Sunday, June 08, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: DOG-DAY AFTERNOONS

"I know it's spring when the dog calls start," says Bill Hedrick, first assistant city prosecutor for Columbus, Ohio.

Hedrick has had city residents call his office in the wee hours of the morning -- "almost in tears," he says -- and leave voicemail messages saying, "Listen to this," followed by the sound of neighbors' dogs barking incessantly.

I spoke with Hedrick after a reader from Columbus, himself a dog owner, e-mailed to tell me that, every time a particular neighbor leaves her house, she leaves her dogs on her sun porch to allow them access to the backyard.

"They bark at every moving thing when the owner is not home," my reader writes.

After having had his fill of the noise one weekend, my reader went next door to talk with the owner. When there was no answer he left, but returned later with a printout of tips on how to control barking dogs. When there was still no answer, he left the tips along with his name, address and telephone number, as well as a note asking the owner to call him. She never called.

"At least six other neighbors agree that the dogs bark excessively," he says. "I'm at my wit's end."

While it's always risky to confront a neighbor you don't know, particularly in the middle of the night, my reader did the right thing by contacting his neighbor and trying to resolve the issue between them. Her lack of responsiveness, however, forces him to enlist his fellow neighbors and take the next step.

Some municipalities have no laws regulating barking dogs. Columbus is not one of them, though: Its "noisy animals" law is Article 2327.14 of the city's general-offenses code. So, if a dog barks excessively and the owner can't or won't curtail it, residents don't call animal control, they call the city attorney's office -- which is where Hedrick comes in.

If owners don't respond to a warning letter, Hedrick says, his office will schedule mediation. If mediation doesn't alleviate the problem, prosecution is possible. Fines run as much as $150, plus court costs, but cases rarely make it past the mediation stage.

"Typically," Hedrick says, "the warning letter takes care of the problem."

Hedrick's office does not disclose to the dog owner the name of the person who filed the initial complaint.

If a warning letter doesn't do the trick -- and, given her lack of response to my reader's note, it might not -- my reader and his neighbors may have to take the step of requesting mediation to resolve the problem.

There's nothing unethical about reporting the situation to the authorities. If the dogs' barking is a neighborhood-wide issue, it's entirely proper to want it stopped. It's not "tattling" to pursue peace and quiet, and my reader has gone out of his way to resolve the problem without involving the city.

At least one of my reader's neighbors has already shown willingness to put his name and face behind the complaint, and other neighbors should step up and do the same, if they agree that the dogs are a problem.

The more who come forward, the less likely it is that the dogs' owner can claim that the complaints come from a single neighbor with whom she has personal issues, as is often the case in such matters.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Omigod yes -- I say THANK YOU to people like the person who wrote in. Most people stew in silence. The person who wrote in was far more gracious and generous than I would be, and I'm sure other neighbors were really thankful that someone tried to address the situation. I live in a loud neighborhood that gets louder in the springtime, and I think it's entirely fair game to enlist the help of the city.

Is employer responsible for expense if I might leave?

Every couple of years, Lil (not her real name, but let's call her "Lil") has to renew her professional license with her s...