HOLMBERG: The lone howling of a crusader against dog barking

Posted at 1:15 AM, Mar 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-12 10:49:20-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Lyman Flinn has been on a relentless, dogged crusade against barking hounds in his West End neighborhood. For almost  40 years he has nipped at the heels of county leaders to get them to do something about it.

Now, he’s the one howling . . . howling mad that Henrico County’s board of supervisors voted Tuesday night to take the teeth out of the doggone tough-on-dogs noise ordinance that it passed just last year.

He knew they would do it Tuesday afternoon when we visited in his yard. He knew they would bow down to “political correctness” and the sheer weight of the dog-lovers lobby.

He was so frustrated and angry, if he had fur, it would be standing up on his back.

“I’ve had too much,” the 79-year-old retired state highway engineer and lifelong bachelor said. “Far too much. Far, far, far too much.”

We read over some of the comments he had prepared to read to the board of supervisors.

“Just one dog next door is an acoustical landmine, waiting to explode.”

He admits he hates the noise. And yes, he just doesn’t like dogs.

He said they aren’t made for suburban life – to be cooped up in houses and small yards. He believes they need rigorous and extensive daily exercise – preferably  a 10-mile run in a direction away from him.

He and others in a tiny but international group promoting dog-free communities believe dogs bark excessively because they’re imprisoned in a cruel and inhumane way.

He mimicked “uneducated” dog owners: “Let’s get a puppy and let’s have some fun with it. If it barks, that’s what they do, don’t they? If it bothers anybody, that’s just how it is. That’s just how it is!”

Yes, this guy is furious. And it’s been going on for 39 years, ever since a man moved into rental house right next door with a trio of spaniels.

Flinn has filed lawsuits and addressed the board of supervisors many times. He’s started petition drives. It’s possible that he’s  called animal control more times than any single citizen.

And, of course, there are the signs in his yard promoting a dog-free community and the stupidity of calling dogs burglar alarms. He says it’s just endless false calls.

“Bully is the best name for an uneducated canine owner,” he said.

All of which has made him less than popular in the neighborhood.

“He’s not a happy person,” said nearby resident Robert Adair, who in the past has posted opposing signs urging Flinn to get over it or move away. Now, Adair says, he just feels sorry for him.

“It’s not something I would trust, someone who hates that hard,” said neighbor and Pomeranian-lover Melissa Walters.

Dog-lover and regular walker Nancy Mars has the grudging respect of Flinn because her rigorously exercised dogs are largely quiet when they’re out for a stroll. She respects Flinn’s right to express himself and acknowledges he’s caught an awful lot of heat from neighbors.

“But I think it kind of goes both ways,” she added.

“What do you expect?” Flinn asks philosophically. “It’s an adversarial situation. There can be no friendship.”

I talked a little with him about his low tolerance for background noise. He said, as a young man, he was bothered significantly by the sounds of his college roommate’s radio, and his conversations. So much so that he was given a dorm room without a roommate.

He also said that his parents brought home a dog when he was a youngster, but it didn’t stay. He said he just can’t stand the sound of a dog barking.

He denies he hates animals. It’s just dogs.

Flinn said he reluctantly took in a persistent cat abandoned by a neighbor, a cat “that owned me” for 16 years, until it died. Cats don’t make much noise, he said. He doesn’t  mind them coming into his yard to drink from the birdbath.

Spending a warm afternoon with Lyman Flinn made me wonder if he’s unusually sensitive to some types of frequencies and volumes.

Millions of humans are. One very common medical condition is called hyperacusis. For example, they sound of rustling paper in the background might sound like an elephant stampede to you.

I think I may have it.

I, too,  don’t like the sound of barking dogs.

Unlike Flinn, I don’t hate dogs. But I find it quite irritating when I’m walking on the beach, listening to the soulful noise of the ocean, and someone’s dog on a leash just won’t stop barking.

I find it intolerable that someone will allow their dog to bark for hours in their yards or on their porches, or they bark at someone while walking past their yard.

Yes, yes, my dog-loving friends tell me, they’re just talking. They’re just figuring things out. They may be worried. Maybe it’s you.

Oh well.

As Lyman Flinn says with gritted teeth, “that’s just the way it is.”