Dogs bark because it's part of their nature. But dogs barking excessively – possibly for hours and hours – is a hot-button issue in Sussex County.
Sussex County Council has introduced an ordinance giving the public a chance to comment during its Sept. 10 meeting. Only four people spoke during the hearing.
After the comments, council chose to delay action. Enforcement of the proposed ordinance has become a question mark, and council has left the public record open to obtain more information.
“We need a Kent County SPCA representative here to know how they do it in Kent County,” said Vance Phillips, R-Laurel. “We need a better understanding of enforcing the law.”
Council voted to keep the public hearing open for six weeks to allow for sufficient time to post and re-advertise the hearing. In the 4-1 tally, Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, cast a negative vote saying there was no reason to put off a vote on the ordinance.
Sussex Constable Alan Holloway told council it's possible the SPCA could handle complaints. The ordinance allows for either the county's constable's office or its designee to handle complaints, he said. The Kent County SPCA is contracted by the county to provide dog control in Sussex.
Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, asked if the ordinance could be amended to target specific areas. “Right now we are talking about everywhere, but most complaints come from subdivisions in rural Sussex County,” he said.
Under the proposed ordinance, complaints of excessive dog barking – a continuous period of 30 minutes or more – could be reported to the county constable's office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Justice of the Peace courts would have jurisdiction over violations. Fines would be from $25 to $75 for a first offense up to as much as $300 for multiple offenses.
Holloway said after a complaint, the dog owner would be contacted and the matter would be addressed according to the ordinance.
Comments pro and con on ordinance
“There are problems in this world and most are not solvable by government; this is one,” said Billy Carroll of Bethany Beach. “It's not enforceable and would have unintended consequences. With barking dogs, we need to find solutions as human beings.”
Dan Kramer of Greenwood also said the ordinance would be hard to enforce. “Who determines what continuous barking is? Who is going to prove it? Are you going out at night? Why waste your time?” he asked.
On the other hand, John Ciarlo of Rehoboth Beach urged council to pass the ordinance. He said barking dogs are a problem in his neighborhood and neither the homeowners' association nor the police will take action. “I don't want to fight with my neighbors,” he said. “But I can't sit on my deck because of dogs barking. It's not a laughing matter anymore; I'm appealing to you for some help.”
Delores Holland of Millsboro said council should worry more about crime than barking dogs.