them the number. We and others around us had already asked for some assistance from the local gendarmes. We weren’t unhappy with law enforcement. They did what they could do as they reminded all of us that “dogs are going to bark.”
But at some point, something must have moved the deputies to some greater action. I was at home alone one afternoon when the doorbell rang. The bully across the street was finally at my doorstep. I started to say hello, but never got that out. He started in on me using every curse word in his limited vocabulary and repeatedly using the “f-word” to tell me that thanks to me he had been “cited.” He never said for what. He just said he had been cited.
Now, I should say that he was yelling at me and using this language. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before, but I had never had it directed at me and at such a decibel level that it scared me. I stood rooted to the floor during his tirade when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have to listen to that or the threats that were associated with it, and I slammed the door in his face. I think I knew what those young women felt like when the dogs chased after them. I was shaking. And as I locked the inside door, I was thankful that we always keep that outside storm door latched shut. It wouldn’t have stopped him, but it would have slowed him down.
I just shook for a while and told Terry about it when he got home. I let it go. But the anger of our neighbor overtook him and he came out to his blacktopped driveway. He carried a huge paintbrush and what turned out to be florescent pink paint. In three-to-four-foot letters facing out to the street he painted, YOU SUCK. Then, just to be sure everyone knew to whom he was referring, he added a florescent pink arrow pointing to our house. The paint was permanent. We had to shake our heads and laugh. So did everyone else in the area.
Within a couple of days, Terry and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary at home. It was a nice spring night and we had the front door and windows open while we enjoyed a glass of wine in the living room at the back of the house. And the dogs were barking and barking. At some point, each of us hollered across the street to request that the dogs be put behind a newly constructed wooden fence. The bully called the police and reported that we were yelling at his children.
When the deputy pulled into our driveway, we welcomed him in and he told us what had been reported. Then we told him our side of the story. When we were done with that, we said, “Did you see what he painted in his driveway?” He hadn’t. So the three of us went to the window to see the bully’s pink fluorescent exclamation.
“He painted that himself in his own driveway?” The deputy was incredulous.
Well, long story made somewhat shorter, the bully was directed to get rid of the pink paint and to get enrolled in anger management classes. He had to get his dogs under control so that folks could feel safe walking up and down the street. When he complained about the letter I had put in his mailbox, the deputy told him, “We like that. We prefer that neighbors try to work out their differences between themselves.”
Within months, he sold the house and moved his family to parts unknown. We know he lost his interests in several restaurants in the area. I just feel sorry for his family.I have long felt it imperative to stand up to bullies but to do so with common sense. There’s no logic in deliberately endangering oneself. But a bully who willingly runs roughshod over others is a detriment to society and the organizations within it be they churches, schools, or even neighborhoods.
I feel the same way about social media. In many ways, our neighborhood bully and some folks I have known in the church operate as though they were on Facebook. They don’t deal with others face-to-face on anything especially if they can curse, threaten, and call us names. It’s easy to do that if you’re hiding in your basement, or if you’re spreading gossip at the local coffee shop, or if you are on social media.
It’s just important that we somehow reclaim respect for one another whether our disagreements surround politics, religion, or barking dogs. It’s going to be up to saner minds to make that happen.
“O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. “– Psalm 86:14-17