Man bites dog: Divided Supes pass canine barking law
A dying mom awakened in the night; new parents dealing with noise pollution in addition to diaper pollution. Those were just two of the impassioned tales told in a marathon June 11 hearing that resulted in Albemarle adding dogs to the noise ordinance that used to specifically exempt man's best friend.
Fired-up citizens spoke on both sides of the issue before the 4-2 vote in favor of the new ordinance that could cost offending owners $500 per conviction. By Supervisor Sally Thomas's count, 11 citizens spoke for the ordinance, 11 opposed, and 8 wanted to create a task force.
"We can study things forever," said Supervisor David Slutzky toward the end of the two-and-a-half-hour debate. He voted for the ordinance– which outlaws barking lasting 30 minutes or longer with no cessations greater than five minutes– after it was stripped of a death penalty for dogs whose owners fail to give up their animals after three convictions in a 12-month period.
Scottsville-area foxhound breeder E. Wayne Proffitt opposed the new law as foreign to rural Albemarle.
"If I move to California, I gotta expect California ways," said Proffitt. "If I move to Rome, I gotta expect Roman ways."
Joanne Hayden also denounced the measure. "I live in Free Union," said an angry-sounding Hayden, "but I feel like I'm moving into the People's Republic of Albemarle."
"That was my lovely wife you just heard," said Dick Hayden, who shared her concern if not her volume. "It won't be long," he said, "before we hear a limit to the number of dogs we can have, like babies in China."
The County's last response to the dilemma was the 1996 publication of a pamphlet entitled "What to do When a Dog's Bark is Worse Than his Bite." It can be accessed on the Albemarle Animal Control web site, and it urges frustrated neighbors to mediate, not rush into court.
But June Russell related how she tried to talk things through with a seemingly bark-enabling neighbor– even bringing cake, to no avail. Russell hailed the law as an antidote to what she sees as an increasing phenomenon of people who leave their dogs alone to bark all day while they work.
"They go away," said Russell, "and we have to listen to the barking all day long."
Phyllis Jackson said that she had to put up with her neighbor's 27 dogs barking for two and a half years. In this time, she said, "I could not use my patio or deck. I had to have music on in my bedroom to get to sleep."
Dorothea Mueller echoed that sentiment. "This is about human suffering," she said, "not animal suffering."
The room was divided with tension tighter than a choke-collar; and at times, packs of ordinance foes broke the "no applause" rule.
Another rule that came under fire was County Attorney Larry Davis's decision to limit the ordinance to parcels under five acres.
Patty Worthington of the Kennel Club, commented that she lives on a lot of 2.5 acres, next to a lot of 180 acres. "I feel like I'm being penalized for not being able to afford more acreage," she said.
"You are targeting people who can least afford it," said Jim Morris.
Kathleen DuBovsky blasted the "seemingly random" choice of five-acre exception. DuBovsky said that her neighbor lives on 40 acres of land, but puts their dogs on the property lines.
"I usually call the police at one or two a.m. after four hours of barking. We have been told to move if we do not like it," DuBovsky said.
In response to fears of the new ordinance creating neighborly conspiracies to press false prosecutions, Rooker said he thought the greatest impact would be deterrence, and he noted that complainants have to prove their case twice: once in convincing a magistrate there's probable cause [See sidebar] and again before a judge in open court.
"This ordinance doesn't create lies," said Slutzky. "It gives recourse to the people in these situations."
Supervisors Lindsay Dorrier and Ken Boyd voted no. Supervisors Rooker, Slutzky, Anne Mallek, and Sally Thomas approved it.
Updated 4:33pm 6/17/08