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Annoying Neighbors (8/9/06)

Dear Zelda,

I frequently have my neighbors over and they always come and look through my pantry and just pick out what ever food they want. They also pick out fruits from my bowl and eat them. This gets me annoyed because they are meant for my family. Should I say something to my neighbors?

Annoyed Neighbor

Dear Annoyed Neighbor,

It wasn't too long ago that we all knew our neighbors, and borrowing a cup of sugar or a cord of wood was common practice. Today, for better or worse, most people don't get much from their neighbors unless it's a little lawn fertilizer from their neighbor's dog. But more importantly, when a good neighbor DOES borrow something, whether it happened a hundred years ago or just yesterday, the first thing they do is ASK!

Your neighbors sound as if they don't know the new rules of the 'hood,' and because their "we're in the mood for free food" behavior is bothering you, it's time for you to have a talk.  Your neighbors aren't malicious; they are simply insensitive to your space and place. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about the fruit bowl. If you don't want them sampling the fruits, just don't put out fruit when they're around. But raiding your pantry? Well that's another matter, and I'd say it's time to have a serious talk. Open the conversation with something like, "I know it's uncomfortable to talk about this, but I wanted to bring something up with you."  Then respectfully tell them how the situation is affecting you. Explain that the food in your house is really meant for the members of your family, and while you'd be happy to share with them, you'd like them to ask first. Then it's up to you to decide whether or not they can eat your Pringles while you mingle.

Good neighbors need to accommodate each other's needs, and if you talk about this with them honestly, I don't think it will damage your friendship. Speak, and hopefully your neighbors will listen.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

My wife and I recently moved into a new home in a nice neighborhood. One day my wife was in the bathroom. She had just stepped out of the shower, and as she glanced in the mirror, was shocked to see our neighbor’s face in the window staring at her. Since then she repeatedly sees him patrolling outside our bathroom window. He and his wife seem nice enough and have even invited us over for a neighborhood barbecue. We don't know what to do about this "Peeping Tom" next door. Any suggestions?

Nervous Neighbor

Dear Nervous Neighbor,

As Mr. Rogers liked to say, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." What he forgot to mention was, "Unless your neighbor is a creepy peeper." Peeping Toms have long been treated as laughable individuals, a little sad and a little strange maybe, but often considered harmless. This is absolutely wrong; violations of privacy, particularly your wife's personal space in her bathroom, are serious stuff. For your wife to look in the mirror and see Mr. Won't-You-Be-My-Neighbor staring back must have been frightening, humiliating, and maybe even devastating.  At least your wife recognized who it was and you know where to find him.  Now it's up to you to put a stop to this behavior.

I have a couple of options for you. The first is that you wait until your neighbor isn't home, then go next door and in a very pleasant but concerned tone, let his wife know that... gasp, horror of all horrors... apparently there is a "Peeping Tom" in your neighborhood. Tell her that everyone is on the lookout, and that when "Tom" is found he will be tarred, feathered and put on display in the community cul-de-sac. My guess is she will share this information with her husband, and that will be the end of it: Tom will be curtailed. If he continues to linger, my next suggestion would be to put a motion-sensitive camera in the bathroom facing the window and catch him in the act, preferably on multiple occasions. Then go talk to him privately, show him the evidence, and tell him you don't appreciate his invasion of your privacy and that your next step will be to call the authorities if he doesn't desist. This may sound severe, but he's way out of line here.

For general peace of mind, you might also consider just peeper-proofing your bathroom window. The easy way is to put in opaque glass or add a thick curtain. Even if your neighbor quits his bad habits, you might feel more comfortable with a little more privacy in the bathroom, and it's easy to make these changes without too much cost or effort.

Finally, to truly discourage your nosy neighbor you can dig a ditch below the bathroom window and fill it with, you guessed it, dog poop. Add some water to make a disgusting dog-poop soup. Then sprinkle some loose dirt lightly over the top... and wait.  Mr. Sneaker's Sneakers will identify him as the stinky stalker and discourage any repeat visits.

Your neighbor's voyeurism shouldn't be taken lightly.  If he continues peeping, or if you suspect he's a threat in any way, call the police. Voyeurism is illegal, invasive and wrong. It's too bad that jeepers, creepers your peeper lives next door.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

My neighbors have two big dogs. They leave them in their yard, they say, for protection.  The couple work and are not home during the day. Our problem is that we ARE home during the day and these dogs bark at everything and everyone. We've mentioned it to our neighbors but to no avail. Any canine advice Zelda?

Bark Buster

Dear Bark Buster,

There's an old expression, "No one hears his own dog bark." That's particularly true when you're away at work all day! Since your neighbors are gone during the day, of course they're deaf to their doggies' dialogue. So before you unleash your rage over your neighbors' barking dogs, take a minute to think through your plan. Even though you've already tried raising it with your neighbors, I'd try dealing with them directly again before you consider registering an official complaint. These things are best resolved between neighbors whenever possible.

My first suggestion would be to tape record one day's worth of barking with time references. Make two copies of the tape. Then invite your neighbors over for some coffee and donuts on a Saturday morning and tell them beforehand you'd like to talk about their dogs. Be polite and friendly, but dive right in to the punch of the brunch, their barking dogs. Explain how you and your wife ARE at home during the day, and that their dogs bark so much that you can't enjoy the peace and quiet you need. Admit that your neighbors probably have no idea how much their dogs bark because they're away, but that you'd like to try and work together to find solutions that work for everyone. If they still don't seem convinced, THEN play a portion of the tape and give them a copy. Let them know you're reasonable people and you don't mind occasional barking, but that the current situation just doesn't work.

If the neighbors haven't stormed out of your house yet, you're doing great. The next step is making specific suggestions. One of the easiest solutions to barking can be putting the dogs inside. If your neighbors are worried about protecting their property, just tell them that you are around during the day and would be glad to keep an eye on their place too. Your neighbors are more likely to listen if you give them the sense that you are all working together to solve a problem. You might also suggest training programs for the dogs, or using Premier's Citronella Bark Collars (www.mightypet.com) for their dogs.  These are used in many veterinary clinics, and they work by emitting a brisk yet harmless spray of citronella when the dog barks. They are NOT shock collars, and have proven extremely safe and successful as bark deterrents.

Finally, if your neighbors are absolutely unwilling to cooperate in any way, let them know you're going to have to register an official complaint with the city. Find out which department handles such complaints, file an accurate and respectful report, and proceed from there. Although no one wants to go down this road, if your neighbors are absolutely unwilling to compromise you have no other choice, and you are definitely entitled to some peace and quiet in your own home. For now, let's hope that the bark stops here and that my suggestions will hush those puppies!

Zelda