It’s the season for goodwill and friendship — for some.
But a barking dog can put a strain on neighborly goodwill and hundreds of complaints are made to animal control and city police departments each month.
According to Animal Friends of the Valleys’ Animal Control Supervisor, Officer Middleton, there were nearly 370 new barking dog calls made last month from the six cities covered by the agency.
And this is the lighter season for barking problems, summer being the heavy season.
“Dogs are dogs and they do what they do,” Middleton said. “But we live in a city and the law says we have the right to enjoy our private property without any trespass and noise is a trespass. If the noise comes through the fence, it’s a problem.”
The standard procedure for barking dogs is three visits for repeated calls. On the fourth call, animal control issues a public nuisance petition to the neighborhood. The petition is signed and returned, and then a public nuisance hearing is scheduled at the shelter.
“We try to do it as informally as possible,” Middleton said. “We understand this is a neighborhood and these people have to live near one another.”
Middleton often sees evidence such as video or audio recordings of barking dogs, or barking logs submitted at the hearings.
“If the dog is deemed a public nuisance, they have to wear a bark collar,” she said. “But our goal is not to remove a dog; it’s to educate the owner and solve a problem. We already have hundreds of dogs up for adoption at the shelter.”
If the bark collar doesn’t work, a bark muzzle is tried. If the problem persists, then the dog owner may be summoned to court and the dog may be removed from the home.
Middleton said there are many tips for dog owners with barking problems. Exercise usually helps. For indoor dogs that only bark when the homeowner is away, Middleton suggests leaving a television on in another room so the dog thinks the owner is home.
She also said neighbors should never feed dogs through the fence.
“Some neighbors think they’ll just toss a biscuit over the fence so the dog will stop barking,” she said. “Then we’ve just trained this dog to bark, and then he gets a biscuit.”
Animal Friends of the Valleys serves the cities of Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Temecula, Wildomar and Menifee.
Calls are taken from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. After 5 p.m., calls go to the agency’s 911-officer, but he only responds to emergencies.
The agency does have an answering service and during working hours, the messages are written up and an officer will be dispatched.
Many barking dog issues take place late at night, so city police departments often take noise disturbance calls as well.
“We treat it like any other noise disturbance,” said Lt. Rob Firmes of Murrieta Police Department. “We typically send a car out and sometimes that will fix the problem. But often, the dog owner isn’t home. In that case, we forward the notification to animal control.”
Middleton said the most common response she hears from dog owners who have been reported is: “Why didn’t they just talk to me?”
Talking to neighbors can help solve the problem. Open lines of communication may mean the problem is solved more quickly. And, there may be things that can be done to solve the barking problem even when the owner is away.
“If the dog owner has a reprimand word, neighbors can be told the word and use it as needed,” Middleton said.“I gave my neighbors a fly swatter and they just have to hold it up over the fence and my dogs will get in bed.”
Jennifer Dean is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.