Some people love dogs, some don’t, and when the two factions end up in close proximity in a neighborhood, tensions ensue. Such has been the case in the area of Rice Street in Berryville. Just peruse the police reports from several weeks and you will see a consistent pattern of complaints for barking dogs on Rice Street. As a result police have responded repeatedly and have found that the code they must enforce is extremely vague. Berryville residents from Rice Street and Treadwell used the citizens forum at last night’s Town Council meeting to voice concerns as the town considers modifications to the ordinance that governs barking dog complaints.
A couple from Rice Street opened the comments and stood together at the podium talking about their experience with code enforcement saying, “We understand that if dogs are barking late at night or bark for really long periods of time it’s a problem but the way the code is written right now, there is no clear definition of what that constitutes and a single individual can get angry at a neighbor and literally turn their life into a nightmare.” They added, “Fauquier and Loudoun’s regulations both require a second individual from a different household to also complain before action is taken.”
This was a recurring theme in comments. Seven people spoke about the issue and voiced their concerns and the majority said that the entire problem was a result of one or two individuals on the street who had filed dozens of complaints.
Another resident of Rice Street related her experience with the police when there was a complaint about a barking dog at her residence that wasn’t even outside. She said that the complaints are being driven by a single individual and said, “I have spoken with every one of my other neighbors and they said they have never even heard my dog bark.” She echoed the sentiments of other speakers and said, “I feel it should take two people in two different households before any action is taken.”
Stephanie Nelson, a resident of Treadwell Street spoke at length about the issue. “I received a warning for my dog barking in my home, when a police car was backed up to my property, the officer was out of his car and almost in my property. My dog sensed that and went to the window and barked. I think that’s what I have a dog for.”
She continued, “You’ve heard from my neighbors that we feel like it’s one person or the bidding of one or two individuals on separate occasions who are causing all of this. In Fairfax County and other jurisdictions they require ‘two complaints from two separate households about an incident to prevent abuse, harassment, bias or other instabilities by a complainant.’ We are there with our neighbor.”
After the public comments had closed, Ward Three Council Member Mary Daniel, who is the liaison to the Police and Security Committee, said that the ordinance is under review. “The barking dog ordinance, like so many of our ordinances, tends to lie quietly until we start getting repeated calls.”
Once those calls started coming in the police realized they were being required to enforce a code that was flawed. Many of the comments Tuesday night went so far as to call the vagueness of the code unconstitutional. Chief White said, “If the code is to be the arbitrator in these disputes then the code needs to be constitutionally sound. The way these codes get stricken nine times out of ten is because they are overly broad or vague.” He added, “Anything that’s left open to ‘reasonable standards’ is hard to enforce because it places too much burden on the community and law enforcement.”
The text of Town Code 4-26 is available here.
The ordinance was not up for a vote last night but was presented with modifications for consideration before being put into the agenda for a vote. The council heard some suggested revisions to the language, however upon closer scrutiny decided to allow further review and comment by citizens. Mayor Kirby said, “I certainly think we need to reconsider the ordinance because the comments that have been made tonight have been helpful for me, so tonight is not the night to move this forward.”
The issue of amending the Town Code does not require a public hearing, but the council did move to have a public comment period added to the November meeting for this issue.