I knew the dog was tied to the big tree in the neighbor's yard. I knew because it barked incessantly whenever we went outside to do anything. Whether we were dumping the compost or playing on the swings, the dog would bark.
The barking was terribly unpleasant. It bothered us, but the dog sounded miserable. A Durham county law in effect since Jan. 1, 2010, protects dogs from unattended outdoor tethering. Was it my legal obligation to report my neighbor? These were good neighbors, and they had lived in the otherwise pleasant and quiet neighborhood much longer than we had. I chalked up the dog's pleas as the price of paradise and tried to put it out of my mind.
We don't have a dog. I love dogs, but with my family's busy schedule, a dog or just about any warm-blooded pet would suffer neglect. All the neighbors would hear the poor creature, screaming for attention at all hours—as with this sad thing next door, tied to its tree. Soon enough, the neighbor began work on a large wooden fence surrounding his backyard. The work progressed slowly, as the neighbors work full-time and have other obligations, of course, but at least the situation was improving.
And then lightning struck: In the wee hours of a midweek morning, the loudest bone-rattling boom I've ever experienced awoke me. An avalanche of rain crashed down, as if the lightning had split the sky open. It's one of those things we love about the South, the mysterious and tyrannical weather.
After the storm, it took a couple of days for us to figure out what happened. The first thing we noticed was the peaceful clarity that can follow these giant storms. Then we realized that the barking had stopped. When we looked at the tree, we also noticed that its bits had been blasted widely around both yards, with a vivid vertical gash running the height of the tree—the tallest hardwood around, the one the dog had been tied to for months.
The next day, the neighbor recounted what had happened: When he heard the storm, he headed out the back door to unchain the dog. As he paused on the deck, he saw the flash of lightning. The bolt of white-hot electricity plunged down the tree, through the dog's chain (and the dog) and bounced around the yard. The dog lay dead on the end of the chain, a large burn in its shoulder.
It has taken me a while to write this down. All of those months spent not reporting the infraction could have saved the dog. I feel I am at fault for not saying something about a dog tied to a tree, left overnight to be killed by a bolt of lightning.
Patty Bonito is a teacher living in Durham.