By Susan Schaben
Certainly many of us have owned a barking dog, been annoyed by one, or had a neighbor or friend who was annoyed by someone’s barking dog. But while most of us will attempt to resolve the problem amicably, others complain to animal control or worse: resort to violence.
Indeed, some people can be more vicious than dogs. In March, 2011, a 29-year-old man was shot and killed in northwest Atlanta during an argument about a barking dog. Two suspects, both 33, later turned themselves into police and were charged with murder.
Four years ago, there was a 26-year-old Australian woman who was found guilty of fatally stabbing a neighbor, Joseph Durrant, 47, because he complained about her barking dog in January 2007.
Sometimes these people will take out their frustrations on the dog. In June 2011, a Concord, California woman’s dogs died after being fed poisoned meatballs by a disgruntled neighbor who had previously sent her a year’s worth of unsigned threatening letters complaining about the barking dogs. The 72-year-old neighbor is also suspected in the poison death of another neighbor’s dog in 2003.
In March, 2003, a Norfolk, Virginia man shot and killed his neighbor’s black Labrador because it was barking. He fled, but was later caught by police and sentenced in August 2010 to five years behind bars.
Back in 1993, a Fullerton man Robert Steven Sakall, 39, killed a neighbor’s Golden Retriever by taping its muzzle because he said the animal’s barking gave him painful headaches and he wanted to make it stop. The dog was unable to pant and died as a result.
Sakall plead no contest and was sentenced to 250 hours community service and three years probation for the act. He also had to pay $500 restitution to the family and $25 a week for dog food to AIDS Services Foundation to support its patient’s dogs.
Craig Mixon found a better solution to deal with annoying neighbor’s dogs. He was so sick of the barking dogs in his Northern California neighborhood that he started a Web site, barkingdogs.net and later dogscience.org, to offer resources for others who wanted to put an end to the noise.
“I did everything possible,” he told the New York Times in a September 9, 2011 article. “I talked to the neighbors. I’m a master dog trainer, so I offered to train the dogs. I gathered data for months on end. Nothing worked.”
Mixon’s website offers advice for those plagued by barking dogs as well as news stories and legal remedies.
Rules and regulations governing barking dogs are enacted by cities and counties.
What rights do dog owners and those who live next to them have?
Orange County, for example, requires incessant barking for 30 minutes or more in any 24-hour period or intermittent barking for 60 minutes or more during any 24-hour period.
In OC, an enforcement officer may issue a citation for a barking dog violation based on a complaint signed under penalty of perjury by a member of the community who is disturbed by the barking dog.
In Los Angeles, the City Council voted in November to amend the city’s barking law by imposing fines on the owners of dogs that continuously bark including unlicensed dogs.
Under California Penal Code 373A and L.A. County Code Sec. 10.40.065, any pet owner or custodian who allows a dog to bark continuously or for an extended period of time in a manner that annoys the neighbors and disturbs the peace of the neighborhood may be guilty of allowing a public nuisance and punishable by a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1000 and/or six months in jail.
Sometimes neighbors chose to take their grievance to the courts. In Martorano v. Fagan 2007 Cal. App. Malibu neighbors engaged in a bitter dispute that started over a barking dog, but escalated into a toxic war.
The dispute began in October 2005 when psychiatrist Dr. David Martorano decided he was fed up with his neighbor’s barking dog and made a complaint to him. The psychiatrist complained that the dog’s nonstop barking woke him up and disturbed his fiancé who worked from a home office.
Martorano’s neighbor, an attorney and real estate broker named Barry Fagan, got upset about the complaint and told him was going to enjoy making his life “very unpleasant.” Next, the psychiatrist wrote a letter to Fagan in a second attempt at a peaceful resolution with ideas of how to stop the dog from barking. Nothing happened.
Then the doctor wrote to the animal control agency and obtained a dog bark suppressor which they placed on their property.The war was just beginning.Someone cut the wire to the bark suppressor in the doctor’s yard.
Next, Fagan began playing the “elevator music” between 4 and 15 hours a day continuously from a small boom box faced toward the doctor’s house in his backyard. Fagan had the music playing the same CD over and over even when he wasn’t home listening to it.
Sheriff’s investigating the noise complaints said the noise level was about a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. The fight between the neighbors escalated to death threats, name calling, and public humiliation as Fagan accused the doctor of being a pedophile because he videotaped the attorney’s backyard to obtain evidence of the noise issues. The doctor eventually obtained a temporary restraining order against the attorney.
Next, the attorney installed a drum set outside in his backyard for his young boys to learn how to pay them. The doctor filed a lawsuit against the attorney complaining of anxiety, distress and insomnia.
The court imposed an injunction on Fagan requiring him to stay at least 20 feet away from Martorano and his family, enjoined him from harassing and threatening them and destroying their personal property. The court also placed various restrictions on Fagan’s use of sound producing devices at his residence.