THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Barking dogs: There ought to be a law
The incessant barking of a neighbor's dog presents an unenviable choice. On the one hand, you can complain, but– besides risking an ongoing disagreement– one risks appearing mean to innocent puppies.
Several outraged comments posted to a recent Hook "Gimme Shelter" column ["Barking dog blues: Talk before taking legal action," December 6] on this topic, written by Albemarle County's animal control unit supervisor Sgt. Peter Mainzer, demonstrate the intensity of feeling surrounding the issue. There's even a nascent web site devoted to the subject, barkactiongroup.org.
A situation involving Dr. John Hong (yes, that Dr. John Hong, our own "Dr. Hook") who lives in Albemarle County, recently came to our attention. According to an early January letter Hong wrote to Officer Kim Maddox of the Albemarle Police Department's animal control unit, Hong's neighbor "leaves his dogs unattended when he travels. On October 5-7 when my parents came to visit, his dogs howled and barked all day and night so none of us could sleep."
Hong spoke to his neighbor, who promised not to leave the three dogs outside again. Hong claims, however, that his neighbor "didn't keep his word and 12/22 – 12/25 his dogs howled and barked from 9pm to 7am every night."
Another of Hong's neighbors, Jason Hall, confirms the dogs had been left outside and barked all night "maybe five times" recently.
It's unclear whether the dogs pose any threat beyond disturbs sleep and the peaceful enjoyment of home. Hong claims they're dangerous, but Maddox wrote Hong that there is no court order confirming that. However, according to Hall, the dogs killed a cat several years ago and recently "chewed up"– but didn't kill– a small dog in the neighborhood. Although Hall acknowledges that the small dog was off leash and partially responsible for that scrape, he describes the barking dogs as "super aggressive."
But the issue here is the dogs' barking and its intrusion on the peace that Hong ought to enjoy in his own home. Hong's biggest hurdle, however, is that, according to Officer Maddox, no county law restricts barking dogs.
After receiving Hong's complaint, Maddox did call the neighbor, whom she describes as "very nice," and told Hong the neighbor would contact Hong directly to discuss the matter. Hong says that never happened.
So he took the next step, which was to ask the Animal Control Unit to set up mediation with the neighbor to address the issue, for which Hong was willing to pay. This is Hong's second biggest hurdle. The neighbor refused to participate, and no party can be forced into mediation, according to Maddox.
For his part, Hong's neighbor says he understands Hong's feelings, claims he has taken steps to prevent the barking from recurring, including disconnecting the doggie door at his house to keep the dogs inside and kenneling the dogs when he leaves town.
The neighbor also believes the question of his willingness to participate in mediation, which he calls a good idea, has been misinterpreted. "I don't know how [Officer Maddox] could have misconstrued me," he says.
Be that as it may, believing that other efforts have failed, Hong eventually turned to his attorney. And although Hong has not yet filed suit, Hong's neighbor said he has heard from Hong's lawyer.
Unlike Albemarle, the City of Charlottesville has a specific law against barking and howling dogs, according to Lisa Miller in the City Attorney's office. A conviction can result in a fine of up to $250, and three convictions in one year can result in a court order to remove the dog.
Officials concede this is a frequent problem, but designing an effective law in Albemarle County, parts of which are densely populated and parts of which are rural, could pose complications. Ideally, Hong and his neighbor will solve their problem amicably, but the lack of a legal framework seems to suggest trouble in the future.
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