Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” comes out this August from William Morrow. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.
We love dogs. We have a dog. When we take our dog out, she is on a leash — it’s the law. Our neighbors don’t adhere to this particular law. They regularly let their two dogs roam free. Their dogs are cute, but their first potty stop is our yard, where they poop and then torment our dog, who barks her head off in the house. At first we would call the neighbor, and sometimes she picked them up, sometimes she didn’t. Then she changed her number and stopped picking up after her dogs. What now? Animal control? Dump all the poop on her lawn? Spray them with a hose?
“It’s the law” is seldom a deterrent, I’m afraid. The Vineyard has a long and lively tradition of dogs upsetting their neighbors. It is almost as long and lively a tradition as humans upsetting their neighbors. So I can’t offer a guaranteed solution — if there were one, the problem would have largely disappeared years ago (just like skunks, ticks, and electricity-delivery surcharges. I mean, wow, remember back when those were problems?). The best I can do here is to offer proposals that (a) are actionable and (b) keep you a Certified Good Neighbor.
First let’s examine the thoughtful and entertaining options you have already proposed.
Please don’t dump the poop on her lawn. As satisfying as it might be to see it there, it is a general rule of thumb, when contemplating whether or not it’s OK to dump poop on someone else’s property, to assume the answer is “no.” (Unless it’s for fertilizer at the request of the property owner.) Besides, that forces you to have an even closer relationship with the poop. Ick.
Under other circumstances, I’d give a thumbs-up to spraying the dogs with water (assuming you mean gently, not to cause hurt) … but being Island dogs, they might enjoy the water, and this would only encourage them. In which case, you’d be conditioning them to bark and poop in your territory even more, since they’d get “rewarded” by getting to “play with you.” So let’s skip that one.
If you call Animal Control, the officer might stop by their home for a warning chat, but unless the AC officer is actually present to see the the misbehavior (or you capture the offending dog and hand it over to them), there probably isn’t much more he or she can do. This owner doesn’t sound like she would be moved by that approach anyhow.
Very few Vineyard dogs I know are leashed when they go out to do their business, because they are either in fenced-in yards, or live out in the woods, or are under voice control by their owners, who pay attention to them when they’re outside. It sounds like you are in a suburban area with unfenced yards and nearby neighbors. Do other neighbors have the same problem with her? If so, perhaps you could take up a neighborhood collection (great excuse for a potluck block party!) and build her a fence.
Or, you could do That Thing Vineyarders Hate Doing: You could talk to her directly. (Nicely.) If she’s just let the dogs out, it means she’s at home. Walk on over, knock on the door, and politely point out that her dogs are pooping in your yard, and ask her to come clean up after them and not let it happen again. If she is rude or disrespectful, try the aikido approach of harmonizing with her aggression: If her dogs are on your property, now they’re yours to keep! Thank her for her generosity, and ask if they have had all their shots. You don’t want them getting the measles.