Every dog has his day and Tuesday night the dogs of Rice Street had their turn. At issue was an amendment to the Berryville town code relating to barking dog complaints and the addition of language to refine the town’s ability to enforce the code. Scrutiny of the current law stems from chronic complaints that come from the Rice Street and Treadwell Street area of Berryville. Town Police have received dozens of complaints, but have been unable to resolve the issues with the law that is currently on the books. Residents with dogs complain that they are being harassed by a single complainant who they say has adopted a stance that they will call law enforcement the first time they hear a dog bark, day or night. The new code states:
It shall be unlawful to keep a dog without exercising proper care and control of such dog to prevent it from disturbing the peace of others by unprovoked barking in a continuous and untimely manner, after the owner has been notified of such disturbance. Owners of dogs shall be responsible for exercising control of such dog under this section.
For the purpose of this section, a continuous manner shall be deemed a dog barking for an uninterrupted period of thirty minutes.
For the purpose of this section, an untimely manner shall be deemed between the hours of 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM
Citizens affected by a barking dog are requested to contact the dog’s owner prior to contacting the towns to attempt to resolve the differences and objections with the owner of the barking dog
A law enforcement officer may direct the owner of a dog found barking in a loud continuous or untimely manner to exercise proper control and care of such dog to prevent it from barking in such a manner. A law enforcement officer assigned to investigate violation of this section shall record all initial violations through the use of a compliance entice. Any subsequent violations that occur twenty-four (24) hours after a compliance notice is issued will cause a law enforcement officer on behalf of the town to institute a criminal or civil proceeding against any person he finds in violation of this section.
Citizens may institute their own criminal or civil proceeding to resolve a barking dog problem.
The new code addresses several areas and specifically clarifies the duration of continuous barking between 7:00 AM and 11:00PM to be 30 continuous minutes, but leaves the duration at night to the officers discretion as to what constitutes an “untimely manner.”
At the Town Council Meeting five residents used the citizen’s forum portion of the meeting to express their feelings on the newly proposed language.
Stephanie Nelson, a resident on Treadwell Street, said she was pleased with the progress that has been made in refining the code, “I feel the real intent is to solve this on everybody’s part, but I think we do have someone who is really determined to be a nuisance.”
She expressed concern that an aspect of the code that had been discussed in previous meetings was absent from the proposed language. It concerned a clause that required complaints to be corroborated by a second household before police could take action. Since several speakers expressed that they felt like they were being harassed by a single complainant, she felt it was an important part of the new language.
“We’re here to give Chief White the tools to say ‘Enough already. You now are abusing the phone and the system and you are abusing your neighbors.'” Ms. Nelson said that the individual she was referring to has called police 26 times since April and said , “She has kind of worn everybody out.”
Several other speakers also sought to have the clause that would require corroboration from a second household included in the new code.
However, it became apparent that there has been more than one individual making complaints. Another resident that had been listening as residents spoke before the council said, “It seems like we are having an issue on both sides of Rice Street.” Her experience with complaints had been with a different household than the other speakers, but mirrored their situation.
When the council closed the forum and took up discussion of the ordinance councilman Dave Tollet suggested adding the clause that speakers had advocated. Chief White responded to questions about requiring corroboration and said he could not find the code reference in any surrounding jurisdictions and added that there are no other town ordinances that require two party reporting.
Beyond those issues Chief White expressed concern about the fairness of the proposed addition saying, “We’re dealing with a situation where there is alleged and perceived harassment by on individual but let’s flip the coin and say that there is a nuisance call and only one person made the call and there is no one else around them. Where is their justification if they can’t get a second party to support their claim?”
He continued and explained the details of the proposed amendment. “Built into the ordinance is a requirement that you have to have a half an hour of continuous barking. We’re not going to sit out there for a half an hour. It’s going to be incumbent upon the complaining party to have documented that it occurred for a half an hour. If we go to the offending dog’s residence and they don’t comply and we get into the summons part of it, then the complaining person is going to be subpoenaed to court to testify under oath that this dog was barking for a half an hour. So there are ramifications if they are maliciously making these complaints. They could be charged with perjury, or with falsely summonsing law enforcement.”
Council discussed the issue at length and developed an opinion that the corroboration did not make sense at this point in time. Mayor Kirby said, “I’m in favor of moving forward with the language as it is at this time.”
Councilman Dave Tollet made the motion and Town Recorder Jay Arnold seconded. The motion passed unanimously. Councilman Mary Daniel was absent from the meeting.