BARKING DOG DISTURBANCES, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 

I did a blog recently on noise and how it can add stress to a person’s life. I recently had reason to look into barking dogs and the issues that arise among neighbors, and it’s not about dog owners vs. non-dog owners. Those who have dogs for pets that have trained their dogs, provide love, companionship and attention, and taught them not to bark with special techniques can get just as stressed over a neighbor’s dog barking as someone who does not own a dog. I have had many dogs for pets in my life, one that was with me 16 years. None of my dogs ever barked at anyone.

 

One does not need to live in a condo or attached home to suffer from the noise of barking dogs. I have two friends that have for a long time been too nice to say anything to neighbors about barking dogs and both have experienced stress-related conditions. Now they are both asking me if there is anything they can do. I do not want to live next to barking dogs and if it happens, I would not sit by and stress over it. I would take action. People who suffer in silence or engage in passive aggressive or aggressive behavior with regard to any nuisance will continue to suffer. And some will suffer extra stress from their own actions, when they don’t work. The web is full of discussions and in many of them, people just lose it and cuss, swear and engage in name calling. “Tit for tat never solved anything”.

 

So here is what I told my friends, which is common advice I give to my clients – with regard to any nuisance issues in my practice like noise from hardwood floors o upper levels, barking dogs, or loud music. If talking to a board, I suggest that they supply the owners with the problem

 

First, try to talk to the neighbors. If you are afraid to knock on their door leave a nice note asking if they can try to do something about the barking. You can leave it anonymously.

If there is no positive action from the notice, then I would suggest trying out one of the kinds of devices some people have had luck with. You can find advertisement on the web for sonic dog repellant machines which run about $50-$80 but advertise that they can be returned if they don’t work. Apparently some have found that a boat air horn (which dogs do not like) works and those are less expensive. They emit a high pitched loud sound at the push a button.

 

Some have had success by calling the local police station (you can do that anonymously) and telling them the problem. One person who reported that this worked says she/he simply told the police that the neighbors were very nice people and probably didn’t realize that the dog was barking.

Next, if that doesn’t work, keep a log of the time and duration of the barking and what is going on with the dog(s) as you can best tell, record the sounds, and call the local animal control office and report the barking. Do this for at least two reasons: (1) often a dog barks when they are hungry, thirsty, frightened, bored, or protective and the situation may warrant attention. AND (2) whether or not the service does anything effective, it is something you need to do before you can get any relief should you need to get more assertive.  If the employees refuse to help, at the least insist they make a report of the barking complaint.

Check local ordinances. I went on the web and “googled” “California barking dog laws” and “California barking dog ordinances” and a whole bunch of them came up in cities and counties all over the state. I am guessing every jurisdiction has some enforceable ordinances and you need to find the one that applies where you live, and then work on getting the municipality to enforce the ordinance. In one of the counties materials, the local animal control could turn the case over to the District Attorney who could file a legal complaint if 3 neighbors within 500 feet of the barking dog complained. Now I am not going to suggest that any D.A. will happily prosecute any case – however – if a person does not go through every possible administrative option and then tries to sue, even in small claims, the first question that will be asked is “Did you exhaust all possible administrative remedies?” Making these complaints and keeping written records of your own efforts could make the difference between whether you get relief from a court or get kicked out for acting prematurely. And, if you end up asking an attorney to write a letter, or you write a letter, pointing out the fact that the barking could lead to a legal complaint by the D.A. might get some attention.

Before or after trying out your “administrative remedies” check out the local mediation services. Every County has a low or no-cost provider because every County offers a portion of court fees for all legal complaints that are filed to these services so that they can be made available to people who need help resolving disputes with neighbors. If you contact one of these agencies and ask for services, they will contact the people with the dog(s).

If you live in a common interest development (homeowners association), contact the Board in writing and ask the Board to address the nuisance as soon as you have determined working with the dog owner will not bring resolution. Again try the personal approach first, unless the person is just too scary, because the Board will want to know you tried to resolve the situation before they consider doing anything. Sometimes when people complain to their boards it turns out that the board finds out the neighbors just don’t like each other and are doing things to piss each other off. If you can show the board that you have tried, and if you know of other neighbors that are disturbed as well, provide the information to the board so that they can see you are not being unreasonable.

If a person has tried everything else, talking to the neighbor or leaving them a note, sonic silencers., fog horns, and contacting animal control, the police, a mediation service, and there seems no hope, you can seek the advice of an attorney and ask for a demand letter to be written, and/or try small claims court. To get anywhere in small claims you will need to record the sound and/or make a log, write down all efforts (the hearing officer will want to know that you contacted the owner AND animal control and got no satisfaction), and ask for “nuisance” damages. The upper limit in small claims is $10,000, and though I am not suggesting asking for that, if you have any medical evidence to offer of a stress related condition, mention that too. If you have a log showing a lot of disturbances, ask for a specific amount per occurrence, and depending on the time of day, duration, and severity of the barking, you can be the judge of how disturbed you were.  I am not in favor getting something for nothing, but having a dog owner served with a small claims court complaint (which you can do by certified mail OR a marshal), will get the neighbor’s attention.

It is unfortunate to have to do all this work, but it is better than fretting if you can’t get over it or make adjustments to deal with it (like employing some kind of white noise, taking a walk, moving to another room when it occurs). Inaction and suffering the stress can adversely affect your health. Having a plan and taking action may help.

I have been in court with a board trying helping a man who could not sleep in his own bedroom because the neighbor’s 3 dogs were allowed to frolic, growl at each other, and bark all night in a room next to his. We ran into a judge that kept us I court all afternoon and then opted out of hearing the matter because she had a bias being in support of some animal rights group. The afternoon was a waste of time and money and even though we later got to hearing and got a court order to remove the dogs from the development, the 4 board members who attended all proceedings lost 3 days of work. Superior Court should be a last resort. Dog issues don’t get any preference on the court calendar for barking, although they may for attacks or threatening behavior.

You can get an attorney of course. You can pay the attorney to write demands, get involved, help you prepare for small claims (no attorneys allowed to represent a case unless they are a party), or go to Superior Court. But it is better to start at square one. Maybe you can resolve this on your own and just don’t know it.

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