GIMME SHELTER- Barking dog blues: Talk before taking legal action
Q: We live in the County, and our neighbor's dog has been barking incessantly. We've told them about the problem, but they refuse to do anything. Sometimes the dog will bark in the middle of the night. What can we do?
A: This is a tricky and sensitive issue in the County, where many people keep dogs on their property. If not handled carefully, you risk creating some bad blood with your neighbors that can linger for years.
First off, don't rush into court. Legal action can be costly and time-consuming and should only be a last resort. Keep in mind that even if you win a legal battle, your neighbor will still be living next door. Talk first. If you contact the police first, they will likely ask if you've talked with your neighbor, and if not, ask you to.
Give your neighbors the benefit of the doubt. Approach the subject in a manner that suggests you believe your neighbors are unaware of the problem, rather than assuming they know but just don't care. People often don't realize that their actions annoy others.
Tactfully present your side of the story, but expect a defensive reaction, and be prepared to calmly answer any complaints about your own behavior. Express your desire to work together to find a solution. Ask for ideas your neighbor may volunteer to take help solve the situation.
Offer to pay for some of the costs of required action, such as a bark control collar, an outdoor ultrasonic bark control system, or a new pen or containment area, if it's within your means. Also, discuss your differences on neutral ground rather than on your property or theirs. Ask questions or make requests rather than shouting demands.
If the problem persists, make your requests to your neighbor in writing. The letter should carefully state the situation. Without making threats, let your neighbor know that if the situation doesn't improve, you'll be forced to notify the authorities and take appropriate legal action. Keep a copy of your letter– you'll need it if you decide to take legal action.
Keep a written record of the barking incidents. You should write down each date the barking occurs, the duration, and the time of day. You should also keep a record of the requests you've made to your neighbor to stop the barking.
Next, you may want to call the police. An officer will write a report and refer the incident to an Animal Control Officer. (It's also a good idea to get the police to come while the dog is barking.)
The Animal Control Officer will visit the dog owner's home to check for signs of cruelty or other possible causes of the dog's excessive barking; the officer's findings will be documented and kept on file.
Before or after filing suit, you may also want to try mediation, an informal voluntary process in which parties try to solve their conflicts with the help of trained mediators. The process is designed to allow the parties to come up with their own solution without a judgment or decision imposed by the mediators. If an agreement is reached, it will be put in the form of an enforceable contract signed by both parties.
One resource is the Mediation Center at Focus (977-2926). A non-profit organization, Focus offers sliding-scale fees ranging from no cost to $100, depending on income, for a two-hour session.
Of course, all this is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as a full explanation of the law. Before taking legal action, it's always wise to consult a private attorney. For more information on animal-related issues, feel free to contact an Animal Control Officer at 434-296-5807.