The mat normally reads, “Please Remove Shoes” and sits on the dock beside our boat as a friendly reminder to our guests. But when I approached the Dawn Treader one evening there was a piece of paper stuck to it that read: “DOG“
There on the deck above this mat, my sweet Nala girl sat, eagerly awaiting my return. At first I thought someone had stuck the note to my boat to warn people that there was a large German Shepherd on board and the paper had fallen off and landed on the mat. But then it hit me, the sign-maker was being snarky. They placed it exactly where they had intended so that the mat read, “Please Remove DOG.
At that realization I got that hot-all-over, flush-faced feeling that comes from being confronted by your neighbor. Only there was no confrontation. Just this passive-aggressive note, which really wasn’t aggressive at all. I knew my dog could scare the heck out of people if she wanted to and apparently, while I took my husband to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and then did some IKEA shopping, she very much wanted to.
Knowing I would be gone for several hours I had left her out on deck deliberately and left the door open to the house so that she could come in and out as she pleased and use her potty on the forward deck if she needed to. But as I held this computer-printed DOG sign that night I realized that that had been a mistake. Hindsight may be 20-20, but it didn’t help me answer the question of what to do now that the damage was done. And by “damage” I mean that she barked at the neighbors whenever they walked by the boat. This was her territory and it was her job to protect us. I know that she would never jump off and attack anyone. But I tried to put myself in their shoes and remember that they couldn’t know that.
That night I spent hours agonizing about what to do in response. It bothered me that they had gone to the trouble of creating this sign on their computer, and printing it on their printer instead of just talking to me. I thought of employing their tactic and changing the sign to, “Please Remove… yourself from your high horse!”
But I knew when this sweet puppy started barking at someone it could be very scary on the receiving end. The dock hand who collects the garbage generally refers to her as, “Cujo.” I am fine with that, especially now that our boat is back in this particular slip. Not only is it on a dead-end dock where there should be no foot-traffic after hours, but it was in that very spot that several months earlier two men had boarded our boat in the middle of the night and tried to rob us.
We were all sound asleep onboard and it was terrifying. At the time Nala was a small puppy in a crate, unaware of these bad men on deck and the potential nightmare they could’ve caused. Although the men ended up running away when we flipped on the deck light and started yelling, it was not before they had stolen a neighboring boat’s instrument panel and electronics.
Police were called, the kids were scared and it wasn’t until about an hour later that security wandered over to see what happened.
So I’m okay with “Cujo.” Nala is a deterrent to anyone that might get the same idea, which is good for all the boats on our dock. But the DOG-sign neighbors weren’t there when this burglary happened. So to them Nala is nothing more than a nuisance. Nothing more than a DOG.
After a very restless night’s sleep I finally settled on my response.
I used their “DOG” sign along with a few printed additions of my own. The end result read:
Despite our apologetic sign (and later face-to-face apologies, too) the neighbors never openly softened. No smiles or friendly morning waves as you would normally find between other liveaboards. Walks to and from the boat with Nala are still awkward at best.
But I have to admit the DOG sign was an important wake-up call for me and prompted me to spend a ton of extra time with her, teaching her when it was time to bark and when she should simply watch the person walking by. It helped that this whole thing happened while my kids were out of town (visiting cousins in Chicago) so that I had the time to give her the extra attention. It also gave me the encouragement I needed to start kayaking with Nala to nearby Peanut Island for a run together (rather than risk getting dirty looks walking by on the dock). This extra training time in the kayak (“Sit! Stay! No, don’t jump out and swim to shore!”) and on those runs definitely helped, too.
In the end I am grateful for the DOG incident because I am a better boat dog mommy because of it; more mindful of continuing her training every day. Plus I am filled with gratitude that ours is a mobile home. Although this situation wasn’t a major neighbor battle by any stretch, if it had gotten ugly we could just sail away in search of fairer, dog-friendlier harbors.
For me, that newfound freedom is nothing to bark at!