Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Silence Of The Dogs (after the hurricane)

More than any other time of year, Hurricane Season is when it's prudent to be on good terms with one’s neighbours. Most hurricanes pass Cayman by without disrupting our lives much. The electricity and water are only briefly lost, and one doesn’t need help from neighbours. Hurricane Ivan was different.

The secret of survival after a severe hurricane is to be independent, and not reliant on the neighbours at all. First, your roof has to stay on, and your walls, doors and windows have to stay whole. Cooking gear, water and tinned food are the only essentials, and cash. Pretty much everything else is a luxury. Cash in the bank is nice, if you have a bike to get there and back; cash in the house is better. After Ivan, we needed cash for the small army of Jamaican women who cleared our house of sludge from the sea-surge. And for William, who entered our lives as a passer-by who buried my wife’s dead cat; he ended up with a small fortune by being a handyman to all and sundry.

Work Permit? For all we knew he wasn’t even on the Island legally. In the emergency, government experimented with a free labour market for low-skilled migrants. For once in their miserable lives, all the Gestapo agents had something else to do besides harass hardworking Jamaicans and Latinos. If our politicians weren’t so blinded by their pro-slavery instincts, they’d have noticed how well the free labour market worked. Sigh.

We were lucky with rain, after Ivan. It allowed us all to fill up every container we could find- one lot for drinking, one for washing, and one for the toilet. Once or twice we raided a neighbour’s swimming pool for water to flush the loo, and once or twice we raided Smith Cove. But most of the time we had water to spare. Ah, the advantage of being brought up in a land short of water! We knew how to brush our teeth with a minimal amount of drinking water, and to wash our bodies in a cupful of water and save the run-off. There was a camaraderie in the neighbourhood. We shared mosquito coils and endless cups of tea, and thanked our stars for having enough cooking fuel among us.

Without a live cat, we ourselves didn’t have the extra burden of pets. Strange to tell, I don’t recall ever being kept awake at night by barking dogs in the weeks after Ivan. Our neighbours were responsible enough to keep their dogs quiet; that’s what neighbours should do, after all. Barking-dogs are the bane of my life, and I can’t be the only person in Cayman who hates being kept awake by them, or woken up by them. There is a strong whiff of sociopathy about people who allow their dogs to bark during the night or early morning. (Sociopaths are defined as people who don’t give a damn about other people.) I don’t blame the dogs. Dogs are social creatures, and get lonely when left alone for hours in a confined space. Indeed, there is a strong whiff of cruelty in doing that to one’s dogs. Humane Society, are you listening?

I don’t kill dogs, even barking-dogs. However, plenty of people do kill barking-dogs. You read about dogs being poisoned in their yards and beyond, and why else would they be killed except to shut them up? Poison might well account for the silence of the dogs after Ivan. If so, we can probably expect more of the same after the next hurricane. Responsible owners’ dogs will be okay: sociopaths’, perhaps not.