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Are barking dogs a part of country life?

by Larry S. Chowning

On June 21 the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors tabled action on adding verbiage to include “domestic animal noises” in the county’s animal nuisance ordinance.

The issue surfaced after Middlesex General District Court Judge Jeffrey W. Shaw dismissed charges that involved barking dogs.

On June 17, Judge Shaw ruled the county ordinance does not define the term “public nuisance” and does not specifically reference “barking dogs .”

In his ruling, Judge Shaw wrote, “The court holds that the [Middlesex] public nuisance ordinance is unconstitutionally vague as it relates to prohibiting barking dogs.”

Middlesex County Attorney Mike Soberick said county animal control officer Ricky Warren proposed wording changes to attempt to better define “nuisance animal noises.” The proposed changes included barking, howling or other nuisance sounds that are disturbing to neighbors living in close proximity.

Two neighbors of the Locust Hill area became embroiled in a bitter dispute over one of the neighbor’s dogs allegedly “constantly” barking.

The county took the owner of the barking dogs to court based on the neighbor’s complaint. The neighbor claimed the barking dogs were interfering with his family’s sleep. Judge Shaw dismissed the case due to the vague county ordinance.

At the June 21 supervisors’ meeting, the proposal to quiet barking dogs sparked a cultural debate related to urban versus country life.

James McBride of Locust Hill said his neighbor has a dog kennel across the road from him that consists of 13 wire cages, dirt floors and numerous dogs that bark 24 hours a day. 

“My wife lost her job because she couldn’t sleep, and I’ve lost my health because the barking has about driven me crazy,” said McBride. “My constitutional rights to sleep and not having to listen to this [barking] have been violated. We need to have rules preventing this and we need to get into the 21st century.”

Edward Harrow of Deltaville cautioned supervisors about passing an ordinance that attempts to control barking dogs. “Why are we getting involved in this?” he asked. “If the man is trying to keep a good kennel and abides by all the laws, why are we involved in this?

“I think this (proposed changes) needs to be revisited,” continued Harrow. “How are you going to determine what a nuisance is? If a dog barks 10 minutes, is that disturbing? If it barks an hour, is that disturbing? You’ve got a lot to consider here.”

In his June 17 ruling, Judge Shaw noted Gloucester’s public nuisance ordinance specifically references barking dogs, and makes it unlawful for a dog owner to allow “excessive or continuous barking audible outside the perimeters of the owner’s property.”

Edward Milby noted Middlesex County is a rural area and dogs bark in rural areas. “I can hear them from far away at my home, but it does not bother me,” he said. “That’s part of living in the country. If people don’t like it, they need to move back to Newport News or Richmond or wherever they came from. If you don’t like barking dogs, don’t come to Middlesex County! Don’t come to King and Queen County! Dogs are always going to bark and we have a lot of dogs in this county.”

Jamaica District supervisor Wayne Jessie noted that his district is in the western end of the county and is extremely rural. He said he can hear dogs barking and other sounds from miles away.

“Dogs are going to bark,” said Jessie. “We live in the country and these are common sounds here. How can you control dogs barking? I don’t think you can. I don’t think this will work.”

Pinetop District supervisor Fred Crittenden said, “It’s utterly ridiculous to waste our time and the time of citizens who are here over this matter when there are so many other things that we need to be doing.

“We live in a rural county where people have dogs and dogs bark!” Crittenden continued. “We need to get rid of some of the words in these ordinances rather than add more words.”

Supervisors voted unanimously to table the matter.

posted 07.06.2011

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