Sussex looks to silence barking dogs

In Kent, New Castle ordinances already on the books
July 5, 2013

Sussex County Council is looking to sink its teeth into a nuisance ordinance dealing with excessive dog barking. The item was brought to council's attention at its June 11 meeting.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she asked for dog barking to be added to the agenda because she has received phone calls about the issue from her constituents. Unlike Kent and New Castle counties, Sussex County does not have an ordinance that specifically addresses excessive dog barking.

Maj. Brian Whipple, Kent County SPCA Animal Control Operations officer, was on hand to educate council on Kent and New Castle's ordinances and how his organization handles calls throughout the state. Because Kent County SPCA responds to calls in Sussex, Whipple said, he has first-hand experience on the difficulties he and his colleagues have dealing with barking dogs in the area.

“We go out now, and we'll give people a warning here in Sussex County, and that's all we can do at this point,” he said. “If we turn around and give someone a citation because someone is continually allowing their dogs to bark, we have no place to go.”

Whipple said just making contact with a dog's owner often eliminates the problems right away.

“Sometimes people don't know their dog is barking because they're at work,” he said.

Since Jan. 1 in New Castle County, he said, about 230 calls for dog barking have been received. That figure is much lower in Kent and Sussex, he said, with only about 100 in Sussex so far this year.

Leslie Persans of the Kent County Division of Inspections & Enforcement said her first approach is always to talk with the dog owner. If the behavior continues, she said, then legal recourse will be taken.

“We're information gatherers,” she said. “The first visit is low key, just trying to explain. We do everything we can to be a negotiator and arbitrator. At the end of the process, if you can't comply, we're taking you to court, and you're going to lose.”

Kent County's ordinance says dog owners are breaking the law if they allow their dog to bark incessantly for 10 minutes or intermittently for a half hour. There is an exception if the dog is being provoked, such as by an animal in the yard or a passing car.

Persans said she typically pursues cases where a dog's barking far exceeds the time set forth in the code because she does not want to waste a judge's time. A $30 fine is levied for a first offense; it increases with every offense thereafter.

In some cases, she said, owners have left their dogs outside intentionally to anger a neighbor. When she takes a dog owner to court, the complaining neighbor must be willing to testify and produce specific times and dates for the dog barking offenses.

Council asked County Administrator Todd Lawson to have his staff look at the other county's ordinances and report back with a recommendation.

Councilman Sam Wilson isn't convinced the county needs an ordinance.

“If you have a dog, it's more than likely going to bark,” he said. “When I had a dog, if you'd come to my place, he'd bark. In fact, I'd be aggravated if he didn't. I don't know where we're going with this bill.”

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