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A Denney for Your Thoughts – A tune worth singing

Editor’s note: This column was first published on Feb. 5, 2008. A reminder of the importance of personal responsibility for caring for pets is still in order.

By Connie Denney

“When the dog bites”… are you hearing the song “My Favorite Things”? The idea from the Rodgers and Hammerstein song of “The Sound of Music” fame seems to be that when something negative happens – dog bite, bee sting, feeling sad – remembering “favorite things” helps you not “feel so bad.”

That’s a really good outlook. But I remember all too well stings (I loved to go barefoot) that made it really hard to think positively for days! There’s a lot to be said for prevention.

As for dog bites, prevention is definitely the best policy. I was luckier than some. I was not seriously injured. A child bitten the same day was. Still, there was concern over the dog’s shot status, my visit to the doctor, the tetanus shot. … It was a year ago. I remember it vividly.

I like to walk. Erwin is a great place for walking. Erwin Linear Trail is a natural. Residential areas with parkways and trees offer their own beauty. I was on a sidewalk not so far from home. It is not unusual to see dogs. Some of them seem to want to get across the message that they would like to kill something, others want to be sure their barks are heard. Then there are those whose behavior makes you think they just want to get through the day.  (Recognize human traits?)

This particular day I heard barking. Then – it happened so fast – there was a dog hanging on my ankle. It hurt, but not terribly – there was the sock and all. I remembered to stay calm and kept walking. I stopped at Dorothy Fortune’s and she wisely insisted I clean and bandage the bite area.

Since I did not know who lived in the house the dog ran back toward and was not about to go up to it to ask about rabies shots, I called people I knew who lived nearby. They knew of the dog but not how to contact the person. That’s when I called Gary.    

Gary Hatcher was Erwin’s animal control officer. You may know him as the man who does school programs and has enough certifications to decorate an office. Those who know Gary will not be surprised that he responded promptly, learned about the dog’s shots, made the contact with the Police Department for filing the required report, got back to me with information I needed. (He stressed the importance of medical attention to prevent rabies and/or infection.) Both he and Officer Wayne Edwards were compassionate and professional. That means a lot when you are on the needy end of public service. 

It is important to say here that the caregiver for the dog that bit me responded in a responsible way.  My point in telling the personal experience is simply that I learned up close the common sense reasoning behind sections of Erwin’s ordinance regarding dogs: “Running at large prohibited.” and “Vicious dogs to be securely restrained.” 

Through the actions of their elected officials, Unicoi County and the Town of Unicoi joined the Town of Erwin in committing to animal control services. A board including representatives of all three local governments and the Humane Society was established to operate an animal shelter. Citizens have the right to expect life will be better for humans and animals as a result.

Companionship of animals should fall into the “favorite things” category, should mean pleasure for the animals and the humans who choose to be with them, a decision not to be taken lightly. We should not expect pleasure without responsibility. Public policy, a physical structure that makes law enforcement more convenient, animal welfare awareness can be positive factors. Neither takes the place of personal commitment. Gary Hatcher can tell stories of suffering (human and animal) resulting from its absence.