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Roger Barbee: Being good stewards

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By Roger Barbee

According to my preferred story of creation, mankind was given the earth and all in it to enjoy and to be good stewards of it. That seems to me to be a good bargain: we get all that is here and we just have to take care of it and enjoy it, which is similar to receiving a fine gift for a birthday and having it for years to enjoy.

We humans, especially here in the valley, have been given many gifts, and one of the best we have, in my opinion, is dogs. A good, well-trained dog will give more than it receives. It will happily greet you at the end of any type of day, it will protect the family home, it will play in any kind of weather, and it will work for you if trained properly. Treat it as the social animal it is, feed and water it, keep it safe and out of traffic, give it required medical attention, share time with it, and it will return all this and more.

Over these 66 years, I have had many dogs of many breeds, and three presently share life on Red Hill with us. They enjoy their "dedicated couch" in the family room, their individual crates, their electric fenced-in acre, and, I hope, our presence in their lives. However, all is not bliss as at times they cause problems, such as when Nolan, the Shenandoah black and tan, gets overly stimulated and runs through the fence, or one of them suffers an ailment that requires a trip to Seven Bends. Yet, all that is minor in the grand scheme of life here in the valley, and we share all that we can with them. Ours is, simply put, a social relationship that benefits all.

Over the years, we have come to appreciate the Dogwatch electric fence more and more. The beagles respect its bite, but Nolan is a bit more hardheaded, so each morning after walking and feeding him, we fasten him to a light cable for his morning constitutional. We don't like to tie him, but have decided that he is better off being tied in the morning when he is prone to getting excited by the smells left by the night travelers and morning foot traffic on our road. The rest of the time outside he is free to roam and smell and bark with the beagles. However, within a mile of where I sit, I know of three dogs chained to a doghouse all the time.

A chained dog is, for me, a pathetic sight for several reasons. Even if the dog is supplied with fresh water, a shelter, and food, it does not have another need filled--contact with other living creatures. A chained dog is a lonely dog because it is kept "out back" and only visited when it is being fed or watered.

Seldom, if ever, does anyone leave the house and engage the dog in play. In fact, how can it play when anchored by its chain? The contact it is getting is little, in fact, so little that it does not meet the social needs of the dog.

Some years ago, a neighbor (who has since moved), had a cocker mixed dog tied up all the time, but each Sunday afternoon he would let the dog loose to run. Gads, what a treat for that pitiful dog -- a few minutes on the Lord's day to stretch its limbs. Fortunately, he gave the dog to a better home when he moved away.

None of the three dogs near here is beaten or horribly abused as far as I know. One, however, has a large hernia that makes it look like the udder of a milk cow. Another one spent the cold winter chained to its house all the while dealing with ice and snow. The other is frightened by thunder and gunshots, but for the summer of being chained to guard the garden will have to somehow endure.

These three all-chained dogs share the same plight -- they are being abused by their owners even if shelter, food, and water are provided.

An owner who chains a dog for all the time, for whatever reason, is not being a good steward of the animal. When a dog is chained, both the dog and the owner miss the opportunity of sharing life on a daily basis. All that is left is for the chained, neglected gift to learn to hobble about its highly restricted space and spend each day and night alone.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net. Read his columns online at www.nvdaily.com/columns/barbee



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