By Michael Jacobs
I’m not writing this article just to promote the wonderful pun in the title, but I readily admit that I could have. My story concerns an apparently banal fact: The noise made by barking dogs in my neighborhood is driving me round the bend. So really, this is just a personal desabafo, and I believe it’s healthier to get things off my chest (which is how we say desabafar in English) by writing about them, than by taking any extreme measures.
Just to put you in the picture, I live in a house in a relatively nice middle-class suburb of São Paulo, Brooklin, but there are times when I can’t believe I’m not in the middle of a favela, (pronounced as is read; /fa-ve-la/, but a word which has a smoother flow to it than slum, shack or shanty town). Luckily, while never having had the experience of actually living in a favela, I don’t know if my feeling has anything to do with favela life as such, but my imagination tells me it could be the case.
The fact is I’m surrounded on every side by dogs barking at all times of the day and night. Three together at one house on the corner just three houses away from mine, two of them (both high-pitched yappers) of indeterminate breeds – which is a nice way of saying mongrels – plus a pit bull terrier (a deeper bass-like bark). As their abode is on a corner, I get the barking reverberations in my house both from the front and the back, a sort of stereo effect.
And a very strange coincidence is that the previous occupants, a German couple, also had three very noisy dogs – or Hunde I should perhaps call them. The only difference being a change in nomenclature from Hunde to cachorros as far as I can see. Well, the Germans moved out, much to my relief, but then, lo and behold, a month later, three other dogs came to take their place. Clones apparently.
Then we have, somewhere at the back of my house, a large-sounding hound which never stops barking – nor sleeps apparently. I can hear the echoes of the barks from its back yard, which then travel up, over the walls and then on into every room in my house. To the side, other dogs can often be heard, although seldom seen, and over the road, sundry others help to make up this canine choir. The barking continues on all sides, only decreasing in volume as a square of the distance, or something like that – a concept dimly remembered from physics – until the barking fades into the distance.
When they are all going at it at once, the decibel level of the cacophony, best described as a canine symphony perhaps, can even drown out the sound of the low-flying helicopters on their way to and from the TV Globo studios just down the road a bit. That can give you an idea of the racket. Needless to say this din also includes motorcycles blasting by, normally the smaller models with the noisiest open exhausts, cars – either with radios blaring or tires squealing – or neighbors having a quarrel, or fun. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
On the nearly-plus side of things I am dogged (sorry about that) by a next-door neighbor to the right who doesn’t have a dog. But he and his wife make up for that by advising their respective arrivals to the housemaid by blasting bum-bum-bumbum-bum – bum – bum, his car horn, and tooting bip-bip bipbip-bip – bip-bip, hers. The unexpected sound of a blaring buzina often causes me to jump out of my skin, as it sounds as if it were in my front room.
Of course it probably would work out to be more expensive if they were to install an automatic gate, but that’s their makeshift solution to avoid getting out of the car each time they arrive home, which seems to be about six times a day on average, and walking all of the two meters which separate them from the front gate. Talk about energy conservation.
And then, until quite recently, right next door, to the left, there was a golden cocker spaniel, a breed not known for its constraint when it comes to barking. And bark it did, all the time, even after being told a thousand times by its owners to Fique quieto (be quiet; shut up, shut your yap)!
It got to the point that the neighbors` yelling became more irksome than the mutt itself, if that’s at all possible. The dog of course didn’t take a blind bit of notice. I think it was probably sending a not-too-subtle message, something like Take me for a walk or I’ll bark enough to drive you crazy”. At least that was the message I got. The neighbors, though, obviously didn’t. This chapter has a bit of a sad ending. The poor thing died, of natural causes, due to old age. What a pity.
For you Brazilians who think that sentiment a tad strange coming from someone who is so obviously not a great fan of dogs, let me tell you that I’m using “What a pity” in what we call a “tongue-in-cheek” manner. If you didn’t know the expression, or had seen it but didn’t quite get it, now you do.
Well, when the noise rises to a crescendo, peaking several times a day, and quite often at night too, I have to admit that the thought of feeding these animals some large and juicy pieces of liver with ground glass or rat poison tucked away inside becomes as extremely tempting to me as it would be appetizing to them.
But then I stop to think a little less emotionally and have to draw the line. While no great pet or animal lover personally, I realize that it’s not the animals themselves who are to blame, but of course the – here you may choose your own expletive; all mine are unpublishable – owners. Having dogs around the house that rarely if ever get the exercise they sorely and surely need can only bring on this type of neurotic doggy behavior.
My questioning goes deeper than that when I ask myself “Why do these people have dogs at all?” An easy answer to that is to protect their property from intruders. But that reasoning seems to me to fall a little flat, if not apart, when the animal or animals are barking constantly. How can the owner distinguish between a housebreaker or a burglar (for those who don’t know the difference, a housebreaker breaks into your house during the day and a burglar under cover of the night. It doesn’t make much difference to the dogs however), a passing pedestrian, a falling leaf perhaps or, worst-case scenario, another dog inadvertently just strolling by the front gate minding its own business, nose in the air and tail raised in disdainful and haughty aplomb. Or even the very worst-case scenario: Three stuck-up poodles being given the exercise they’re due, stopping right in front of one of the rat-.sorry, dog-infested houses to cock their legs, or squat, for a pee.
Do these pet owners call themselves animal lovers? Probably. But I would think that if they love their pets the least they could or should do is ensure that they get enough healthy exercise and, not incidentally, work off some of that excess energy, available, I can only presume by default, for barking.
Another question I ask myself is; if someone is normally present in the house (and they are) why doesn’t the noise bother them too? Not to mention the row from other neighbors` dogs? Do they get some kind of perverted sense of security, or even kicks, from all the barking, imagining that Fido or Rover is looking out for their best interests? What type of psychological reasoning lies behind the laissez-faire attitude? (I rather like this allusion in French, because my history teacher at school in England always translated that expression to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. I for one, certainly wish they would). Or are they possibly all deaf (the owners I mean, not the dogs)? Whatever, obviously none of them cares a damn about how their neighbors feel or suffer – nor do they care much, I would say, about their dogs.
Which brings me to the point I want to make. The concept, admittedly sometimes taken to extremes in countries like the USA and Great Britain, where “Your rights end where mine begin”, is totally lacking here in Brooklin. The prevailing idea seeming to be that “I (or my dogs) can make as much noise as I (or we) like. That’s our business. But don’t you dare bother or upset me!”
I freely admit that this is one aspect of life in Brazil, which puzzles me no end (to put it mildly). Of course it’s not a country known for general peace and quiet, and while that does take some getting used to, get used to it we foreigners do, or seem to, most of the time.
I remember quite a few years back a couple of fair Canadian lasses who had come here to check out the country a little and earn some pocket money on the side by “teaching” English, asking me “Michael, why do Brazilians always have their TVs on so loud?”
I told them that when someone is talking while someone else is watching TV it’s only natural that the person watching TV obviously wants to, apart from seeing, hear what’s on, so will crank up the volume accordingly. That then distracts the conversationalists who raise their volume too, and then…well, you get the idea.
I often wonder if I’m the only local resident to feel miffed with all the canine uproar going on nonstop. Being the sole gringo on my block, can it be that only my sensibilities are under attack?
I once approached a neighbor who lived even closer than I did to a particularly noisy beast, saying to him something like “Hey, let’s get together and talk to our neighbor about her dog”. The reaction? He changed the subject, giving me the impression that he’d never heard an animal that must drown out conversation in his own home.
Oh well, I suppose I’m just a grumpy gringo, but it is for me at least, one of the least understood phenomena about living in Brazil. The right to assert oneself on these matters just doesn’t seem to exist. I’m writing this with typical British phlegm at the moment, and it is a quiet moment when, if I stop and listen, I can count only about five dogs having a go, but have to admit that my habitual calmness tends to disappear in the wee hours on being woken by one or, as is normally the case, several, of man’s best friends. Not only woken, but kept awake lying there in a stew with dark deeds churning through my mind.
When I read in the papers of some animal hater going berserk and killing some or even all of the animals in his and surrounding streets, I feel pity for the owners.
Well, to tell the truth, not perhaps the owners so much as their kids, but must admit to a twinge of sympathy for this serial dog killer on the loose, seeking justice with his own hands, gun, poisoned tidbits, or whatever.
Solutions? I don’t know, honestly. I once went to our local delegacia (police station, precinct) seeking guidance, only to be told that the best thing to do would be to talk to the offending neighbor (just two houses down this time), which I did, albeit with some trepidation, notwithstanding the fact of having police backing and approval (but no protection). Not only did she complain about a noisy party I had thrown once, many, many years back, she never spoke to me again for all the time she lived here (which was a great pity, because she was definitely the foxiest lady on the block, if not in the whole of Brooklin), until finally moving out about six months afterwards.
Need I mention that, for those whole six months, her barking, whining, howling, yapping dog, a beautiful collie which, by the way, I saw for the first time the day she pulled up roots (to enormous sighs of relief, silent applause and, obviously, smatterings of regret. Regret? Yes. Remember, she was no dog), never once let up on its ceaseless barking? Neurotic dog, or neurotic owner? Or, perhaps some would even say, neurotic gringo?
PS After finishing the story I received my Veja magazine with its supplement Veja São Paulo (Vejinha), with the then timely front-cover headline “Invasão Canina”. (Canine Invasion). The article dealt with the number of dogs estimated to be in São Paulo. “half of the three million homes have dogs”, that’s (let me get my calculator out. Hum, mumble, mumble. Yes, I have the answer) a million and a half pests (sorry again. I meant pets. Or did I?) all told. The article went on to mention that “sometimes the dogs are so badly behaved that they need to visit a psychologist”. Well.yes. But just the dogs?
“My pet peeve” was published in New Routes magazine, an excellent quarterly publication sent out to English teachers and students by the kind people at Disal, one of Brazil and Latin America’s largest distributors of teaching materials. The reading public I had in mind was English language students and teachers.
I got a lot of flack from readers after its publication but thank God the majority was in favor of it and full of complimentary comments praising my chutzpah for touching on such a thorny issue. Thorny that is, for a foreigner to bring up, which is why the criticism was leveled at me, and not because of anything inherently wrong with my point of view. While I do love this country, not everything is perfect, and you’ll see why this is one of my chief beefs.
I think it’s a crying shame to be criticized just for being a foreigner and voicing an opinion in such a democratic country, but could it be that freedom of speech is still too fresh a concept to some who perhaps don’t remember the dark days of the military dictatorship, being – who knows? – much too young or ignorant of the facts.
Some of the more virulent mail concerned the British and their famed appreciation as doting animal lovers while at the same time questioning their practice of fox hunting.not to mention Tony Blair. I couldn’t see why or how he crept into the criticism. As you can imagine conflicting opinions and even realities emerged, which I think is all very healthy. And it didn’t affect me at all; I only needed three days in bed and was then ready to get back to the keyboard.
I think this article was great. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about living in Brazil. I still live in the US but my husband (who is Brazilian) and I are thinking about moving to Brazil and this is one of my big issues. It is sooo noisey!!! I really don’t know if I could get used to it. Thanks for writing about this issue – I often wondered if it bothers anyone else because no one else mentions it.
— Marion DaSilva
I EMAPATHIZE! I am a humane educator which means that I attempt to foster compassion for people, the planet and animals. I strive to find solutions when I hear of a problem. I have had the same problem in my neighborhood in California living amongst people who have a completely different view of how dogs are to be treated. Apparently, this coupled with the fact that they seem to not be bothered by the barking, makes for some pretty sleep deprived nights and sadness for the dogs.
My first question to you would be this – do the dogs who are barking live their lives outside by themselves? If this is true, then therein lies the problem. Please let me know if you would like for me to forward some solution-oriented material that you can then pass along to your neighbors. The dogs are trying to tell us something and we need to listen!
Hope you have a restful night’s sleep!
How very appropriate was the article “My pet peeve” I seems to me that all Brazilians are deaf to the sound of dogs barking I have casually mentioned the problem to people in passing to be met with totally blank looks and the crazy gringo shrug
Brazilians are an isolated culture because they are irreparably isolated by their language. Its lack of use by others, its lack of authority by a designated group, and its lack of consistency from city to city. It should be no surprise that communication is one of their weakest talents. Couple that with a newly found sense of liberty and add a dash of having no idea what liberty and personal freedom really means, and you have the disorderly community that cries out for guidance… but refuses to listen.
–Lee Himelfarb “