Barking Dog Complaints Reveal Vague Town Code

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.


  1. Allan "Bugs" Mcwilliams says:

    I’m keeping my mouth shut on this one, I ended up serving 25 years on council because a previous council member was nasty to my wife about our dog.

    • A council member making nasty comments, how is that possible? The” truth”in their eyes is only the way THEY portray it.Like the report on the BADA not meeting in September, curiously; I attended this meeting on September 21. The presentation by Mr. Lewis representing the new parish hall adjacent to Saint Brigid’s was reported on the next day in the Winchester Star. My presentation of over 40 signatures from residents in Darbybrook on a petition requesting assistance from this supposedly higher/ responsible authority in righting the injustice placed upon the citizens in Darbybrook as detailed in a letter from the attorney describing how homes represented as being in the HOA are not and never can be was dismissed to either an exclusively town issue and/ or civil matter. I take umbrage at being deceived in public records.
      I hope your 25 years were more productive in actually representing your constituents.

  2. There is a Dog up near Food Lion that barks all day and night too. People if you cannot take care of your animals properly, don’t have them. Why should we have to hear a dog barking all day and night??? Can you not hear it as the owner???

  3. sargewillis says:

    Rice St. does have a large number of dogs and yes, I had a town officer come by my house late at night last spring about one of my dogs barking. I have forgotten to comepletely close my back door so the dog was free to go outside and bark at anyone that walks by. The officer was cordial, professional, and as understanding as I was apologetic. No complaint about the officer, he was doing his job, as was my dog. The real question is who was walking by at such a late hour of the night that my dog felt the need to go out to bark at them, Dogs are territorial, they are going to bark at anyone that they believe is coming in to their yard. I suspect the reason we are getting so many complaints of barking dogs is the kids that seem to hang out up and down Rice St. at all hours of the night.

    • Mr Mister says:

      Totally agree. Dogs are territorial and the do bark. That’s why I have dogs. I try to curtail them from barking too much outside of the house. They do get out of hand at times as they roam the fenced-in backyard. We try to bring them in when they do. As far as barking in the house. If someone is knocking on my door, with my family inside, I want that person to know that I have a dog inside. Not that I don’t trust everybody, but you never know. With my windows and doors closed, you can’t hear the dogs barking in the house from a crossed the street. Just like I can’t hear you yelling at your kids while inside your house.
      There should be a cut off time when these dogs are outside barking. I’m guessing that we are only considering our inside dogs. People do have dogs outside. Find out what is making them bark. My thought is the kids running at night. Maybe the children of the people who are complaining of the barking.

      • Rice St. Resident says:

        We also completely agree. I stood up there and spoke before the Town Council not only for myself as a dog owner, but also for my neighbors who do not own dogs. I whole-heartedly agree that if my dog is barking for more than 30 minutes straight while outside, something is wrong, and I need to be a responsible dog owner and check on its well-being. I also feel that my dog might yip and bark while playing, or that they might bark when someone strange approaches my fence, or my front door. Those are some of the reasons why I love my dogs.

        However, the degree to which the problem on Rice Street as gotten out of control is crazy. A police officer spent more than 2 hours wandering the streets, looking for a barking dog. If it is a true nuisance, the officer should have been able to pinpoint the concern immediately. This is not the fault of the officer, it is the fault of the irrational complainant. A phone call to the police was recorded for a barking dog at 7am. It was one of my dogs, barking at a squirrel when I let them out to pee before I left for work. How do I know? I was standing right there on the back porch the entire time. They were outside of the house for less than 5 minutes.

        I feel for those of you who truly do deal with nuisance dogs on a day to day basis. Those dogs that bark for hours, constantly, without reprieve. The situation on Rice Street is considerably different.

  4. All I’m asking for is that people take their pets in at night so others can sleep. While I dislike the dogs that bag all day as well, I realize that I can’t really say much because it’s during the day. But somehow I feel the my rights as a human at the top of the food chain are being usurped by a four legged beast that humans are supposed to be the masters of. So who is really the master?

  5. During the day should be no exception either…with people’s different work schedules some of us sleep during the day!

  6. virginiacop says:

    Fairfax DOES NOT require two complainants when the police respond to investigate. Two complainants are only required if the citizen seeks to obtain a warrant on their own without benefit of a police investigation. Nuisance noise violations from animals are enforced 24 hours a day.

  7. if only you could understand what we are saying!

  8. Clarke Life says:

    Heard the same dog up near Food Lion bark all day long today! Mind you it was rainy for the majority of the day! Sounds like a hound dog…. I cannot believe people leave their dogs out in the rain while they are at work… Come on people, have some respect for your neighbor’s and your DOGS!

  9. Think I hear the ever-popular Rice Street Rover, going to town right now!!!! Never Fails……

  10. Rice Street Homeowner says:

    Certainly on Rice Street, one will hear lawn mowers, laughter, a bark from a dog, children playing, a cats meow, starting of cars/motorcycles, the fire siren, the train rolling on the tracks. This one homeowner, who has the; “The Dogs Barking Fixation”, has truly created a waste of our tax dollars. The future modification/amended Town Code regarding this issue will be welcomed.

    Beware my Rice Street Neighbors and Police Department: This homeowner’s repertoire now includes “Cats going outside Fixation” Oh my!, Do we have to tell my cats “no to outside”?

  11. Oh Lordy! Some people have just WAY TOO MUCH time on their hands. What next? Laws that require cats to be on leashes? The barking dogs are just background noise, as are the trains, the sirens, the planes and YES, even the Military helicopters that fly by. The Police have far more important things to do than go chasing after barking dogs! We all have to live on this street, just chill out and let sleeping dogs lie!

    • I agree. When you move into a town you have to expect that you are going to hear dogs bark, kids play, loud trucks go by etc. I do understand that some dog barking can get out of control but lets be reasonable. A dog barking for 10 minutes isn’t the end of the world and eveyone has better things to do then deal with this complaining nonsense…well, everyone except those calling the police about barking dogs!!

    • Dogma Karma says:

      True that town living includes a certain amount of ambient noise. However, I would not equate that with a growling dog against the fence with the doubt that it may or may not make it over.

      • So are you the [redacted] who mace’s the dogs across the fence while in there own yard?
        Bad, bad, sad:(

  12. A neighbor once complained about a cat chasing a bird. Babies cry, dogs bark and kids act silly at times. That’s their natural behavoir.

  13. Because I Care says:

    It’s not okay for a dog owner to allow their dog to bark more than a few minutes. It’s not just “part of city living noise.” If there is a dog barking for more than 5-10 minutes, I would hope their loving human parents would have sense enough to care about their neighbors and bring their little darling inside or discipline it or buy a bark collar (if they work). Stop assuming others will or should just put up with it, night OR day. And if you plan to leave your home and go somewhere, at least put your doggie baby in the basement or the garage.

    • you wanna be locked inside all day?

      • Because I Care says:

        I am. In an office, doing my job. I don’t like it but I tolerate it. Your canine kid will be just fine, don’t worry. They can tolerate it too.

        • that is totally your choice to confine yourself to an office. Animals never were and never will be meant to be domesticated.

          • Because I Care says:

            Ha! So let’s all just roam free and do whatever we want! Animals included! Cows and horses aren’t meant to be domesticated either, nor any other farm animal, right? I don’t even think I will wear clothes anymore. This small town city life will get a lot more interesting!

  14. Treadwell Cares TOO says:

    Warning tickets were being issued on Rice and Treadwell not for one hour or one minute but for one audible bark or yelp whether the dog was inside or out. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????
    Maybe the loud overbearing neighbors need the bark/complain collars not the dogs. [redacted]

  15. Roscoe Evans says:

    Fish are nice. I’d suggest that any dog owner who cannot train his dogs properly consider fish, instead.

    I’m experienced, having had dogs, cats, gerbils, turtles, parakeets, canaries, rats and of course, fish. The fish were the easiest to train.

    Another suggestion: train your dogs to adapt to wire containers (large pet carriers/kennels) in the home. I never thought I’d sanction such things, but my brother-in-law keeps a springer spaniel, trained as a pet and trained to hunt, both. When the family is out of the house, the dog is trained to stay in his little home. It’s comfy, he knows its his territory exclusively, and he never barks in it. It’s responsible dog ownership. I wish I had trained my pups like that, and I’d recommend it to anybody who hasn’t experienced it.

    Occasional barking dogs, like occasional crying babies, are among life’s more pleasant noises. But there’s oft-times too much of a good thing, and pet owners, like parents, are irresponsible when the noise becomes chronic.

    Now, for those of you who may be literalists, the dog container advice applies only to dogs. Don’t try it with the little tykes.

    Finally, keep your eyes peeled for that wandering Doberman. he killed my cat. He’ll do a lot worse if you’re not careful.

  16. goodgracious says:

    If a barking dog is all one has to complain about, I’d say life is pretty good.

  17. It is called “free will”. EVERY MAN AND ANIMAL IS INTENDED TO HAVE FREE WILL. We take away the free will of an animal when we domesticate it. We may be able to take that from them but never can we take the wild nature of an animal. This is where our lifestyle and the dogs free will collide. Dogs will bark, humans will talk. Let it go.

  18. Treadwell Cares TOO says:

    Remember folks, the next town council meeting is Tuesday November 8th and the council should have a revised ordinance to review and will give an opportunity for comments before the final ordinance is adopted. Don’t forget to vote!!! See you there.

  19. I saw the two big barking dogs by the fence on Rice Street and a neighbor complained that the dogs are kept outside all day. The neighbor thought the dog owners were inconsiderate.

    • Rice St. Resident says:

      I would be very interested to know the block of Rice Street this was, and also what time of day this was (and on what day). Only full disclosure of incidents will allow all interested parties to work to identify it if was an issue. You mention you saw dogs in their yard, however, never mentioned barking, and if there was barking, you didn’t mention duration. I dont believe CDN will allow you to post an address, but a block number should be permissible. Also, if the neighbor was concerned, did they address it with the dog owner?