The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Barking up the wrong tree

It’s happened several times now. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten calls from four different strangers, all in Rhode Island or Massachusetts.  Every one of them had obviously dialed the wrong number. I know this because they’ve all asked the same question when I answered:  ”Is this Animal Control?” And then someone left this message:  “My neighbor’s dog is out, and this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with this. You need to come do something about it.”

Oh, the irony. Apparently, I’m only a digit off from county animal control somewhere in the Northeast. But in that single digit lies a world of difference.

You see, there is no animal control at my residence. Around here, the animals are in complete control.

That word, “control,” reminds me of something that happened 10 years ago.  I was sitting on my back porch talking on the phone with my husband, who was in a treatment facility in Arizona, and he was telling me he had come to the conclusion that he was in rehab because I was too controlling.

At the same time he hurled the accusation, one of the kids from across the street walked out of my pool house holding a Sprite, asking, “Can I have this?” as the family’s golden lab jumped into the deep end of my pool. I remember thinking, Is he serious? My SUV still has remnants of the time our son spray painted the entire driver’s side, I can’t order anything through the mail because the dachshunds will intercept the UPS guy and eat the package contents, and I’ve unwittingly become the unpaid sitter for the lady across the street. What part of my life is under control?

Ten years later, my husband and I are divorced, and I live in another state.  Everything’s changed, and yet some things will always be the same.

I have a swimming pool and a three-legged dog who swims laps in it every day. My daughter moved back in with me and brought her two Bengal cats, nocturnal creatures who define the word caterwaul between three and six o’clock every morning.  And Laverne and Shirley, the dachshunds? Still massively unmanageable. I have three fences around my yard, and none is very good at containing Laverne, who’s only eight pounds.  The first fence encloses the pool, and she’s thin enough to squeeze through the rails. The second one, a white picket fence around the perimeter of the yard, she easily digs under.  So I spent $500 a few weeks ago to have Invisible Fence re-install the wires that were broken during the pool construction.

Finally, I told myself, I have Laverne under control.

One morning, I opened the door to the garage and heard a bad sound.  It was a beep that alerts me to the fact that the Invisible Fence isn’t working. It also alerts Laverne to the fact that the fence isn’t working. I unplugged the fence to end the incessant high-pitched beeping and called my local Invisible Fence franchise.

Of course, when I plugged the fence back in to show the Invisible Fence guy that it’s broken, it was miraculously working again.

He charged me a $25 trip fee for coming to my house for nothing.

I think I actually saw Laverne grin. Well played, little girl.

As of this very moment, my dogs are contained. But under control? That depends upon whom you ask. I have a neighbor who thinks they bark too much. She even went to the trouble of tearing out a newspaper article for me about using acupuncture to curtail barking.

As if a bunch of needles can change doggie DNA.

Thankfully, I controlled my laughter when she said it. Then I gave her my cell phone number and told her to call me the next time my dogs were bothering her. She’s never dialed my number. But she has complained to the neighborhood association. I got a call last week saying that my dogs were barking, and it was “the third time in six months” that it had happened.

Did you catch that? Three times in six months? That means my dogs were not barking 179 out of the 182 days between January and June of this month.  To my mind, that is curtailed barking.

And that is what I believe this idea of control is all about. It’s all in how we perceive things. For years, I tried to manage my husband’s behavior by changing myself. But control isn’t about changing another person’s (or even a dog’s!) behavior. It’s about changing how we think about a situation.

The only thing in this whole wide world that I can actually control is how I respond to what life throws at me.

So the next time someone from the Northeast calls to ask if they’ve reached animal control, I’m going to give them my neighbor’s number. Just to needle her.

— Sandi Hutcheson

Sandi Hutcheson, who writes under the name Grace Adams, lives on the beach in St. Augustine, Fla., with a pair of defiant dachshunds named Laverne and Shirley, a three-legged Australian Shepherd and a teenage son who is suffering from a serious case of Senioritis. She blogs at “Looks Great Naked.”

Reflections of Erma