Pet owners who fail to quiet their canines could be fined between $250 and $1,000 if their dogs bark continuously and disturb the neighbors.
The new fines were approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council as part of a move to designate some quality of life issues as infractions that could be handled administratively, instead of in the courts. The changes to the dog barking regulations were drafted by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and would authorize officers from the City Department of Animal Services to issue citations if an owner fails to control their dog. Owners could face a fine of $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second incident, and $1,000 for a third citation. The new regulations could go into effect as early as December, but Brenda Barnette, general manager of the Department of Animal Services, said it may take a while longer to bring the current system in line with the new regulations.
Barnette said the idea is to create a better system of addressing the problem. Currently, complaints are made to the department, which sends an officer to the location. On the first visit, particularly if the officer does not actually hear or observe the dog barking, a warning is issued to the owner asking them to correct the problem. If a second report is made and the person agrees to make a written complaint, a notice is issued to the dog owner requiring them to appear at a hearing held by the Department of Animal Services. Barnette said there is a captain with the department’s enforcement bureau whose full-time job is to hold the hearings, which take place at the department’s administrative headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. She said although some people record or videotape a dog barking, an officer has to document the problem, and the department goes by a specific timeline of whether the dog was barking continuously for 10 minutes, or intermittently over a 30 minute period. Barnette added that the usual course of action is to require the dog owner to remedy the problem, and a fine is only imposed if future complaints are made. Barnette said she could think of only one instance where an owner has been fined during the past 14 months that she has been in charge of the department, and that was because the owner refused to do anything about the problem.
“We have no motivation to have any more animals in the shelters and have any more animals euthanized, so we tend to work with the owners,” Barnette said. “From what I have seen, most of the time, people go off to work and put the dog in the yard, and then it barks and disturbs the neighbors. Usually they are willing to work with us on preventing the problem.”
Under the new system, a dog owner who receives a citation can either pay the fine and avoid the hearing, or fight the allegations in front of the hearing officer, much like a traffic citation. The hearing officer will levy a $250 fine on the first offense if the allegations are found to be true. After three offenses, the Department of Animal Services could also have the dog’s license suspended, or could confiscate the dog.
City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, who has proposed a similar administrative code enforcement system for quality of life crimes such as holding loud parties and drinking in public, said although he did not initiate the barking dog regulations, he believes it will be a better solution to the problem.
“The Administrative Code Enforcement program is still in the city process, but the barking dog element will give us an idea of how this will work,” Koretz said. Some people in the local community praised the new fines, including Beverly Grove resident Irvin Shiffman, who said he lives next door to a house where a dog barks continuously during the day when the owners are not home.
“He just barks and barks for no reason. It’s extremely annoying to me and my family,” Shiffman said. “I think if they actually get cited, even for the minimal amount, it would get their attention.”
Jeff Jacobberger, vice chair of the Mid-City West Community Council, added that although the council has not addressed the issue of barking dogs, he knows first hand how disturbing it can be. Jacobberger said he previously had a problem with a barking dog at his residence in the Fairfax District.
“I used to have a neighbor who would tie the dog up right next to my bedroom window. We went through the process of having the [dog’s] license taken away, but it took well over a year to get through the process,” Jacobberger added. “Actually getting anything done was a long process and a burden.”
Some other members of the local community added that although a barking dog can be an issue, there are usually situations involving the owner that are at the heart of the problem.
“If a person really cares about a dog, they will work on the issues,” said Aileen McCormack, owner of Poppy Pets. “If the dog is harassing a neighbor, or if they are breaking the law, then maybe it’s time to do something else about the dog. I don’t think a fine would be the answer, that should be a last resort. You have to address the basic cause of the problem, and that could be the way the dog is being treated.”
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