New Animal Control.Org

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Implementing a Vigorous Impound Policy

When your neighbor's behavior results in a situation in which your family can't sleep, rest, relax, work or recuperate in their own home, it is a crisis situation requiring action that is both immediate and effective. If someone kept you from getting your car out of your garage by parking in your driveway, you could have a truck dispatched immediately to tow his vehicle. However if, by way of his dog, your neighbor spoils your quality of life, degrades your health and denies you full use of the entirety of your home, the powers that be consider that a "nuisance" unworthy of immediate response. That needs to change.

Here in Santa Rosa, California, barking dogs are covered by a three-household law, with the result that there are barking dogs everywhere you turn. There is a different policy for dogs found running loose, however. The authorities here immediately impound loose dogs on sight, and the owners have to pay to get them back, with the result that you rarely see a free-roaming dog in this town. So we know what gets results with the owners of dogs that would otherwise be loose. Now let's see if that same thing works with the owners of dogs that, up to now, have been barking.

When the authorities learn that a dog is suffering at the hands of its owner, animal control can quickly obtain a court order allowing the dog to be removed from the property. Now we need to extend the same compassionate consideration to humans by implementing laws and procedures that allow animal control to immediately remove from the property of its owner, any noise-generating dog that is causing human suffering.

Certainly there are times when it is appropriate to remove a dog from the property of an unresponsive owner. If the dog is barking disruptively, there is a complainant who needs immediate relief and, for whatever reason, the dog's caretakers either can't or won't quiet the animal, the dog should be impounded, right away. Also, dogs that bark at passersby in a threatening or challenging manner should be transported to the pokey in a hurry.

Under the current system, impounding a dog for barking is an extremely rare event, if it ever happens at all. One of the problems with attempting to impound a dog is that, legally speaking, dogs are property and, under the constitution, you cannot seize/impound someone's property without a court order. However, depending on how your local law is written, it may be legally possible for the authorities in your area to impound a dog and to get it done quickly.

If your jurisdiction has a law that says it is illegal to possess a barking dog, then, with a court order, the dog can be impounded because, even though he is property, he is illegal property. Therefore, the illegal dog can be impounded for the same reason illegal drugs can be seized: Because he is illegal.

However, the way most barking ordinances are written, it is not illegal to allow your dog to bark freely. It only becomes illegal when the judge declares it so at the end of a drawn-out legal process. If your city has that sort of law in place, there is no possibility that the authorities will be able to get a court order allowing them to quickly remove the dog, because it is not illegal for the dog to bark.

Certainly that needs to change. All barking ordinances should stipulate that barking that causes human suffering is, in and of its self, illegal. That would lay the legal groundwork for impounding disruptive dogs as well as for writing barking citations. After all, you can't write a ticket for barking if barking is not illegal.

It is possible for law enforcement officers to appear before a judge and secure a court order in a matter of an hour or two. They do it routinely, but they never do it as a means of dealing with barking dogs.

Maybe you think people don't need to sleep, and maybe you think that being denied the opportunity to rest and relax in your own home is a matter of little consequence. But most people with normal human needs can understand that when a family is suffering and their ability to function is profoundly impaired, it is an emergency situation, and that large numbers of people being subjected to the constant stress of chronic barking is a serious public health concern. It is time for local government to gear-up, and to get used to the idea of resorting to emergency impounds in those situations in which there is a distressed victim and no other way to quiet the barking dog in a timely fashion.

It might seem that, with so many barking dogs out there, a quick impound policy would result in legions of police officers besieging judge's chambers in a never-ending parade of law enforcers seeking barking-related court orders. But I doubt that would happen. It's true, there are enormous numbers of people with barking dogs, but quieting a dog is an easy, simple process. People don't do it because there is no penalty of any consequence for not doing it. However, with a quick impound policy in place, those who fail to train or otherwise quiet their dogs may find that they have to pay police and court costs (for expenses related to the issuance of the court order), plus impound fees and the cost of a ticket. It won't take much of that before people will be motivated to quiet their dogs and, certainly, to leave a number where they can be reached when they leave a problematic dog unsupervised. Soon after that incentive is established, there will be so few barking dogs that it will only occasionally be necessary to impound one.

The issuance of a dog owner's license should be contingent upon the licensee's written consent for the city to immediately remove his dog from the property should he grow disruptive. That would save the city the trouble of seeking a court order prior to the impoundment, and save the dog owner the expense of having to repay local government for court-related costs. There is at least one other alternative.

A San Francisco ordinance stipulates that police officers can take whatever action is necessary to silence the noise of a continually ringing car alarm. They can rip out the battery cables, tow the vehicle or, in general, do whatever is required to restore domestic tranquility. As was pointed out to me, the SF ordinance would be an excellent model on which to structure an effective anti-barking law. Certainly, there is a great parallel between the two. It makes no sense to allow a car alarm to ring on indefinitely, disrupting the lives of the neighbors, and a dog's bark is also a type of alarm, only worse. Eventually the automobile battery will wear down and the car's siren will stop. But a dog can continue on interminably.

Allowing the city's bark alarms to roar on incessantly, year after year, while local government tap dances furiously, assuring us they are powerless to remedy the problem, is ridiculous. It is bullshit of the first order. If you want to put a stop to it you pass laws that allow you to take action and, then, when the disruption occurs, you send some officers out right now to bring it to a halt. That's how you deal with a problem when you're serious about bringing it to an end.

This page is part of the New System section of New Animal Control.Org