It's 2 a.m. and the neighbor's dog won't stop barking. Who are you going to call? Sussex County Council says call Delaware State Police or Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; it's their job to respond because the state has jurisdiction over noise complaints.
By a 3-2 vote at its Jan. 21 meeting, council defeated a proposal to provide regulations and enforcement to deal with nuisance barking dogs in unincorporated areas of the county. The vote ended months of debate over the issue.
Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, said the ordinance was not necessary because state law already protects residents from noisy animals, including barking dogs. Under the Delaware Noise Control Act, law enforcement officers – including Delaware State Police – can issue citations to owners with dogs that bark constantly for 10 minutes or intermittently for a half hour. Animal noise is only one section of the law that covers how much noise can emanate from radios and TV sets to loading and construction to power tools, vehicles and motorcycles. DNREC is charged with administration of the law.
Vincent said state law was stricter than the proposed county ordinance. The county ordinance would have included $35,000 to pay First State Animal Center and Kent County SPCA staff to enforce its ordinance. SPCA animal control officers are not considered law enforcement officers, according to county attorney J. Everett Moore.
The Kent SPCA provides animal control services in the county.
Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, and Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, pushed council for a vote on the proposed ordinance. Cole and Deaver said people call to complain about barking dogs but little or no action is taken.
Deaver said without the county ordinance she didn't understand how residents could get any relief. Deaver asked council to support a county ordinance for a one-year trial period. She and Cole voted for the ordinance but were outvoted by Vincent and councilmen Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown.
“Police took care of this 40 and 50 years ago and are still taking care of it,” Wilson said.
Phillips said the expense was unnecessary. “This is already state agencies' responsibility. I respectfully ask Delaware State Police and DNREC to step up enforcement,” he said.
“If it's shown people are getting no satisfaction, we'll have another discussion,” Vincent said.
The county will provide information on what agencies to contact with barking dog complaints. In addition, county constables will have the information available to pass on to residents. “We need to let the public know the law is out there and who enforces it,” Vincent said.