Friday, September 4, 2015

Neighborly relationships (and our dog)

By Michael

Our dog, Toma, is as sweet as pie to Yulia, me, and any friends or family that come to visit. She's never barked or bitten us the whole two years we've had her. If you are a neighbor or a stranger, on the other hand, you will hear her wrath.

Our neighbors hear it on a regular basis. Occasionally, they'll make a comment like, "He's so aggressive [Toma's a she]." Or sometimes they plead with her: "Why are you barking at me? It's alright. It's alright."

We've tried training her, and we've tried distracting her. Unless I'm petting or scratching her ear, she will be at the front gate barking as someone passes by our house. It's annoying, but most people deal with it.

Since Toma's pen is at the front of our property next to the road, I've always been concerned that someone might try to hurt her. I watch especially closely when men riding horses go by cracking their whips.

A couple weeks ago, Yulia and I were out back and just happened to be watching when a horse and cart went by. One of the boys (late teens, early twenties) sitting in back had some small apples in hand and actually tossed them at Toma as he went by.

"Did you see that??" I asked Yulia.


"What should we do about it?"

We talked about it a while and decided that we wouldn't say anything this time, but if it happened again, we would speak up. When I heard them returning a few minutes later I went up front to see if that boy would bother Toma again. This time he had the reigns and whip in hand. As he went by and Toma started barking, he flicked the whip in Toma's direction.

In return, I whipped open the front gate. "Зупиніть ! ... ЗУПИНІТЬ!! [Stop! ... STOP!!]"

He actually stopped. Never mess with Toma when I'm around.

"Що це за робота!? [loosely--What's this all about!?--a phrase I've heard older men use to reprimand kids when they're angry]"

"I didn't hit her." He knew he wasn't in the right.

"I don't care! She's a dog, not one of your horses!"

Our dialogue didn't continue for long. His older brother chimed in, "He's right. What did you do that for? ...We're sorry. It won't happen again. We're sorry."


A couple days ago their mom was walking by as I was working on the house up front.

"You're house looks like it's from a fairy tale. Very nice."

"Thank you. That's very nice of you to say."

"It's like a fairy tale. A lot of people go for a modern look, but this is much nicer."

I'm holding Toma at bay by scratching her floppy ears. She begins to walk away, but then turns around.

"Smart, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she understands what's going on."

"My older son told me that my younger son was tossing something at her. I told him if he did that again that I would throw something at him. I said that it was stupid to do that because that'll cause her to bark even more."

"Of course. I think she's mainly barking out of fear."

"She's being a good guard dog. It's not a bad thing."


I'm glad I stood my ground that day and defended Toma, but also glad I didn't go out and antagonize the whole family. They actually came in on our side. When you need to lecture adults...especially neighbors...especially when you're not as familiar with the language as they are, it's a tough line to walk.

If you ever find yourself moving into a tightly knit, small community and being the outsiders like Yulia and I, you may find this little anecdote helpful. Know that you are coming from different worlds. Exercise patience and restraint, but know when it is time to hold your ground.

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