Letter to the Editor: Actions On Animal Ordinance Short-Sighted And Harmful To Community

White Rock
Tuesday night, Sept. 30, the Los Alamos County Council approved changes to the existing Animal Code.
One of the changes will have adverse consequences on anyone else whose neighbors allow their dogs to bark excessively. The existing ordinance had a section that stated that “no person shall own or keep any animal, licensed or not, which by barking or making of other noises causes annoyance to the neighborhood or to passersby … “. The proposed change to this section allowed dogs to bark “continuously for more than 10 minutes or intermittently for more than 30 minutes, either day or night” before the barking is deemed an annoyance.
I attended the meeting to speak during Public Comment. I wanted Council to know that listening to someone’s dog bark continuously for more than 10 minutes or intermittently for more than 30 minutes is like having someone thump you on the head every few seconds. It is torture, not mere annoyance. 
Also, when my neighbor’s dog is let out at 5:30 in the morning to do business and then barks to be let back in, I am jerked out of a sound sleep an hour before my usual wakeup time. Having that experience day after day is detrimental to one’s health no matter how long the barking lasts.
I asked Council to leave the proposed time-duration change out of the existing ordinance for two reasons:
  • First, adding time limits takes the responsibility for nuisance barking away from the dog owner and places it on those who have to endure the nuisance to prove how long the barking has persisted; and
  • Second, Animal Control has been effective under the existing ordinance in contacting the owners and getting compliance.
I seem to have been the only non-dog owner to speak during Public Comments. Other speakers did not want the time limits added because they did not think 10 minutes was enough time to let their dogs bark before it is annoying to neighbors. Council appeared to be swayed by a speaker who said that the time limits could be used by vindictive neighbors to harass dog owners.  
Most dog owners are responsible people who understand that their and their pets’ actions have consequences to their neighbors and the public at large. The purpose of the Ordinance is to protect pets, neighbors and the public at large from the irresponsible pet owners whose pets are a nuisance. Council missed this distinction entirely, and in the end, took out the “intermittently for more than 30 minutes” portion of the proposed change because they felt it was too vague, and unanimously approved allowing dogs to bark for more than 10 minutes before Animal Control could be called.  
The stakeholders behind the changes to the Animal Code were Friends of the Shelter and Animal Control. An Animal Control staffer said that, after a complaint, they will come to the neighborhood and listen to the barking to determine if it complies with the ordinance. So, if your neighbor’s dog barks for only 9 minutes at a time, I guess you are just out of luck. A better method of enforcing nuisance barking is used in other jurisdictions. For instance, if a complaint is called in, Animal Control contacts the owner to alert them that their dog is causing a nuisance. If the nuisance continues unabated after that, and neighbors from two different addresses complain, the owner is cited. Enforcement methods can become more stringent if the owner fails to comply. This puts the responsibility where it belongs–on the owner of the offending animal.
The proposed changes were published in the Los Alamos Monitor classified section, the minimum requirement for public notice. Had this been more widely publicized, I believe there would have been much more representation from people aggrieved by nuisance barking, who are also stakeholders in this matter. There probably also would have been many better suggestions for how to fairly deal with this problem. 
Irresponsible pet ownership leads to unhappy, unfriendly neighbors. Council’s actions on this Ordinance were short-sighted and harmful to the community. Anyone who would dismiss my opinion because I don’t have a dog should know that I have owned and loved many dogs and think a well-behaved dog is a wonderful addition to any home. This was not about well-behaved dogs.