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Sarah Simpson column: A puppy’s just gotta be allowed to bark sometimes

Be kind to your neighbours
Here’s a stock photo of a guy peeking over his fence at the neighbour’s yard. Don’t be like this guy, go talk to your neighbours! (Metro Creative photo)

I scrolled Cowichan’s various community Facebook pages while at work the other day. In my line of work you don’t get in trouble for being on Facebook while on the clock, it’s actually sort of encouraged. I came upon a bit of an exasperated rant from a newer resident of Maple Bay.

Her name is Heather Bellman and I tracked her down and asked if I could tell her story because the group she posted in, although a community group, is designated as private and I don’t really want to be kicked out of that group for sharing without authorization. Believe me, it happens.

Anyway, I had a chat with Bellman and learned she and her young family moved to the Cowichan Valley last July and have thus far loved living in Maple Bay. A stay at home mom, she’s got three children under four (including a newborn) as well as a nine-month old puppy. Needless to say, she’s got her hands full.

It came as quite a shock to her the other day when Coastal Animal Control paid her a visit after a noise complaint about her dog, who’d been outside on the deck for a short time in the middle of the day.

Apparently a neighbour reported her puppy “howling” on the deck.

“Up until this complaint we’ve had no issues of any kind, everyone has been very welcoming and friendly,” Bellman explained. “I wish they would have knocked on the door and let me know their concerns before reporting me to animal control,” she added. “Giving the puppy time out on the upstairs deck gives me the few minutes I need to put my sons down for a nap, and care for my newborn and stuff. She is never out there for more than 10-15 minutes at a time and she’s always happy.”

The large breed pup does like to patrol the deck and does get vocal when folks pass by, but she’s still a puppy after all. She’ll learn. I’d totally understand calling the authorities if she’d put her screaming baby on the deck for 10-15 minutes, but her barking dog?

(Let’s be honest though moms… how many of us have thought at some point about how nice it would be to be able to put our screaming baby outside and then close the door?) Relax. It was a joke. But the whole being a mom thing is no joke. It’s hard.

New to the area and obviously quite busy raising small humans, Bellman doesn’t know all of her neighbours just yet but figures that shouldn’t stop her angry neighbour from reaching out if there’s a problem. After all, they know where she lives.

“I’ve been working my butt off doing my best to meet all my boys’ and my puppy’s needs while my youngest is in the newborn phase but it’s not always possible to cater to everyone at the same time,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “All of this I could’ve explained if you’d been neighbourly enough to come to the door. I’m in way over my head but I could’ve tried to reach a middle ground with you if the noise was really that much of a bother.”

Upset and frustrated with the situation, Bellman ranted to the community group page.

What happened next is the best part of the story.

“The neighborhood really came together to support me and it made me feel heard, which was amazing,” she said.

True to form, the Cowichan, specifically Maple Bay, community stepped up to offer the young mother its support in any number of ways.

“I’m so sorry to read this,” wrote Melissa Vassalo in response to the post. (Yes I tracked her down too.) “One frazzled mom to another, I’m sure you’re doing a great job in the ‘survival mode’ phase. If you ever need someone to come by and walk the dog to get a break, I’d be happy to help.”

That comment was followed up with dozens of other offers to walk or help train the puppy or to babysit or help out with whatever else the mom of three needed. You know, like neighbours often do. At least like neighbours used to do.

Even Bellman’s next door neighbour reached out and said she’d heard but didn’t have an issue with the pooch and was happy to take it for a walk whenever Bellman needed.

Who knows, maybe that one neighbour had a valid reason for being upset with the dog barking for a short time? Maybe they were riled up about the construction noise plaguing the Maple Bay area and this put them over the top? Maybe the neighbour had a migraine or was quite simply having a bad day? Still, a little neighbourly communication would have done wonders.

During this time of year especially, kindness can really go a long way. It’s super cliché to say but everyone is fighting some type of battle we know nothing about — that is unless we make an effort to get to know those around us.