PRINCE EDWARD – A neighbor's dog barks.
Can the County intervene?
“…Over the past few years we have suffered interruptions of normal life undertakings by neighboring dogs who bark at any activity in our yard and at other environmental stimuli,” a Rice area couple wrote to County Supervisors. “Not only does the barking inhibit our outside activities, but the noise is often audible inside our home, waking us and our house guests from sleep in the early morning hours or impeding study and online course work. We have documented nearly 50 instances of sustained barking of over 20 minutes and over 100 total events over the past three years. We have lacked the energy to document all experiences."
Supervisors discussed the matter at their June board meeting. The couple asked that the board consider limiting disturbances caused by dogs in subdivided housing areas where dwellings are considerably closer to one another.
“If you've read anything through the state, there are a lot of issues with the noise ordinance and how they're constructed,” commented County Administrator Wade Bartlett. “There have been many court cases. Some have been…not valid and they are hard to construct and harder to enforce.”
Supervisor Howard Simpson suggested that they have staff find out how other counties throughout the state have an ordinance on dog noise-see how they enforce it.
Bartlett would note that they've had other complaints about noise, but wasn't sure about dogs.
It was noted that the County has a noise ordinance, but it does not address dogs.
“I can tell you on a preliminary basis that there will be a distance requirement,” noted County Attorney James R. Ennis, “and there will be a time requirement, such as the dog has to bark more than once every minute 10 or 20 consecutive minutes in order to be considered a violation. And if you think a sheriff's deputy is gonna stand there for 20 minutes timing a dog barking, I think you are sadly mistaken. They have other things they need to be doing.”
Ennis would offer that enforcement “is a huge issue in this type of thing and the constitutionality is gonna be questionable if you try to limit it to specific areas of the county. I don't know that you can say in subdivisions and you may be able to tie it to population density in a given area if you meet that requirement, but then somebody's gonna have to keep track of the population density. I mean, this could be a real issue trying to draft an ordinance like this.”
He also noted that there may be a private remedy-they may be able to maintain an action for private nuisance, “But people keep dogs for companionship and they also keep 'em for security and the idea is that they will bark when people come onto the property to alert the owner.”
Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones noted that when they did their noise ordinance they kind of stayed away from barking dogs. Ennis added intentionally.
“Now this is county-wide and what if the next person comes through the door and complains about cows?” Ennis asked. “That is not to belittle their problem. I'm just saying that not every problem requires a government solution.”
Wilck assessed that they have a little bit of a reason to stay away from it from the standpoint of the number of complaints.
“This is the only one that anyone's ever called me about questioning the content of our noise ordinance and whether or not it was applicable to the situation,” Ennis said.
Simpson, however, asked that the County staff weigh information from other localities.
“If you run into too much detail on it, then don't do anything,” he said. “But at least look into it.”
Staff is expected to do exactly that.