Friday, September 24, 2010

When Stress Reduction Causes Stress

In recent years I've read many articles about the miraculous health benefits of pets. I believe what those articles say, but I have a question about pet ownership as a method of stress reduction:

Should pet owners take responsibility for negative side-effects?

Here's my story of how one kind of stress reduction caused stress for an innocent party :

After weeks of dry weather, a powerful midnight storm brings reviving rain to my thirsty neighborhood. In the early hours of the morning after, I lace up my running shoes and take off toward a dirt trail along the nearby Mariposa drainage, anticipating the thrilling uplift of solitude in rejuvenated riparian splendor. But before I leave my own driveway, the neighbor's dogs pitch a fit, barking and lunging at their fence as if I'm an evil intruder about to invade their territory. Even though I should be used to it, the sudden ruckus startles me from smooth reverie to spiky adrenaline infused anxiety.

A few minutes later, I turn onto the path that follows a sandy rise above cottonwoods and Russian olive trees. My heartbeat steadies as I inhale the savory thanksgiving scent of sage and the honey fragrance of blooming chamisa. Then my nostrils flare and recoil in a tight pinch against the nasty stench of reconstituted dog turd, given new life by the same rain that coaxed perfume from the high desert plants. I exhale a four-letter word and step around the pile in my path. When I look up again my view is filled by the glistening, brand new, forest green doggy doo-doo pick up station, pristine in its virginity.

Across Montano the trail passes behind a housing development. At this hour of going-to-work or waiting-for-the-school-bus, most of the backyards are empty. I hear birds twittering and the whir of distant traffic. I relax into a meditative pace and watch a desert cottontail hopping a mere two feet ahead of me.
An explosion behind the fence on my left jerks me back to reality and propels my bunny buddy into the underbrush. A dog, someones beloved pet no doubt, is hurling his body against the wall, red-lining my heart rate in a rush of fight or flight response. While the one dog assaults the pine boards in silence, his neighbor jumps high to show his menacing grimace above the pickets and a third dog bays like a coon hound who has treed his quarry.

My mantra shifts from Sanskrit to profanity and I scramble to the opposite side of the weed choked, muddy ditch. There's no time to scuff the mud off my shoes or quiet my racing pulse before a pit bull on a twelve-foot leash lunges at my knees. His owner makes a half-hearted pull on the leash and scowls at me. I'm confused...he's mad at me for infringing on his right to relax or...?

On my way home I rant about personal responsibility until I see a young woman pushing a twin stroller while controlling two dogs on a double leash. I watch her put on a plastic bag as if it were a glove, pick up poop and then turn the glove back into a bag with a practiced twist. I continue my rant with even greater vehemence now that I have a model for the positive side of my argument.

What do you say, readers? Where do you stand?


  1. And I hate dog poop at the end of my drive. I was all set to scout out the owner of the perpetrator this morning when I noticed the pile was mostly seeds. No carnivore dog would stuff his stomach with plants, so the donor had to be wild. Alas, I had no recourse.

  2. I know what you mean. My next door neighbor used to "walk" her dogs all of twenty feet from her front door to my driveway, smoke her cigarette while they did their business, and then go straight back indoors.

  3. There's always the time-honored tradition of the dog poop in the paper bag on fire on the offender's porch...

    But seriously, dogs may be pets, but they are still domesticated wild animals. Put them into proximity with nature, and their instincts take over. Even though you were "out in nature", you were still in a popluated area. So I think expectations for peace and quiet have to be tempered by that. I can't really blame the fenced in animals for their reaction; however, once they go out of their yard, it IS their owner's responsibility to control them and not allow them to infringe on the rights of others. IMHO. Just like kids, if you can't control them in public, leave them at home!

    For a real commune with nature run, come to my rural country home...the beagle would love to speed ahead on the hunt, checking periodically to make sure you haven't turned back. Watching her doing what she was bred to do IS stress reducing for me. Putting her on a leash to walk down a path would add stress for me AND her. And you. I understand.

  4. Debbie -- I'd love to go for a run with your beagle in the country. When dogs run free in open spaces they embody joy; I think they even smile. I'm all for dogs. But I do wish more dog owners acted on their responsibility for their pets' behavior.