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A System of Impossible Standards

The word ambient means "surrounding on all sides." When I speak of ambient barking then, I'm referring to the total amount of barking present in a community. Not just the noise being produced by the dog or dogs from one particular household, but the total amount of barking produced by all the dogs within earshot of a given location.

A while back, the national park service starting getting a lot of complaints from visitors to the Grand Canyon about noise from commercial aircraft that were providing tourists with an aerial view of the park. At first blush it seemed petty for people to complain about the noise from scenic flights that only lasted a matter of minutes. But when the experts gathered the data they found that, while it is true that each flight lasted only a short time, there were so many flights that the sound of one aircraft or another could be heard 90 percent of the time.

That brings us to the concept of critical mass. When you continue to get more and more of something then, at some point, the essential character of the thing changes. Listening to the noise of an airplane for a few minutes each day is an altogether different thing than having to listen to the sound of an aircraft engine 90 percent of the time. Just as living near one dog that barks X amount is an entirely different experience than when you live near ten dogs who all bark with that same frequency.

Imagine that, within earshot of your house, you have ten neighbors who each have one dog. Each of those dogs lets loose a short burst of barking once each hour. That means that inside your house, on average, you will hear a flurry of barking once every six minutes, which is more than enough to transform your daily life into a stress-ridden ordeal.

If you turned to the authorities with that problem you'd be out of luck, because the pillars of Juris Prudence tend to see every barking dog as an isolated entity. Therefore, they focus solely on the question of whether the negligence of each individual owner, considered in isolation, rises to the level of criminal culpability. The result is that, with today's laws and today's standards of enforcement, you wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of solving a severe problem of ambient barking through the criminal justice system.

If you live in a jurisdiction with a three-household law, to get a single ticket written to each of the ten dog owners contributing to your ambient barking crisis, you would have to write ten letters yourself (one for each dog owner). You would then have to induce two of your neighbors, from separate households, to join you in writing a letter complaining about each of the ten negligent dog owners. Therefore, you would have to generate a total of twenty letters of complaint from other people in the neighborhood. Each co-complainant would also have to agree to testify in court in all ten cases.

It is an impossible standard.

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