A good horror story is always appropriate for Halloween, but sadly my yearly scary story is true.
Once upon a time I lived in a very nice, quiet neighborhood. The neighborhood is usually so safe that people don't lock or close doors.
A few years ago a new family moved into the house two doors down from me. This family had three children; the father's job took him away from home for days at a time; the mother worked full time. The children were home alone, most days with very little adult supervision.
The oldest boy was bad news. Many neighborhood children were forbidden to play with him, and it made me uneasy that he hung around my pond with the other neighborhood kids who were fishing. Eventually, I banned him from my yard when he threw fireworks into the pond against strict instructions that no fireworks were permitted on our property.
When this boy was 12, strange things started happening on our street — mail was stolen, houses were broken into, etc. — but all we had were unproven suspicions. As this kid neared his 16th birthday, he hardly ever went to school.
At the beginning of summer this year, he accumulated three or four more scary looking boys who all owned motor bikes They spent the summer hanging out on his back porch, smoking, drinking beer, and playing loud music each day. Things began to get ugly around July 4, when another neighbor had to call the police because the kids were shooting bottle rockets onto the roof of her house at 3 a.m.
A new family had moved into the house directly behind this boy's home. On the morning of July 6, Donna, the new neighbor was working in her garden while her six-year-old son played nearby. The teenagers were blasting rap music from a boom box, music with filthy language. Donna did not want her young son to hear this, so she walked over and asked them to turn it down. The teens turned it up louder. Donna went into her house and called the boy's mother at work to complain.
That afternoon, Donna, went to pick up her son at Karate class.
Donna and family owned Barney, a 12 year old black Lab. Barney had no obedience titles, nor was he a great show dog, but he did his job as family pet and children's companion well. Barney's family had albums full of photos of him sleeping with the children, attending birthday parties, and more. Barney was “enclosed” in the yard behind an underground radio-controlled fence. While Donna was gone, the kids took Barney and dragged him off through the woods. A sweet, gentle dog, Barney didn't put up much resistance.
Another neighbor, down the street noticed this happening but did nothing. This gang of teenage punks kicked and beat Barney until he was almost dead. Then they dipped his entire body in Kerosene, but they stopped short of fire.
When Donna returned home from picking up her son, she heard taunts from the gang on the back porch, but she didn't think much of the repeated “woof, woof, woof” jeering. They searched for Barney but when they didn't find him, they went to bed.
The gang left poor Barney tied in the woods in near 90-degree heat for a day and a half. Wednesday morning, Donna discovered him dumped on her front porch, near death. Barney had Kerosene in his eyes, ears, and nose and was very dehydrated. Her veterinarian revived the dog, cleaned him up, and sent him home after two days on intravenous fluids, but Barney's survival was in doubt. Donna had a $500 vet bill, and Barney's $60 electronic fence collar was missing. Donna had called the police, but she told them that if Barney lived, she would not file a complaint.
Barney died; Donna signed both criminal and civil complaints.
After Barney died, I made a condolence call to see Donna. No words seemed right, and I felt funny going empty handed, so Spirit went with me. A registered Therapy Dog and an excellent listener, Spirit nuzzled Donna and stayed right by her side while she talked to him. He divided his attentions among Donna and her two children spreading the comfort around. Spirit's eyes were running; telling the children he was crying added a nice touch.
Our safe little neighborhood has been jolted into the 1990s. As a result, I want to caution all dog owners out there: Lock your dogs no matter how small or large the errand you run. In Ohio dogs are legally considered property. You would never dream of driving away and leaving your TV, computer, or VCR in the yard; surely your dog is at least as valuable.
Even with your valuables safely locked inside your house, a determined thief can take them, but trespassers or vandals are unlikely to risk breaking into a house. The theft of a dog from a fenced yard is a trespassing theft; it can be very hard to prove, but is more likely to be prevented by a visible fence with a locked gate than by a buried-wire fence that does not clearly mark the property. The dog is safest if locked in the house when no one's home. Inside the house, a theft also involves breaking and entering, and in the case of many dogs, reaches the level of grand theft.
It also comes to mind that Barney was a nice, sweet dog who went along with his killers willingly. Under different circumstances, with a not-so-nice dog, we could be staring at a newspaper headline about an attack on a child by a vicious dog.
So far nothing has happened legally; the witness fears retaliation and the boys in the gang refuse to talk. However, the teenager's family has decided to move, leaving us with the hope that our neighborhood can once again become nice and quiet.
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