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Soundtrack has far more bark than bite

February 01, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

I don't get to see The Herald-Mail's call-in bulletin boards on a daily basis, so there may be some context here that I'm missing. Nevertheless, it seemed a bit out-of-the-blue when a caller asked the question we have all probably wondered about ourselves at one time or another:

"Would it be illegal for a person to put a barking dog soundtrack on a speaker outside their home?"

All right, fair question.

Aside from the obvious relief we all feel from the fact that this message has nothing to do with lemon cookies - unless ... no, never mind - there is a philosophical, "if a tree falls in a forest ..." flavor to it that is irresistible.

Now you may be asking yourself, who in his right mind would want to place a soundtrack of a barking dog on a speaker outside his home? And why?

If I may step forward and address the audience.

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The year was 1972 and we were having a really bad raccoon problem. My dad had planted a sizable patch of sweet corn, but for every ear we would get, the raccoons would help themselves to a full dozen.

We tried everything to thwart these cunning bandits. We hung a light out in the garden under the working theory that, being nocturnal, it would discourage the rampant hominycide. But apparently, all this did was help the critters spot the really plum ears, which they proceeded to pull to the ground.

My dad even went so far as to pitch a tent in the cornfield, figuring if he were sleeping out there he would hear the intrusion in the dark of night and come charging through the flaps, thus making an indelible and frightful impression on the buffet line.

As far as it went, this early version of the Blair Raccoon Project had its degree of success. At least it did until the raccoons figured out it is a lot harder for a person to come charging out of a tent with gazelle-like speed if they have gnawed through the tent's guy lines, collapsing same.

So it was only after exhausting every last option that my parents permitted me to exercise my own unique brand of problem solving, which even at the tender age of 12 was already highly evolved.

Our neighbors, the Millers, were wonderful people and legendary raccoon hunters. Even with the exaggerations common to young memories, I know for a fact they would bag dozens, maybe hundreds, each season. I would visit their home and see every last square inch of every last shed, barn and outbuilding would be covered with raccoon hides, tacked up to dry. Every available flat surface was covered with fur and the whole effect was unspeakably picturesque.

Needless to say, they had a full complement of hounds that would go delirious and bray and foam at the mouth and make idiots of themselves at any life form that moved. They had black-and-tans, red bones, blueticks, Bill O'Reilly - and at any major event in a dog's life, which included suppertime and a car driving by, they would stand atop their dog houses and let loose with a Class "V" river of canine commentary that shook the earth.

Enter me and my tape recorder. I asked my friend Larry if he could get the dogs to bark. He looked at me a bit askew, then shrugged and gave a can of dog food a single tap with a metal spoon. Cameron Indoor Stadium would have been a library next to the audio produced by this action, which gave the impression that it was the dogs' opinion that this might be their last great chance of ever being fed.

Twenty minutes later I had my tape and, as you may have surmised by now, that night I indeed put a barking dog soundtrack on a speaker outside my home.

It was golden. I am not privy to what goes through the mind of a raccoon, but it's safe to say they heard the cacophony and decided they had better things to eat that night than corn.

The only downside was that we forgot to clue Larry's dad into what had transpired. He heard the barking coming from our house - a quarter mile distant - and immediately concluded that his dogs had gotten loose and were on a neighborhood tracking bender. Seconds later he arrived at our house to reel them in.

Larry's dad never said much, and the time he saw me standing there playing my dog tape was no exception. He looked at the tape player, then at me, then back at the tape player - and then just kind of left.

If the Millers had any opinion of this operation, they kept it to themselves. Or maybe they just sat on it for three decades before finally deciding to call.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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