County council considers ordinance on excessive dog barking

Earlier this week the Sussex County Council voted to defer a decision on a proposed ordinance that would define and create enforcement provisions and penalties for failure to control excessive dog barking.

The latest draft, presented at Tuesday’s meeting, defined “excessive dog barking” as any dog that barks for a continuous period of 30 minutes or more, with the exception of barking dogs that were deliberately provoked by a trespasser or intentionally teased.

The draft also states that the ordinance would be enforced by the Sussex County constable or his designee, and that complaints received would be accepted by the constable’s office Mondays through Fridays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with investigation of complaints occurring in a timely manner, meaning “as soon as possible.”

County Solicitor J. Everett Moore Jr. explained that all violations of the ordinance, as drafted, if taken to court, would be heard before the Justice of the Peace, and those found guilty would face a penalty of $25 to $75 for the first violation, $50 to $100 for the second violation, and $75 to $150 for the third violation and all violations after.

If multiple violations occur within a 30-day period, the court could double the fine up to a maximum of $300.

Brian Whipple, animal control operations officer for the Kent County SPCA, which handles the County dog-control contract, spoke to council and said that it is “very rare” for such offenses to go to court.

Whipple said that, since January, his office has received approximately 60 complaints regarding excessive dog barking. He noted that the ordinance would be intended more to help educate the public.

“The idea of having it on the books would be a big deterrent for a lot of folks,” he explained. “They know that ‘something can happen if I allow my dog to disturb the peace.’”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked Whipple if he believes the county needs the ordinance.

“I absolutely do,” he responded.

Deer Wood resident Pat Fish told council that she was against the proposed ordinance, as she knows a neighbor who doesn’t like her dog will “jump right on this law.”

“I’m sure my little story is not alone. Every time my dog sees that man, she barks. Please do not encumber us with laws. Consider an arbitrator,” she said. “Dogs bark for a reason. They could be abused.”

“That would be exempt under the law,” responded Deaver.

Rehoboth Beach resident Carol Barford said that her neighbor has three dogs and a cat, and for years she has had to deal with excessive barking.

“I can’t even go out in the back yard,” she said. “I have audio of 33 minutes of barking from two weeks ago. I’ve spoken to the man, and he even came out to me one day and said he’d purchased a bark collar. Well, she’s never had the bark collar on.”

Barford said that her family has considered selling their house because of the barking, and she asked council to pass the ordinance.

“If you have never experienced it … you never want to experience it. I really hope we pass this ordinance.”

“I believe this is a type of situation where we would be of some assistance,” said Whipple of Barford’s situation.

Connie Ferrara echoed Barford’s sentiments and said that “excessive dog barking noise does affect your quality of life.”

“We’re begging you to pass this law so we can live peacefully in the home,” she said.

Lewes resident Mary Lou Ritson said that she has upstairs neighbors who work fulltime and leave their dog in their apartment, unaccompanied, during the day.

“Once they leave, the dogs start barking. The whole neighborhood hears these dogs. When they’re home, the dog doesn’t bark — it’s quiet, it’s peaceful. We talk to the people upstairs, and they say, ‘We both work,’” she said. “Please pass this law. The quality of life we have is awful — it’s just awful.”

Councilman George Cole asked if the council could amend the ordinance to only be effective for one year, at the end of which it would be reviewed by council and determined whether or not it should continue. He also requested that the council post on its website as to what people can expect in terms of enforcement of the ordinance.

“I’m sure you could do that; however, any ordinance that we do pass is always subject to council changing it at any time by introducing a new ordinance to amend it or to terminate it,” explained Moore.

Cole said he believed putting a timeframe on the ordinance could potentially help the ordinance get passed by council.

“I just thought that might be a way to get this over a hump to be more acceptable to the majority of council, because we would look at it for a one-year period and test the effectiveness of it.”

Councilman Vance Phillips motioned that the council defer their vote on the proposed ordinance for one week to allow legal counsel to work on the suggested revision.

The council voted 4 to 1 in favor of deferring the vote, with Deaver opposed.

“I can’t vote for that. I’ve had so many people come to me about this,” she said. “I think it should be a normal bill, like any other bill.”