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Dog barking sparks committee

The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted at its Nov. 13 monthly meeting to form a noise ordinance committee after a resident used the public comments portion of the meeting to play an audio recording of her neighbor’s dogs barking late into the night.

Karen Brown of District Seven began her three allotted minutes of her public comment by reading the opening paragraph of the county’s own noise ordinance. “I wanted to start by just reminding everybody about what our current policy is about the noise ordinance,” Brown stated. “It says, and I’m quoting, ‘At certain levels, noise can be detrimental to the health, safety and quality of life of inhabitants of the county, and in the public interest, noise should be restricted. It is therefore the policy of the county to reduce and eliminate, where possible, excessive noise and related adverse conditions within the community, and to prohibit unnecessary, excessive, harmful and annoying noises from all sources subject to this police power. Nothing in this ordinance shall be construed to limit, hinder, or in any way interfere with the normal conduct of daily work activity, either commercial or residential.’

“I raise this issue because of the excessively barking dogs next door to my house that I have been struggling to get some address about,” Brown added, pulling out her cellphone in order to play an audio recording. “and I just wanted to play this so that you could hear it.”

As Brown held her phone up the podium’s microphone, the audience at the board meeting began to stir and whisper as the sound of many barking dogs echoed through the building. “This is the noise at almost 3 a.m. in my bedroom,” Brown’s voice emitted from the audio clip. Her home is located on Buffalo Road. “It has not stopped.”

“This is 3 a.m. inside my bedroom. Inside my bedroom,” Brown reiterated. “I can give you many other videos of the noise. It’s day and night.”

Brown went on to further describe to the board her frustration with the continual barking to be heard by her neighbor’s dogs. “I am disabled. Sleep is so important for me and I cannot tell you how heartbreaking this has been and how detrimental it has been to my health when I can’t sleep during the night. I can’t sleep during the day because of the barking dogs. It’s just absurd.”

Additionally, Brown explained that she had been talking to Buckingham County Sheriff Bill Kidd in order to determine whether the noise ordinance could be enforced, as there is no specific portion of the ordinance relating to dog barking.

“He’s had conversations with the commonwealth’s attorney, and my understanding was the issue was how to measure the excessive noise so that it can be enforced,” said Brown. “I have not spoken with the commonwealth’s attorney myself, but I will point out that the Environmental Protection Agency has a noise pollution guidance, and it says outside noises shouldn’t be more than 55 decibels, and they also have rules concerning how it’s measured and what kind of tools we use to measure it, and I believe the Sheriff’s Office would probably need to have those tools if we are going to enforce this.”

Brown appeared to have more to say regarding the subject matter but had reached her allotted three minutes. Later on during the board meeting, a committee was formed consisting of County Administrator Rebecca Carter, Commonwealth’s Attorney E.M. Wright Jr., District Two Supervisor and Board Chairman Donnie Bryan and District Six Supervisor Joe Chambers.

“We have a committee that’s going to look at the noise ordinance,” explained Bryan. “She made a complaint and it’s our job to look at her complaint, and based on her complaint for the dogs barking, that means that we want to take a look at our noise ordinance and see if it pertains to the dogs barking.”

In an interview with The Herald Nov. 26 Brown highlighted that she had originally reached out via letter to her district representative, District 7 Supervisor Danny Allen, in September regarding the barking dogs. After receiving no response from Allen, Brown stated that she then wrote another letter to both Bryan and Chambers, prompting the board’s eventual addressing of the issue.

“I have been here now for seven years and a month and I’ve been dealing with this for six years and a month, basically,” noted Brown. “And it’s awful. It’s just awful.”

Brown added that her neighbors responsible for the loud dog barking own a kennel of 15 dogs, but themselves are rarely present at the kennel. She included in her letter an excerpt from the noise ordinance of Powhatan County, which states, “Noise created by any dog that is continuous and chronic that it causes annoyance or discomfort to any person, provided that such noise is plainly audible inside the confines of the dwelling unit, house or apartment of another, or plainly audible 300 feet or more from the dog.”

“As you heard from the recording that was taken from inside my house, it’s plainly audible,” Brown added. “It’s been going on for six years and it’s really having an impact. I have difficulty sleeping because I have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and sleep is critical, but sometimes I can’t even get good sleep because it’s painful even to sleep, you know? And to go days and weeks and months and years of not sleeping, I’ve just had it. No one should be expected to live like that. No one.”

In Brown’s letter to the board she cited that she had originally made attempts to speak to her neighbor regarding the barking dogs only to receive the response “Turn up your radio.” She also reportedly reached out to the Buckingham County Sheriff’s Office on several occasions to report the barking dogs and was eventually told that the current noise ordinance had been tried in court twice over excessive dog barking affecting the health and welfare of country residents and that both court cases had failed.

“She sent me the letter. I didn’t contact her back directly,” said Allen in reference to Brown. “But I was already starting to check with the state and dog warden and had the dog wardens come up there and check on everything … They didn’t see any issues with the kennel or with the dogs, but steps have been made to try to help keep that quieter.” He also explained that a radio had been installed at the kennel to try and help soothe the barking dogs.

Allen specified that while he did not respond to Brown’s letter regarding the excessive dog barking, he is working with state officials to address speed limit issues near Brown’s home, which she had also reached out and expressed concern on.

The Complete Ordinance Book for Buckingham County including the entire county noise ordinance can be found on the county website at buckinghamcountyva.org/zoning.html.