County Weighs Barking Dog Fines

SNOW HILL – Owners of barking and howling dogs in Worcester County could soon be subject to a citation and fine for not controlling canine noise if a new animal control law passes in May.

The Worcester County Commissioners will consider a law to control barking and howling dogs in the county only at their May 18 meeting.

“You cannot imagine the amount of phone calls and e-mails I received that said thank you so much for addressing this issue,” said Commissioner Linda Busick.

The draft legislation was prompted by a request in March from seven West Ocean City residents who have asked the owner of a chronically barking dog in their neighborhood to remedy the situation, without the problem being corrected. The Sheriff’s Office also had no success with the dog owner.

Repetitive barking does not violate current county noise controls, according to county staff.

The draft law defines illegal canine noise as, “continuous barking or howling shall mean the uninterrupted barking or howling of any one dog or group of dogs for twenty minutes or greater or for three or more periods of time in excess of twenty seconds each in any given hour.”

The draft barking dog law permits dogs to bark or howl at “trespassers or threatening trespassers” on private property, or if the animal is legitimately provoked by humans or other animals, or dangerous situations, according to the draft legislation presented Tuesday.

Hunting dogs, while hunting, and under the control of a human, are also exempt from the law.

County staff considered several model ordinances in place in other jurisdictions before creating the legislation now under consideration.

The draft legislation contains enough leeway to cover local situations, said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

“If you like it, introduce it. If not, I’ll go back to the drawing board,” said Tudor.

Commissioner Judy Boggs said, “You cannot legislate courtesy. You can’t change people’s dispositions by making another law. Is this a wise use of our public safety law?”

People should communicate with one another instead of complaining to authorities, Boggs said.

Mediation has been successful in legal cases in the county, and citizens, suggested Boggs, should try mediation in the case of barking or howling dogs instead.

The county’s law enforcement officers should not be taken away from their legitimate work to deal with barking dogs, said Boggs.

The complaints would not be handled by law enforcement, but by animal control officers, county attorney Sonny Bloxom said.

The first contact with a dog owner after a barking or howling dog complaint would simply be a warning, Bloxom said. The second complaint would trigger a citation and a fine.

“Our folks can use common sense,” said Bloxom. “They’re not going to be out there like storm troopers.”         

Commission President Bud Church supports the law, saying,  “This is something we need to get through.”

“The only way this is going to be handled is if people make a complaint,” said Busick.

Church said he does not expect that the county will receive more than a handful of barking dog complaints.

“We probably won’t have five calls a year,” said Church.