Saturday, January 31, 2009
County Attorney's seek to tighten noose on barking dogs
County Attorney's seek to tighten the noose on barking dogs
County attorney's are recommended changes in the wording of Gwinnett's controversial dog barking ordinance which will all but doom that barks in Gwinnett County.
Gwinnett's County Attorney's office has taken a new approach in trying to sell it's latest version of the county's "get tough" approach on dog barking. The new ordinance proposal has moved "nuisance barking" out of section 10-33 Public Nuisance Animals and created an new
section 10-51 "Duty of animal owners to be responsible owners.
Sec 10-51 Duty of animal owners to be responsible owners.
a) It shall be the duty of every owner or custodian of any animal to exercise reasonable care and take all the necessary steps and precautions to protect other people, property, and animals from injuries or damage which might result from their animals's behavior.
Similar to the current ordinance the county defines ordinance violations as "ANY vocalizations which are plainly audible to a person of ordinary hearing ability not located on same property as the animal or animals making such vocalizations for more then fifteen minutes without interruption" or "more then thirty minutes if the vocalization is intermittent."
The new twist is the county solicitor Allison Cauthon's explanation that the county defines intermittent barking to be any "vocalization of any animal or animals for a continuing period of thirty seconds or more on five or more occasions in any thirty minute period."
What this means for a typical owner of three dogs is if those three dogs barked for thirty seconds, stopped and then resumed barking for another thirty seconds the pet owner would be in violation of the ordinance, even if that barking was only dogs playfully chasing down local squirrels. The pet owner could face up to three terms of six months jail time, up to $3,000 in fines and court ordered disposal of all three family dogs even for an innocuous first offense.
There is nothing in this ordinance that would prohibit people from provoking dogs into barking by either making deliberate bursts of noise, rattling a fence or pointing a video camera or cell phone at one's property and filming that outburst as evidence of barking violation. Nor does the ordinance allow dogs to bark or communicate with other animals in near proximity to your property.
Unethical realtors or property owners who hate dogs could simply choose to stalk your property and film a dog's natural defensive tendency of warning of an impending breach of the domain. If your dog stands in the way of making a quick sale in this housing market your pets could simply become collateral damage in a down market.
It was clear as county solicitor who prosecutes these misdemeanor animal cases, Allison Cauthen argued over the concepts of a dog genetically inclined to bark at any person, animal or thing it would view as an intruder. This would include complaintants armed with video camera's seeking to "manufacture" evidence of barking violations to be used in criminal prosecutions.
An unknown person holding and pointing a video camera aimed at a dog should be a reasonable defense that a dog determines a threat is present, yet, our solicitor routinely uses this as evidence to convict.
While Allison claims to have been involved with animal protection issues since she was a small child and that it was this passion of protecting animals formed the very reason she attended law school she fails to understand that dogs use barking as their primary method of communication.
It would be inhumane and cruel to force pet owners, who have fenced yards, to confine their pets in cages for over 23 hours a day in order to be in compliance with the county's barking ordinance.
In an even more disturbing twist the county has thrown out to current law which states "the vocalization does not apply if the vocalization(s) are given as a warning to the presence of an intruder".
That language has been changed to "these time limits do not apply if the vocalizations are given as a warning to the presence of a person trespassing on the property where the animal or animals are located."
In effect, if enacted a pet owner would be in violation if a neighborhood thug menaced or threatened the property was located as long as that thug didn't enter or trespass on the pet owners property.
Since anyone living in a near proximity of the barking dog CAN file a complaint that leads to a citation, criminals will be rejoicing in being able to remove an animal who's tirelessly protects the property and lives of their "family".
Home owners will lose a valuable tool in preventing criminals from launching home invasions. Criminals will be protected with the use of video camera's that can remove obstacles to their criminal future criminal behavior - your dogs.
Once the dogs are gone they are free to replace the video camera with masks and weapons - this law does nothing to prevent home invasions, burglaries or other acts of violence against otherwise law abiding citizens.
The only real winners will be the criminals who prey on our neighborhoods. Once a criminal has gained access to your home often times it is too late. Dogs act as a deterrent to neighborhood crime - something that our county attorney's office seem to overlook in their quest in increasing the conviction rate on dog barking cases. Will our elected officials be equally negligent and over look thr role dogs play in protecting our homes as well?
Under these revised changes community watch programs will change dramatically. The ever vigilant canine would be disposed of, sent to our community kill shelter and disposed of as a reward for protecting the family home. Our new pet free neighborhoods might be silenced by our new found fears.
Barking is a mode of communication that is common in dogs, it may even be the result of human encouragement. Certain breeds have been bred to bark as part of their watchdog or herding duties.
Barking is used to alert or warn others and defend a territory, to seek attention or play, to identify oneself to another dog, and as a response to boredom, excitement, being startled, lonely, anxious, or teased.
Dog owners learn to understand this as a communication between them and their pets. We learn to understand when our dogs want attention or want to play. We also learn to understand when our dogs are warning us of impending threats or fear. A true animal advocate and protector cherishes and respects this as an unconditional bond between humans and their canine friends.
Barking laws in Gwinnett are the only ordinance violation that relies solely on citizen driven complaints that are typically never verified. It remains unclear what role animal control holds in investigating these violations or if an investigation is even required. Even though these charges carry potential jail time jury trials are not allowed under recorder's court rules. Animal owners are denied the same due process rights that are routinely provided thugs and criminals.
The law doesn't allow ANY barking - even if that barking is the result of an effort to train your pet. If enacted, pet owners would face serious obstacles with training a playful pup or a poorly socialized shelter or rescue dog. What effect will these laws have on anyone considering adding a dog from our shelter who might need training or a period of time to adjust. Since the law also allows ALL your dogs to be cited, even if only one or a few are actually barking, pet owners will and should be concerned about adding any dogs in the future.
Also excluded would be pet owners or their children who might want to exercise or play with their dogs in THEIR fenced yards if that play activity included playful barking with five intermittent bursts of thirty seconds or more.
This law is easily manipulated by neighbors who have issues or squabbles that have absolutely nothing to do with the dogs involved. Rather then drawing our neighborhoods together squabbles that lead to the loss of our family pets will instead serve as a catalyst for ripping them apart.
Long time residents who have chosen their homes BECAUSE of the right to responsibly have family pets can easily be manipulated and forced out by unethical realtors and home owners who don't share those values.
Over 60,000 citizens in the un incorporated parts of Gwinnett have a love affair with their family pets. The image of having Fluffy or Fido ripped from the family home is one that will serious damage an already depressed market for the homes we own.
No one wants to live in a community where a family lives in fear - that fear that their family pet could very well be next to be accused of being a "public nuisance". Our community will be judged on how we treat our elderly, our children and our family pets. That is the core values of family values.
Dog barking offenses should be treated like every other noise ordinance on the books. It is disingenuous that a property owner has the right to unlimited access to noise emitting devices not limited to power mowers, leaf blowers and an assortment of other devices while pet owners are forced to all but silence their pets to protect them from court ordered seizure, huge fines and potential jail time simply because they choose to live in and own a dog in Gwinnett.
As pet owners, we are responsible for providing the same protection to our pets as they provide our families, even if our county attorney's office does not share those same values. Pets are not disposable, you do not replace them like some worn out lawnmower an d you do speak out loudly against any government attempt that endangers them.
Advocating for animals involves fairness in our laws that protect our pets from being abused - even if that abuse comes from our judicial system that places unfair expectations on dogs who behave simply as they are supposed to behave.
Contact information for the county attorney's office who are drafting these changes:
Please forward your comments to our elected officials and remind them that your vote includes protecting our family pets. Any vote in support of these changes will be cause not only to lose that vote but our respect as well.
Polite but firm phone calls please.
Gwinnett Board of Commssioners
District 1 Commissioner: Shirley Lassiter 770.822.7001
District 2 Commissioner: Bert Nasuti 770.822.7002
District 3 Commissioner: Mike Beaudreau 770.822.7003
District 4 Commissioner: Kevin Kenerly 770.822.7004
Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council
Gail Laberge Chairperson - Lawrenceville Kennel Club
Dennis Kronenfeld - Feline Issues
Dr.Timothy Montgomery - Gwinnett Municipal Association
Tricia Smith - Gwinnett Extension Service
Gloria Kennedy - Gwinnett Humane Society
Carla Brown - Member at Large
Clara Seals - Shetland Sheepdog Club of Georgia, Inc. Member at Large
Mary Lou Repress - Gwinnett Animal Shelter Director