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This article builds on The barking laws, law enforcement, and the courts, and will be more meaningful and easier to follow if you read that article first.

A Dysfunctional System

Defining the Animal Control System

The victims of barking abuse tend to see their particular ordeal as an isolated problem that is rooted locally, in the behavior of their neighbor or their neighbor's dog. But in truth, your dog-related problems exist as a direct result of bad decisions made by those in authority who, over time, pieced together our current animal control system.

When I speak of the animal control system, I don't mean your local animal control department. Rather, I'm referring to the network of government officials, agencies, legislators, and lobbyists for dog-related businesses, who together determine the role that dogs play in our society, and decree the rights and responsibilities of dog owners, as well as the consequences that will befall those who fail to meet their obligations. Officially, there is no such thing as the animal control system, but it is most certainly there, and the shortcomings of our legal system are a key ingredient in its failure.

Criminal Law - Failing On Three Levels

When it comes to barking dogs, the legal system has failed. Just stroll the sidewalk on a warm summer day and listen to the clamor, or try to sleep with your window open on a hot night, and you'll see what I mean.

In thirty years of adulthood, I have lived in more than twenty houses located in eight jurisdictions. In the great majority of those places there was a barking dog nearby that caused us a significant measure of inconvenience. In several of those locations the barking was so outrageous that everything in our lives came to revolve around the habits of the neighbor's dog. Yet in all that time I was never able to resolve a problem with an irresponsible dog owner by going through the legal system. Never. Not a single time. And only once have I ever met anyone who claimed to have been able to do so, which is a telling statistic when you take into account the number of people with whom I have discussed this subject.

The legal system cannot rein in an irresponsible or malicious dog owner unless three things are in place:

  1. A good law

  2. an available law enforcement official who is willing to enforce the law, and

  3. a judge who is willing to impose penalties strong enough to serve as a deterrent.

In Santa Rosa, California, where I currently live, the city won't act unless three neighbors are willing to jump through hoops, but the neighbors won't jump. So there is no hope of help from the criminal law, which is so bad that it is all but completely unenforceable.

Even if you have a good law in place, it doesn't do a bit of good unless you have available law dogs who are willing to enforce it. A case in point: In Maricopa County, Arizona, south of Carefree, what used to be a quiet desert community is now awash day and night with the sound of five Pit Bull Terriers and three other nondescript dogs who "bellow" endlessly. The dogs belong to a young man the people in the neighborhood describe as a "loose cannon" who "stares and tries to intimidate people."

For the people of the neighborhood, the noise has reached the level where their every activity must be modified to accommodate the limitations placed on them by the unrelenting torrent of noise flooding through their desert homes. As one of the neighbors said, "It's just a terrible situation," but terrible is not a strong enough word to describe the hell those people are enduring. Unless you've been through it yourself, you have no idea.

The people of the community called the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which provided the usual assistance you get in those kinds of situations. They didn't do a thing, which left the victims on their own with a resultant escalation of the crisis that led to several people acquiring firearms. "It's going to get pretty bad real soon," said one resident. "This was a nice quiet neighborhood. Now we're armed to the teeth like we're in some kind of war."

The sheriff's deputy said that, when he came out, the owner agreed to move the dogs from one side of his yard to the other side of his yard. The deputy thought that was enough of a good faith effort so he didn't write the guy a ticket. A spokesman for the sheriff's department said the dog's owner had been "more accommodating than other owners of barking dogs." Please, go back and reread the last sentence. Think about the implications of that statement. The officer said a mouthful.

Even if your home town has a good anti-barking law and police officers who are Johnny on the spot and ready to write tickets, it still doesn't mean a thing unless the local court is stocked with judges who are ready to crack down. Unfortunately, on the judicial level, the system more often than not falls way short in that regard as well.

In Oshawa, Ontario, the city council has received hundreds of complaints about barking dogs. Shift workers report they can't sleep at "any hour of the day or night" because of the endless barking. Imagine what it's like to come home wiped out from a day of factory work only to lie awake all night tormented by the staccato outbursts of nearby canines. Think what it's like at sunup having to drag yourself out of bed exhausted for a day of physical labor that you know will be capped off with yet another sleepless night.

Unfortunately, the Oshawa city council has announced that, henceforth, they will no longer even attempt to take action against the owners of barking dogs because the court returns so few convictions that the city fathers have decided it is "futile" to even try. It may be just as well because, even when fines are levied, they are usually so minimal they have no impact on the behavior of the offenders.

Think about this: Imagine you live near a habitually barking hound. There are four people in your family and, on average, each of you loses three hours of sleep each night to the neighbor's barking dog. That means that in one year's time each of you will lose 1,095 hours of sleep for a cumulative family sleep deficit of 4,380 hours on the year.

Now imagine that, miraculously, you manage to get the powers that be to come out and cite the dog owner. Even though the dog continues to bark every day, the city won't come back and cite the owner every day. Once the perpetrator has been issued a citation then, as far as the city is concerned, the case is closed until the matter goes to court and it can easily take a year before the court hears the case. That means that every day and every night of that entire year your family has to put up with this astoundingly stressful disruption of their lives.

Finally, after a year, the case goes to court and the judge fines the culprit $50.00. That means for every hour the irresponsible behavior of your neighbor kept a member of your household awake, he was forced to pay a fine of just a little over one penny. And you don't even get the penny. All you get is another year of victimization because, after the fine is paid, there's very little chance that that will be the end of it. You will almost certainly find that the dog will remain on the property and the barking will continue.

In Santa Rosa, if you are one of the rare individuals who is lucky enough to finally, actually get a judgement against a dog owner, you'll find the court will allow the culprit up to 30 days to quiet the animal. Let's see, if we calculate a night's sleep at eight hours, then, in thirty days, you can lose 240 hours of sleep. But, apparently, the city fathers were worried that it might inconvenience the perpetrators if they were required to stop committing the crime any sooner than that.

It couldn't be more apparent that what we have now is a system geared to harassing and hamstringing the victims, as opposed to a legal system dedicated to solving the problem by cracking down on the perpetrators.

Absolving Those Responsible of All Responsibility

Imagine that you bought a high performance car with a mega-souped-up racing engine designed for use on a professional raceway. You brought the car home and, even though you lacked the training necessary to handle an automobile of that caliber, you took it out on a residential street where you lost control and crashed into a group of pedestrians. Would it be your fault? Would you be responsible for the grief caused to those you injured?

Of course you would! It was your decision to buy a car. You selected one you couldn't handle. You neglected to secure the necessary training. You brought it into a residential neighborhood. You took it out where people could be injured by it and you lost control of it. Clearly that's 100 percent your fault.

Now compare that situation to the events occurring south of Carefree. The young man made a decision to bring a dog onto the property. Then he selected not one, but many dogs of a breed known to bark at the drop of a hat, a breed he couldn't handle. Then, without first securing the training he needed to control the animals, he brought them into a residential neighborhood where people would be sure to suffer in the event they barked. Then he lost control of them (or maliciously allowed them to bark) which caused injury to his neighbors. Clearly he is to blame. It is farcical to bring a barking dog that you can't control into a residential area and then contend that it is not your fault that the neighborhood is filled with the sound of the dog barking. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see through that one. Yet the police held him blameless and declined to penalize him in any way.

There's a reason why no reputable psychologist will do therapy with a young child without also treating the parents. That's because we know that the behavior of children is a reflection of how the contingencies are arranged by their guardians, and that is even more true of the behavior of the family dog.

You acquired the dog and now you control every aspect of his life. You could train him or have him trained. You could put an electronic collar on him. You could take him inside. You could remove him from the property or you could give him a decent life where he has better things to do than disturb the neighbors. If he's on your property and he's barking, that's your doing. That's your fault.

Why then is there such tremendous reluctance on the part of the criminal justice system to hold dog owners accountable for the harm caused by their irresponsible behavior?

Doing the Crime Without Doing No Time

When a person acquires a dog, a cost is incurred and someone has to pay. Either the dog's owner is going to have to pay by spending the time, money and effort that are part and parcel of responsible pet ownership, or the neighbors are going to have to pay as they endure the trauma that is part and parcel of living near an irresponsible dog owner.

I have neighbors who go on a week-long vacation every summer. Rather than pay the cost of kenneling their untrained dogs, they leave them at home unattended. They arrange for someone to come over and feed them during the day and check on them from time to time, but there is no one present to correct them when they bark. And they bark at everything they see. During the week the neighbors are away, I must choose between sleeping on the kitchen floor (the only place in the house where the dogs can't be heard) or going to a hotel for the night. The dog's owners know the harm they cause by refusing to kennel their dogs, but they also know that with the legal system as it is, there is no way anyone can hold them accountable.

Has it occurred to you that the criminal justice system seems to have been intentionally structured to give a free ride to irresponsible dog owners? Think about what happens when you complain to the authorities about a barking dog. Even if the owner admits the dog is barking, in most places, the system requires you to go door to door asking people to write letters of complaint while no demands are made on the owner of the barking dog. How about if we turn that around and instead require the dog's owner to obtain letters from everyone in the neighborhood saying either they don't hear the barking or they find the barking agreeable. Or would that be wrong for us to inconvenience the people who are causing the problem?

Go to New Animal Control.Org for more information about animal control reform.

This page is part of Section Eight:
the Cause section of