Barking dogs will get at least another week's reprieve.
Sussex County Council voted 4-1 at its Oct. 22 meeting to defer on a decision to allow time for county legal staff to check into adding a one-year time limit to a proposed excessive barking dog ordinance. The issue is back for a possible vote on council's Tuesday, Oct. 29 agenda.
Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, suggested the time limit because he doubted the ordinance would pass in its current form. “In one year, we can find out if it's effective or not. It seems to be working in New Castle and Kent counties, and maybe the time limit will make it more acceptable to council,” Cole said.
Staff could monitor the ordinance and report back to council before the time limit expired, he said. “Then we could extend it if we choose to and make it permanent,” he said. “But we need to find a way to do this easily so it doesn't have to go through the public hearing process again.”
Council's proposed ordinance defines excessive barking as a dog that barks continuously for at least 30 minutes without being provoked by another human or animal or intentionally teased.
Complaints would be accepted by the county constable's office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Investigations would be conducted “in a timely” manner by the Kent SPCA. Deputy County Administrator Hal Godwin said investigations should be conducted as soon as possible with an expectation to start investigations by the end of the next working day following a complaint.
Cole said the public should be informed exactly what the county's policy is regarding the ordinance. “We need a step-by-step process what the county will do,” he said. “The public needs to know what to expect when a complaint is made. Don't expect someone to show up at 9 p.m., and we are not hauling dogs off,” he said.
County Administrator Todd Lawson said the enforcement phase of the ordinance would not be anticipated to increase the county's costs.
Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, said he didn't understand why the county would impose regulations when the problem could be corrected in other ways. Wilson, who owns a small manufactured home park, said as park owner he deals directly with issues such as excessive noise. “I tell them to take care of their dog or move,” he said, adding community's homeowners' associations should deal with barking dogs.
“To be honest, I have more trouble with boom boxes riding by,” he said.
Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, voted against deferring action on the ordinance, saying it was another delay to enact the ordinance.
Kent SPCA has received 60 complaints
Council had extended its public hearing to get information from Major Brian Whipple, an animal control officer with the Kent County SPCA, the organization that would enforce the county's excessive dog barking ordinance.
Whipple said his organization had received 60 complaints from Sussex residents about barking dogs since the start of 2013. With no enforcement regulations on the books, he said there is little or nothing officers can do.
Kent County SPCA provides barking-dog enforcement in Delaware's two other counties. Whipple said after three complaints against one dog, his agency issues a violation notice to the dog's owner. He said they try to resolve the issue after the first and second complaints. Most cases are resolved before going to court, he said.
In New Castle County, 35 of 279 complaints have ended up in court and all have resulted in convictions and fines ranging from $25 to $100. Whipple said neighbors' eyewitness accounts carry as much weight in court as eyewitness accounts from SPCA officers. In New Castle County, excessive barking is defined as barking for more than 10 minutes.
“We ask residents to keep a log, and some even use cellphone recordings,” Whipple said. “We've had no repeat offenders.”
Residents plead for ordinance passage
In addition, council members got an earful from residents who have problems with barking dogs.
Carol Barford, who lives in Stable Farms near Rehoboth Beach, pleaded with council to pass the ordinance. She said she has tried, with no success, since 2008 to deal with a barking dog in an adjoining community. She said there are three dogs that are left outside all day when the owners go to work. “But it's one dog that we have complaints about,” she said.
She presented council with a audiotape she recorded two weeks ago with the dog barking for 33 minutes. “We can't go outside into the backyard; we can't sit out on the deck,” she said.
She said she has spoken to the dog's owner several times and even recorded the dog barking on the owner's phone answering machine.
Mary Lou Ritson and Carol Dadds, who live in Plantations East near Lewes, told similar stories. They said two dogs are left alone most days in a second-floor condominium in their building with the windows and porch open. They bark incessantly until the owners return home, they said.
“At 7 a.m. they start barking,” Ritson said. “It's a quality of life issue.”
“It's not fair to the animals either,” Dadds said.
Dean Kostas, who lives in Plantations near Lewes, said a nearby kennel's barking dogs have plagued his community for years. He's spoken to the kennel owners with no resolution. Speaking for his neighbors, he said, “We are asking for a third party to come in and give us relief. Unfortunately, we need laws because of those who could care less.”
He said staff of SeaScape Property Management – the Plantations' management company – told him they receive complaints from people throughout the area about barking dogs left out in yards and porches while their owners are away.