Tag Archives: urban living

Barking up the wrong tree, or one of the pitfalls of urban living

2 Mar

A man and his dog in the Marais Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerEvery day, several times a day, I have to endure the sound of an Alsatian/German Sheppard and her owner going down the tiny, twisting communal stairs in my apartment building.

My apartment wraps around the stairwell so there is no escaping the sounds. Their tortured journey starts somewhere high above in the roof space. Scratch, scratch, draaag, scratch—the dog’s claws struggle to get a grip on the wood treads. Scraaaape, scrape, scraape—the dog is dragged towards the next flight of stairs around each tight landing. Yu yu yuuuu, woof, woof—the dog’s protest moans and whines get louder and harder and more painful to listen to as they descend the stairs. The dog continues her excruciating chorus, around each landing, down each flight, below me through the passage way and out on to the street.

It is very distressing to hear such an unhappy dog every day. I have often been driven to the point of having my hand on the door handle ready to fling it open to shout at the dog’s owner, “What are you doing to this poor dog? Why do you have such a large dog in such a small space?  How can you be so cruel? Make the scraping and the whining stop NOW!” But I never have.

Neighbourhood gossip is that the dog’s depressed owner jumped from the building a several years ago, but was—thankfully—saved by landing on the roof of a parked car below (It seems my building encourages downward flight). By the routine they keep, I know he must either work from home or not work at all. When the dog’s moans get to me I think about how it must be very tough for the owner to be in the house all day. Does the man feel lonely and isolated? Does the dog help him get over his depression? Is there anything I can do to help? In a city, misery can be hidden on the other side of a wall, only a few feet or even inches away.

The other day I happened to be building entryway when I heard the familiar whine and scratching. My heart jumped a little at the thought of seeing the owner face-to-face and witnessing their tumultuous decent. Could I stay quiet if I saw the dog in obvious distress? What would I say? What if the owner became aggressive? What if the dog became aggressive? Would I be able to phrase my intervention in a way that showed I understood that he might be hurting too? Did I want to get involved? Would he understand English?

I started up the stairs and coming to the first landing I spotted the dog, unleashed, running down the flight above, trying not to slip—scratch, scratch, draag, scratch. Where was the owner? I’d always imagined the owner pulling the reluctant animal down the stairs. The dog got to the landing, its tail wagging, and hopped in a little circle—scraaape, scrape, scrape—and then—yu yu yuuuu, “hurry up man”, woof woof, “I can’t wait to get outside”— another circle with more furious tail wagging. After several moments, at the instant the owner appeared at the bend in the flight above, the dog excitedly bolted from the landing past me and down— scratch, scratch, draag, scatch—towards the entry way. Yu yu yuuuuu, “come on, come on, let’s get outside.”

The owner passed me and gave me big smile. “Bonjour!” he said cheerfully and with a wink!

Oh dear, it looks like me and my imagination are the ones who need to get out more; we’ve been barking up the wrong tree.