After much debate and delay, Augusta County now has a dog barking ordinance in place for residential neighborhoods. For many years I had received phone calls and complaints about neighbors who would leave their animals chained outside all night and allowing them to bark and howl for hours on end. Many folks spoke with the owners and tried to work this out themselves, and in some cases it worked. I have always encouraged this because it is the best way for disagreeing neighbors to work things out and keep the local government out of it. However, in other, more rare cases, the owners simply ignored the pleas of their neighbors and the barking of their animal. Therefore, after many years of requesting, the Board of Supervisors has put in place a tool for use by those folks who wish for some peace at night.
The new ordinance outlines that a neighbor can collect evidence and present it to the magistrate for the county in order for a summons to be given to the dog owner to appear in court and answer to the charge. If found guilty, the owner will have to pay $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense, and $500 for the third and each there after.
Some folks have asked what is “evidence” that could be used. I have suggested that you set up a video camera to record the noise (in a bedroom, for example), point the lens at the dog in question, hold up a cell phone to the camera to record date and time (must be between 12 midnight and 6 am), and record the incident for at least 30 minutes. Once that is done, you should have enough evidence to present to the magistrate and in court. You should know that you may have to appear in court to recount the event and to testify that the evidence you collected is true and not doctored in any way.
I had been on the fence about this ordinance years ago when it was first brought to me, but after hearing from many I represent about this problem, I looked into it. I found that a dog barking ordinance is actually very common both in surrounding areas and in the Commonwealth of Virginia as a whole for residential areas. I read many of them as examples and found that our ordinance puts more effort on those who wish to file a complaint. The Sheriff’s office pointed out that this would cut down on frivolous calls that deputies would have to handle and allow those who are truly having this problem a remedy through the magistrate.
I also spoke with folks who were opposed to the ordinance. Some work shift work or want their animals to bark when danger is near. I agree with both circumstances. I stated that in the case of barking when danger is near, the owner should investigate the barking and, if nothing is found, bring the animal inside. Those owners who fear that their neighbor may be upset by the barking should speak with them and form a relationship. That way if the dog is barking, it may also alert the neighbor that someone may be prowling or breaking into a shed, etc. Lastly, I stated that those who work shift work would need to work out a schedule with their animal in order to allow restful sleep for their neighbors (remember we are talking between the hours of 12 midnight and 6 am).
It is important to know that this ordinance was not written to take the place of neighbors forming relationships and settling differences. It was written to give those who, in rare cases, are unable to work with an unreasonable owner and preserve the peace in our subdivisions. I am always in favor of less government; however, I would rather see an ordinance in place than a neighbor having to move or taking matters into their own hands against the dog.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at DavidKaraffa@comcast.net. Thank you.
David Karaffa is a member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and represents the Beverley Manor District. A registered nurse, he is the Director of Nursing at Stuarts Draft Retirement Community. He currently serves as Chairman of the Augusta County Service Authority, and sits on the Augusta County Ordinance Committee, Property Committee, and Reassessment Committee. He also is a member of the Blue Ridge Criminal Justice Board and its Mental Health sub-committee, and was previously on the CAPSAW Board, Valley Program for Aging Services Board, and the Staunton Senior Center Advisory Board. David and his wife Katie live in Stuarts Draft and have three daughters.