Disem-barked: Supes throw rural dog owners a bone
After nearly three and a half hours of oft-impassioned testimony from citizens, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday night, July 8, in a vote of 5-1, not to extend to rural areas a ban on dog barking that it passed in 2008.
This has been a hotly debated issue, and nowhere has the heat been hotter than Peavine Hollow Road where neighbors on two adjoining rural parcels–- defined here as larger than five acres–- have been butting heads for several years over the alleged volume of the guard dogs one of them keeps. The feud was the subject of the Hook's July 2 cover story.
However, the meeting was much larger than a community dispute, as dozens of animal advocates and members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Kennel Club and the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Central Virginia came out to voice their opinion on the ordinance.
Free Union resident Joanne Hayden vocally protested an ordinance that she felt wasn’t “thoroughly vetted out.”
“Those who say this is not an anti-dog ordinance, just an anti-barking ordinance, are sugar-coating the truth,” Hayden said. “It is like saying I like people, I just don’t like them talking to me.”
James Dubovsky, a key player in that cover story and a supporter of the extension, played audio from his computer to demonstrate the noise he experienced from his neighbor’s dogs.
“The truth is excessive dog barking violates the rights of neighboring landowners, when they are denied a peaceful and healthy environment within their own homes and on their property,” Dubovsky said. Kristina Lawwill, Dubovsky’s neighbor and fellow subject of the cover story, said that her dogs were necessary to protect her herd of Angora sheep.
“My family chose to use guard dogs because to us it was the correct biological predator control,” Lawwill said.
Alice Harrington, recording secretary of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said mediation was the best route in resolving disputes.
"Don't codify this into criminal matters," Harrington said. "These quickly become 'Neighborhood Feud Enhancement Acts', and it just makes everybody's life miserable."
In voting against the expansion, a majority of board members said they felt dog barking was a natural part of rural areas, and that expanding the ordinance would be too restrictive. Kenneth Boyd was the singular vote against the board's final decision.
As a part of the decision, the Supes made some additional clarifications, defining that injury to a person from a dog attack had to result "from an unfriendly encounter" and clarifying that "audible noise" fell under the rules of the ordinance, a result of the Virginia Supreme Court case Tanner v. City of Virginia Beach, which struck down constitutionally vague language in Virginia Beach’s noise ordinance. Previously the County's ordinance had stipulated that dog barking that "disturbed the peace" would fall under its restriction.
Following the meeting, Lawwill was happy with how the vote turned out.
"It was the right move," Lawwill says. "It preserves the rural character." Not surprisingly, Dubovsky was less than thrilled about the vote's outcome.
“I was hoping the supervisors would have more sense,” Dubovsky said.
Despite their differences, the two Peavine Hollow Road neighbors are working together to find common ground.
Over the past 40 days, Lawwill says she watches her dogs more closely, bringing one especially loud dog closer to her home, and taking time to ensure that her dogs respond to her verbal commands. According to Dubovsky, her actions haven’t gone unnoticed.
“If they keep managing their dogs like they have the past couple of weeks, I won’t have anything to complain about.”
–Last edited July 10, 2009 at 11:00am
–Original headline: "Dog's Day: Supes opt to put down rural bark ban"