Archived Opinion

Barking dogs problem a symptom of a cultural shift

op dogsBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

I’ve read the letters regarding the barking dogs issue and the responses from both sides. It’s clear to me that the central issue is not dogs at all, but how Jackson County and the region has changed, and how residents are needing to cope with these changes.

I have been in Jackson County for 19 years, I have three dogs, I own guns and would not deny anyone the right to legally hunt. But with that right comes the responsibility of abiding by the laws and to recognize the impact it has on our fellow citizens. Hunting is not a “God-given right,” but a right granted by state and federal law, under which we are all equal. Many people living here were not born here. Does that mean that we have fewer rights than someone who’s great-grandpappy moved here 100 years ago? Under the law, the answer is obviously “No.” It would appear as though some feel that they are more entitled since they were here first. I would argue that unless you can trace your family back to the first Native American, you are indeed an immigrant to the area, just like the folks who moved here last month.

Things have changed dramatically even in the “short” time I have been here, and will continue to change as more people move here, for the same reasons many of us came over the past 200 years: to try and make a better life for ourselves and our families. It’s time for Jackson County to grow up and realize that it’s 2012, not 1812, and the county has changed. To those folks who think we’d be better off if “those people would go back where they came from,” I’d remind them that that list includes the majority of the teachers, doctors, students, business leaders, employers and tourists. Without these important “immigrants,” Jackson County would have little to offer residents. No WCU or SCC, no hospital or highway system, no Jackson Paper, no tourism industry, no Great Smoky Mountains Park or Blue Ridge Parkway. In short, not much at all that would fuel our economy and our opportunity for jobs, or the life we would hope for our families.

Some have stated that their hunting dogs barking at all hours are part of a proud Southern tradition. I’d ask that they remember that shooting Indians, human slavery, raping the forests and polluting the streams were also past traditions that have been abandoned and are now illegal, for good reason. Human development requires that we modify our behavior as a society and adapt to changing conditions, and that some “traditions” are not worth keeping if the exercise of those acts infringes upon the rights of others.

The county appears to be treating the issue with kid gloves, separating dogs from the bigger issue. Barking dogs, blaring music, roaring motorcycles and trucks, gunfire and screaming chainsaws are all the same thing: noise and a disturbance to others. When people choose to exercise their rights in this way, some regard has to made as to how it affects those around them.

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Others too are entitled to their rights. One would hope that neighborliness and regard for others rights would keep problems to a minimum, and it would seem that the county has an obligation to assist all members of the community in this regard.

The county has yet to put in place any regulations regarding animal leash laws, breeding or housing standards, or a registration of animals by their owners. As a consequence, the local taxpayers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Health Department to collect and destroy many hundreds of stray, abandoned and abused animals, and the numbers are growing.

How much should taxpayers spend to protect the rights of irresponsible pet owners? When should pet owners take some responsibility for the costs to the rest and respect other’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of their happiness?

The best outcome would be for all people to accept responsibility along with their rights, and do their best to allow theirs neighbors to do the same. For those who consult the Bible on such matters, you will know that it has plenty to say about “Do unto others …,” “Love thy neighbor …,” and “What you do to the least of me ….”

If you prefer the Constitution as your reference, then you’ll recall that each citizen is guaranteed some “inalienable rights,” which also includes your neighbors. Perhaps it would be good for some folks to re-read these passages and apply them a little more deeply in their lives toward their fellow citizens. We may well need common-sense guidelines like these as our county continues to grow up and change, which it will whether we like it or not.

Let’s not waste our energy fighting the passing of time, the changing human landscapes or the evolution of our society, because no matter which side you are on in that fight, you will eventually lose. Everyone has an important part to play because the future belongs to everyone, not just a few.

(John Beckman is a farmer and writer who lives near Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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