Friday, February 06, 2009

Things that go Bark! in the night

There is little more annoying than being wakened up in the middle of the night, night after night, by the barking of dogs. Whether yapping from a distant hillside or next door neighbor woofs. Nocturnal baying, whining, bellowing and howling are not only unwelcome, they may well be illegal as well.

What is it that possesses otherwise normal human beings to leave their pet Fido outside in the night, where he can be distracted by all sorts of critters that prowl after dark? Raccoons, skunks, deer, teenagers stealthily returning home after curfew, and marauding cats, all can turn man’s best friend into his worst nightmare.

Here are some tips for those of you whose sleep has unraveled due to the insensitivity of neighbors:

First track the offenders down, then:

1. Talk to the neighbor. sometimes they just do not realize their beloved pooches go from darling Dr. Jekyll when they are around to menacing Mr. Hyde in the dark of the night. Are other neighbors affected? Try a petition or maybe an intervention. Be polite, but let the offending dog owner know there are real problems with this behavior.

2. Record the yipping. You’d be surprised how effective this can be when played back over the offender’s answering machine, to convince them, yes, it is their dog making all that racket.

3. Know your local ordinances. Most cities and towns have noise ordinances prohibiting the dog barking that continues for an unreasonable time, or late into the night, usually after 10 PM or so. Present this information in your initial approach.

4. Do call the police. If the friendly methods don’t work, the police will respond to a noise complaint. Sometimes a warning from the boys in blue is all it takes for a recalcitrant dog owner to quiet the pooches down.

5. Have a lawyer write a letter. Sometimes this is the only thing that shows you are serious. There are stiff penalties for this kind of nuisance, including having the dogs removed from their owners’ possession. A lawyer can explain this in terms that may get their attention, if they have blown you and the local constabulary off.

6. Take the scoundrels to court. Yes, Virginia, there is a doggie court. It’s the court of last resort in a neighborhood dispute. Bow Wow! True story. My neighbors and I had been woken up repeatedly by the barking and howling of multiple dogs living up the hill from us. We had left notes, we had left phone messages; the offending pet owner vowed to keep the hounds quiet.

But over and over, he and his family would blithely go off for who knows what entertainment, leaving the canine family outside until the wee hours. Finally, a neighbor down the street had it and took the man to court. The judge said “Fred, you got no alibi; cuz you were somewhere else, your dogs will have to …” no not die, but be quieted. Electric fence, bark collars, or just put the damn things in the house, or take them in the car with you.

Backsliding is often cured with a gentle reminder of what else the judge said, "we don’t want to see you here again, or we will take the dogs away." Tough justice? Maybe, but when you can’t sleep, and you’ve tried all the other neighborly approaches, you may need to fight barking with biting.