Town means to muzzle overly vocal local canines
ANCRAM—The hills are alive with the sound of barking.
In this case one, two or possibly three canines are barking long and loud enough to disturb a neighbor, and the situation has been hounding the town since November 2011.
Some town officials believe the current law is to blame and at its next meeting the Town Board will consider enacting a new law to curb the problem.
The law dealing with barking dogs is currently part of the Town Noise Ordinance enacted in 1997. It says that a dog owner who lets his or her dog “engage in habitual howling, whining, barking or other noise-making as to annoy any person other than the owner or person harboring such dog, is also hereby declared to be loud, unusual and unnecessary, and a violation of this Ordinance.”
The law defines habitual as “a majority of time during any two 15-minute periods on separate days in the same week or for a majority of the time during any three 10-minute periods on three separate days in the same week. In order for howling, whining, barking or other noise-making to constitute annoyance of a person, it must be loud enough so that it is actually heard by such persons from any part of his or her property.”
The difficulty with getting a conviction under the current law seems to lie in proof of the woof.
Over the past 15 months, the aggrieved neighbor has testified to the existence of the barking and submitted recordings of the barking in court. But the dog owner has denied the allegations and the validity of the recordings has been questioned: Did the barking on the tape go on long enough and were the instances of barking on separate days or the same day and in the same week or different weeks and is the dog on the tape the dog in question?
Ancram Animal Control Officer Wes Powell told The Columbia Paper that in his 27 years in this line of business he has never seen a case like this one. Among his problems with the current law is that it does not allow him to issue an appearance ticket to the alleged offending dog or its owner. The law requires that a complaint be made to a Town Justice, then the Justice issues an appearance ticket and, if the dog owner fails to appear, then the case may be prosecuted.
In all his other jurisdictions, Mr. Powell says he issues a ticket, the involved parties come to court, they give sworn testimony and the judge decides the case.
To try to expedite matters in Ancram, Mr. Powell said he went to the complainant’s residence, sat in the driveway, listened to the barking for 40 minutes straight, then personally signed a complaint against the dog owner, had it notarized and took it to the judge. The case came before Town Justice Bob Wilcox again last month and was adjourned until this month because an additional form needs to filed, according to Mr. Powell.
“Basically the problem with the old law is that it requires multiple instances of barking over a period of time,” Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin said this week in a phone interview. “We’ve simplified [the new law] and added time frames so now it’s easier for the town to warn somebody when their dog is misbehaving and easier for the dog control officer to deal with a chronic barking dog,” he said.
The new proposed Ancram Dog Control Law not only deals with noisy dogs, but dogs that: run at large without a leash or their owner; damage or destroy other people’s (not their owner’s) property; bite, jump, chase or otherwise harass or intimidate people or animals; chase or bark at vehicles; don’t have a current rabies vaccination and don’t wear a license tag.
The definition of habitual noise-related annoying behavior still involves howling, barking, crying or whining for two 15-minute periods within seven days, but now includes: “intermittent periods of the same conduct for less than five minutes per incident over five times a day.”
Also in the new law are time frames: at or after 7 a.m. and before 10 p.m. continuously for a period of 15 minutes or more; at or after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. continuously for a period of five minutes or more.
“You still have to have proof: somebody else who heard the dog barking and can verify the complaint or tape recorded evidence. If you have corroboration, you’re more likely to get a conviction,” the supervisor said.
One of the sticking points with the current barking dog case is that there are no other nearby neighbors who can corroborate the barking. “It’s been a classic case of ‘he said, she said’,” said Mr. Bassin. Now that Mr. Powell has documented his experience that should change.
The town also had to hire an attorney to handle the case at a cost of $2,000. “The town is the prosecutor,” said Mr. Bassin; the attorney was hired to make the town’s case against the person who owns the dog. The town’s attorney and the dog owner’s attorney eventually reached an agreement that led the judge to adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (ACOD), a legal term which means that the case was suspended for six months and if there are no further barking outbreaks, the case will be dismissed.
But the dogs allegedly involved didn’t get the memo and the barking allegedly has continued to erupt.
The next Ancram Town Board meeting is Thursday, February 21. A public hearing on the new dog control law is set for 6:30 p.m. Copies of the proposed law are available on the Town website or from the Town Clerk.
To contact Diane Valden email .