Living in a fairly affluent suburb of Cape Town and with the perception of crime being so very high, especially amongst those who live in fairly affluent suburbs of Cape Town, we are surrounded by houses with a range of high-tech security systems, many of which regularly remind us of their existence for no reason whatsoever. This is not a solely South African phenomenon, but South African burglar alarms are the only ones I can hear from my house. Because my house is in South Africa, you see?
False alarms aren’t just very, very annoying; they also reduce the efficacy of everyone else’s alarm systems – including mine. My first instinct when I hear a burglar alarm sounding now is “grr”, rather than “oh, someone is being burgled, I wonder if I can help them*” and I would imagine that I am far from alone in that approach. Rather than being concerned at the potential predicament of my neighbour, I try and blot the noise out as soon as possible and get on with my life.
Fortunately, alarms sounding during the night are pretty few and far between. The majority of them are in the early morning, as people get up and wander, bleary-eyed downstairs into the path of the sentinel PIR in the hallway or – as I have previously mentioned – on sunny weekend afternoons when I want to braai and play in the pool in peace.
Compare and contrast this with dogs, nature’s own useless burglar alarms, which are liberally spread around gardens in the neighbourhood. Unlike electronic security systems, dogs tend to sound at all hours of the day and night and, in an additional poke in the ear for anyone trying to do anything so silly as sleep during the night, set off a canine chain reaction. Inconsiderate dog owners will claim that Biggles the beagle will let them know if there’s someone in their yard. And they’re probably correct. However, Biggles will also inform them if a car drives past their front gate, a rat runs through their shrubbery or if there is a breeze which makes the tree across the road move – all through the power of the bark. In addition, Biggles is acutely tuned to bark loudly should he hear any other dog bark loudly. And so it goes.
My reaction to hearing the alarmed barking of a neighbour’s dog is subtly different to hearing a burglar alarm sound. When I hear a dog barking, I actually find myself hoping that there is an intruder on those premises and he is going to steal the dog. And quickly.
We are forever getting communications from the security company that monitor our alarm, asking us to please avoid false alarms: it wastes their time, their time is their money, and their money comes from us**. But it seems that, despite the hysteria and the drama over crime in South Africa, I’m the only one that reads such communications.
Ironically, if our alarm does go off, the security company staff refuse to come onto the premises until they are told that we don’t have a dog. Biggles evidently has a reputation for chewing patrolmen.
I’m tempted to suggest that people think there is a sort of herd immunity here. Everyone has an alarm, but no-one take any notice when an alarm goes off. Some people have a dog, but no-one takes any notice when a dog barks.
Sadly, the burglars are rather more adept (in most cases) than your average virus and they are also aware of this.
And so, thank to the false alarms and Biggles et al, we’ll keep on paying.
* The house owners, rather than the burglars.
** In fact, looking at it another way, we’re already being robbed by them.