This page is part of Section Eight:|
the Cause section of barkingdogs.net
The Root Cause of the Barking Epidemic, and the Source of All of Our Dog Related Problems
This article builds on The barking laws, law enforcement, and the courts, and will be more meaningful and easier to follow if you read that section first.
The Animal Control System
Defining the System
The victims of barking abuse tend to see their particular ordeal as an isolated problem that is rooted locally, in the behavior of their neighbor or their neighbor's dog. But in truth, your dog-related problems exist as a direct result of bad decisions made by those in authority who, over time, pieced together our current animal control system.
When I speak of the animal control system, I don't mean your local animal control department. Rather, I'm referring to the network of government officials, agencies, legislators, and lobbyists for dog-related businesses, who together determine the role that dogs play in our society, and decree the rights and responsibilities of dog owners, as well as the consequences that will befall those who fail to meet their obligations. Officially, there is no such thing as the animal control system, but it is most certainly there, and the shortcomings of our legal system are a key ingredient in its failure.
Criminal Law - Failing On Three Levels
When it comes to barking dogs, the legal system has failed. Just stroll the sidewalk on a warm summer day and listen to the clamor, or try to sleep with your window open on a hot night, and you'll see what I mean.
In thirty years of adulthood, I have lived in more than twenty houses located in eight jurisdictions. In the great majority of those places there was a barking dog nearby that caused us a significant measure of inconvenience. In several of those locations the barking was so outrageous that everything in our lives came to revolve around the habits of the neighbor's dog. Yet in all that time I was never able to resolve a problem with an irresponsible dog owner by going through the legal system. Never. Not a single time. And only once have I ever met anyone who claimed to have been able to do so, which is a telling statistic when you take into account the number of people with whom I have discussed this subject.
The legal system cannot rein in an irresponsible or malicious dog owner unless three things are in place:
In Santa Rosa, California, where I currently live, the city won't act unless three neighbors are willing to jump through hoops, but the neighbors won't jump. So there is no hope of help from the criminal law, which is so bad that it is all but unworkable.
Even if you have a good law in place, it doesn't do a bit of good unless you have available law dogs who are willing to enforce it. A case in point: In Maricopa County, Arizona, south of Carefree, what used to be a quiet desert community is now awash day and night with the sound of five Pit Bull Terriers and three other nondescript dogs who "bellow" endlessly. The dogs belong to a young man the people in the neighborhood describe as a "loose cannon" who "stares and tries to intimidate people."
For the people of the neighborhood, the noise has reached the level where their every activity must be modified to accommodate the limitations placed on them by the unrelenting torrent of noise flooding through their desert homes. As one of the neighbors said, "It's just a terrible situation," but terrible is not a strong enough word to describe the hell those people are enduring. Unless you've been through it yourself, you have no idea.
The people of the community called the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which provided the usual assistance you get in those kinds of situations. They didn't do a thing, which left the victims on their own with a resultant escalation of the crisis that led to several people acquiring firearms. "It's going to get pretty bad real soon," said one resident. "This was a nice quiet neighborhood. Now we're armed to the teeth like we're in some kind of war."
The sheriff's deputy said that, when he came out, the owner agreed to move the dogs from one side of his yard to the other side of his yard. The deputy thought that was enough of a good faith effort so he didn't write the guy a ticket. A spokesman for the sheriff's department said the dog's owner had been "more accommodating than other owners of barking dogs." Please, go back and reread the last sentence. Think about the implications of that statement. The officer said a mouthful.
Even if your home town has a good anti-barking law and police officers who are Johnny on the spot and ready to write tickets, it still doesn't mean a thing unless the local court is stocked with judges who are ready to crack down. Unfortunately, on the judicial level, the system more often than not falls way short in that regard as well.
In Oshawa, Ontario, the city council has received hundreds of complaints about barking dogs. Shift workers report they can't sleep at "any hour of the day or night" because of the endless barking. Imagine what it's like to come home wiped out from a day of factory work only to lie awake all night tormented by the staccato outbursts of nearby canines. Think what it's like at sunup having to drag yourself out of bed exhausted for a day of physical labor that you know will be capped off with yet another sleepless night.
Unfortunately, the Oshawa city council has announced that, henceforth, they will no longer even attempt to take action against the owners of barking dogs because the court returns so few convictions that the city fathers have decided it is "futile" to even try. It may be just as well because, even when fines are levied, they are usually so minimal they have no impact on the behavior of the offenders.
Think about this: Imagine you live near a habitually barking hound. There are four people in your family and, on average, each of you loses three hours of sleep each night to the neighbor's barking dog. That means that in one year's time each of you will lose 1,095 hours of sleep for a cumulative family sleep deficit of 4,380 hours on the year.
Now imagine that, miraculously, you manage to get the powers that be to come out and cite the dog owner. Even though the dog continues to bark every day, the city won't come back and cite the owner every day. Once the perpetrator has been issued a citation then, as far as the city is concerned, the case is closed until the matter goes to court and it can easily take a year before the court hears the case. That means that every day and every night of that entire year your family has to put up with this astoundingly stressful disruption of their lives.
Finally, after a year, the case goes to court and the judge fines the culprit $50.00. That means for every hour the irresponsible behavior of your neighbor kept a member of your household awake, he was forced to pay a fine of just a little over one penny. And you don't even get the penny. All you get is another year of victimization because, after the fine is paid, there's very little chance that that will be the end of it. You will almost certainly find that the dog will remain on the property and the barking will continue.
In Santa Rosa, if you are one of the rare individuals who is lucky enough to finally, actually get a judgment against a dog owner, you'll find the court will allow the culprit up to 30 days to quiet the animal. Let's see, if we calculate a night's sleep at eight hours, then, in thirty days, you can lose 240 hours of sleep. But, apparently, the city fathers were worried that it might inconvenience the perpetrators if they were required to stop committing the crime any sooner than that.
It couldn't be more apparent that what we have now is a system geared to harassing and hamstringing the victims, as opposed to a legal system dedicated to solving the problem by cracking down on the perpetrators.
An Emergency Situation
Anyone who believes frequent barking is properly classified as a "nuisance" must also believe that cancer is an inconvenience. When the essential character of your existence is transformed and the quality of your life is slashed, that is not a "nuisance." That is a full-blown crisis. It is an emergency that warrants immediate action.
What we need are anti-barking ordinances that can always be immediately enforced. What we have instead is a legal system that usually doesn't work at all and, on those occasions that it does bring about some result, it virtually never does so in a timely fashion. To make things worse, the current system often endangers those it is supposed to protect.
Propelling the Victim Into Harm's Way
The Multiple-Household laws, that were supposedly written to deter chronic barking, actually mandate that, before law enforcement will even consider intervening, the victimized neighbor must first interact with and take actions against the dog owner that are all but certain to engender antagonisms. Imagine the plight of an elderly woman awash in an ocean of noise from a yard full of guard dogs belonging to a menacing looking young neighbor known to use methamphetamine and to have served prison time for violent behavior. Do you really think she is going to march over to his house, as the multiple-household laws mandate, demand her right to the quiet enjoyment of her property and then organize the neighborhood in a legal crusade against him? How about someone in desperate need of quiet who is too sick to get out of bed? How about the cautious, the cowardly, those with dependents, and others who just have too much to lose to cross someone they know may be dangerous? How are they supposed to secure a quiet environment under the three-household laws?
It needs to be recognized that talking to someone about their barking dog is not a pleasant experience. It's not like chatting with the cashier in the check-out line at the grocery store. After all, if the owner was inclined to bark train his dog, he would have done that already. When you confront your neighbor, you are going where you're not wanted to give someone a message they don't want to hear. It is upsetting under the best of circumstances and most people simply don't have the assertiveness or the verbal skills necessary to chat up the neighbor and wade through a million sorry excuses for why the dog can't possibly be trained. Many people are just too small, frail, old, sick, intimidated or vulnerable, to put themselves in the way of potential harm. To saddle the victims with a legal requirement that says that they must square off with the perpetrator in that fashion, is to victimize them a second time, and it places upon them an outrageous burden.
It is interesting to note that, while local government is telling us it is safe for us to square off with our neighbor over his dog, the National Animal Control Association (a nation-wide affiliation of animal control officers) is warning of increasing violence against its members, and advising animal control officers as to how they can go about acquiring bulletproof vests.
Absolving Those Responsible of All Responsibility
Imagine that you bought a high performance car with a mega-souped-up racing engine designed for use on a professional raceway. You brought the car home and, even though you lacked the training necessary to handle an automobile of that caliber, you took it out on a residential street where you lost control and crashed into a group of pedestrians. Would it be your fault? Would you be responsible for the grief caused to those you injured?
Of course you would! It was your decision to buy a car. You selected one you couldn't handle. You neglected to secure the necessary training. You brought it into a residential neighborhood. You took it out where people could be injured by it and you lost control of it. Clearly that's 100 percent your fault.
Now compare that situation to the events occurring south of Carefree. The young man made a decision to bring a dog onto the property. Then he selected not one, but many dogs of a breed known to bark at the drop of a hat, a breed he couldn't handle. Then, without first securing the training he needed to control the animals, he brought them into a residential neighborhood where people would be sure to suffer in the event they barked. Then he lost control of them (or maliciously allowed them to bark) which caused injury to his neighbors. Clearly he is to blame. It is farcical to bring a barking dog that you can't control into a residential area and then contend that it is not your fault that the neighborhood is filled with the sound of the dog barking. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see through that one. Yet the police held him blameless and declined to penalize him in any way.
There's a reason why no reputable psychologist will do therapy with a young child without also treating the parents. That's because we know that the behavior of children is a reflection of how the contingencies are arranged by their guardians, and that is even more true of the behavior of the family dog.
You acquired the dog and now you control every aspect of his life. You could train him or have him trained. You could put an Electronic collar on him. You could take him inside. You could remove him from the property or you could give him a decent life where he has better things to do than disturb the neighbors. If he's on your property and he's barking, that's your doing. That's your fault.
Why then is there such tremendous reluctance on the part of the criminal justice system to hold dog owners accountable for the harm caused by their irresponsible behavior?
Doing the Crime Without Doing No Time
When a person acquires a dog, a cost is incurred and someone has to pay. Either the dog's owner is going to have to pay by spending the time, money and effort that are part and parcel of responsible pet ownership, or the neighbors are going to have to pay as they endure the trauma that is part and parcel of living near an irresponsible dog owner.
I have neighbors who go on a week-long vacation every summer. Rather than pay the cost of kenneling their untrained dogs, they leave them at home unattended. They arrange for someone to come over and feed them during the day and check on them from time to time, but there is no one present to correct them when they bark. And they bark at everything they see. During the week the neighbors are away, I must choose between sleeping on the kitchen floor (the only place in the house where the dogs can't be heard) or going to a hotel for the night. The dog's owners know the harm they cause by refusing to kennel their dogs, but they also know that with the legal system as it is, there is no way anyone can hold them accountable.
Has it occurred to you that the criminal justice system seems to have been intentionally structured to give a free ride to irresponsible dog owners? Think about what happens when you complain to the authorities about a barking dog. Even if the owner admits the dog is barking, in most places, the system requires you to go door to door asking people to write letters of complaint while no demands are made on the owner of the barking dog. How about if we turn that around and instead require the dog's owner to obtain letters from everyone in the neighborhood saying either they don't hear the barking or they find the barking agreeable. Or would that be wrong for us to inconvenience the people who are causing the problem?
After you've spent a little time reading through this webiste, you'll realize that it's easy to bring a barking dog under control.
Question: But that being the case, why then is there so much barking?
Answer: The barking epidemic was created by our local legislators, who passed laws, ostensibly intended to control barking that, instead, made it inevitable that the barking crisis would occur. The problem continues because of the laws they passed, in combination with the actions of our local prosecutors and judges, and the policies of our local law enforcement agencies.
Acquiring a Clown Suit
If you are successful in getting an irresponsible dog owner into criminal court, the local prosecutor is the one who, supposedly, will carry the ball and persuade the judge to take effective action. When you talk to a prosecutor about the chronic barking problem in his area, you can pretty much count on him telling you that the legal system works great in his jurisdiction. Most of the ones I've spoken with seem to subscribe to that point of view. I've come to think of it as the see-no-evil approach to barking management, and it makes me wish they would pull their heads out of the sand, or wherever it is they have them.
When you're up to your knees in saltwater, arguing that the boat isn't leaking just makes you look like a fool. And when there are barking dogs everywhere, contending that the current system is functioning effectively projects a similar persona (i.e. purchase a clown suit as soon as possible). If the system was working, we wouldn't be in the midst of an ongoing barking epidemic. The fact that we are, proves that the current system is not getting the job done.
When you point out to a prosecutor that his multiple-household law is all but unworkable, you can bet he'll leap to the defense of that abominable ordinance. He'll tell you in indignant tones that he knows the system works because he sees people all the time who were able to jump the hoops and take action against an irresponsible dog owner in criminal court. What they never seem to realize is that many more people are failed by the multiple-household system than are served by it. People working in the system are under the impression it functions effectively because they are surrounded by the relatively small number of people who were fortunate enough and aggressive enough to work through it. They don't meet the countless others who were turned away before they could get that far because the system mandated that, before they would be afforded legal protection, they first had to do what, for them, was impossible.
When you talk to your local prosecutor, he's going to tell you that he sees people "everyday" who are able to negotiate the multiple-household system, and that's probably true. But I'd like to point out that somebody wins the lottery everyday, too. That doesn't mean the rest of us are going to be able to do it.
The consecutive disruption laws don't work at all and, at best, the multiple-household laws and other victim-driven ordinances provide some help to some people, sometimes, after a lengthy delay. We need a barking management system that provides relief to everyone all the time, not just the lucky, or the courageous, or the incredibly persistent.
So what percentage of people suffering with a frequent barking situation are able to successfully resolve the problem through the criminal justice system? I don't know. And it appears that the city of Santa Rosa doesn't want to know, and you can bet they're not leaning over backwards to get that information in your town either.
As with most jurisdictions, when you call the city of Santa Rosa with a complaint about a barking dog, they respond by sending you a letter detailing the many obstacles you will be required to overcome if you continue to insist that the problem be resolved. The authorities don't call you back later to ask if you were able to meet the system's requirements and get the problem cleared up. Because they have no follow-up, they have no idea how many people give up and move away or simply resign themselves to living with the noise. Or how many victims never called in the first place because word is out that notifying the authorities of a barking problem is an unproductive endeavor. The point is, the city has no idea how frequently the system fails, or the extent to which the victims may or may not be served by the system that, supposedly, was designed to protect them.
An Appalling Pattern of Government Irresponsibility
Throughout the nation, the barking problem is caused by an appalling pattern of irresponsible behavior on the part of government. We see it in the way they shirk their duty to craft and enforce workable anti-barking regulations and instead, saddle the victims of barking abuse with the chore of initiating and driving forward any legal action, if there is to be any legal action.
We see it again in their failure to educate the public about dogs and acceptable standards of canine socialization. Most reprehensibly, we see it in their failure to devise adequate licensing procedures for dogs and dog owners.
Maybe you are under the impression that government requires potential dog owners to actually know something about dogs before getting one. Or maybe you think there is a law in place that requires perspective dog owners to commit to caring for and properly socializing the animal before they are issued a license. If so, you are confusing what is with what should be.
Getting a dog license is a pro forma affair open to any fool with a few dollars to pay the fee. The city does not screen applicants nor does it offer them any training or establish for them a code of conduct specifying the obligations of those who take on the responsibility of dog ownership. The potential licensee need not even be familiar with the local dog laws, much less make a commitment to obeying them. Even a horse's ass is allowed to get a dog. No knowledge of canines or commitment to train, socialize, or care for the dog is required.
And you can see the product of those policies. Of the seven to eight million dogs that pass through the nation's system of animal shelters each year, 85 percent of them are there because of behavioral problems. That's a telling number, because behavioral problems in dogs are created by the way their humans interact with them and arrange their situations.
Clearly then, millions of people are acquiring dogs who lack the knowledge, skills, resources, or commitment necessary to properly socialize and care for the animals. We see the result not only in the wholesale slaughter of dogs in the overactive death chambers of our overflowing animal shelters, but in the chronic barking epidemic, and in the almost five million Americans bitten every year by dogs that are owned by people who lack the knowledge and/or the commitment necessary to control them.
When local government is irresponsible in its method of licensing dogs, and in its failure to license dog owners, it sets the stage for irresponsible behavior on the part of many of its dog owning citizens. In so doing, government has created both the barking and biting epidemics, and condemned tens of millions of dogs to death, or to lives of terrible suffering.
An Ethic of Irresponsibility
A while back I spoke with one of the city-employed attorneys who handles the barking dog court cases for the City of Santa Rosa. He grew agitated when I pointed out that the city's three-household law is worthless, and he took exception to my assertion that, instead of harassing the victims, government should be proactively pursuing an energetic program of barking dog abatement. That prompted him to critique my personality before he added in irritation, "You're asking the city to proceed under that section" (the three household ordinance). "You're asking the city to do the work for the citizens."
"Yes, that's it!" I replied. "That's what I'm asking." What a concept -- the government doing the work of the people! "That's what government should be doing," I said, "and by not doing it, the city is behaving irresponsibly."
"The city of Santa Rosa is not responsible for taking action against the owners of barking dogs," he said.
"That's my point exactly. The city is not responsible for that and it should be. Refusing to take responsibility for that which one should be responsible, is by definition, irresponsible behavior. So by making victimized citizens responsible for curbing the behavior of their abusive neighbors, the city is behaving irresponsibly."
It is not the job of the private citizen to regulate the behavior of his neighbor. We aren't required to chase down speeding motorists or write tickets to other citizens when they park improperly. Why should it fall to us to make a neighboring dog owner behave responsibly? Forcing people to behave in a responsible manner is the purview of government, not the private individual.
It is an absurd situation in which those in authority refuse to take responsibility, while the victims, who are forced to take responsibility, have no authority.
At that point, the legal eagle shifted gears by discounting the significance of having a slow and usually unworkable criminal law on the books, and assured me justice was still well served because the citizens could solve their barking problems "by proceeding in civil court, small claims and otherwise."
A Sure Indication that the Criminal Law has Failed
There is something seriously wrong with the system when a citizen's only option for settling a criminal matter is to go through the civil courts. But in general, that does not seem to have occurred to the movers and shakers of the legal system. In an attempt to illustrate how well the system worked, the attorney from the Santa Rosa D.A.'s office told me with pride that people are filing barking dog cases in the Sonoma County small claims court "everyday." He didn't seem to grasp that that's not something to brag about. It is a disgrace, because it indicates that there are a great many local residents suffering with intractable barking problems, which brings discredit to the city and the system that created the licensing procedures that allowed this widespread problem to develop.
Beyond that, though, a steady stream of barking dog cases being processed by the civil court is the ultimate indicator that the criminal law has failed. It doesn't prove that the system is working. On the contrary, it proves that it has broken down. After all, if the only way you could get a thief to stop breaking into your house was to sue him in civil court at some date in the distant future, you wouldn't speak with pride of how well the system dealt with burglars.
It's pretty clear, then, if the criminal law worked, we wouldn't have all these people filing barking dog cases in civil court, and we certainly wouldn't see so many lawsuits progressing all the way to trial.
Above all, remember this about the civil court as a remedy for barking abuse: At best, it allows some of us to eventually receive some compensation for our suffering, but it doesn't protect us from abuse, and it doesn't prevent us from being victimized. It certainly is not an acceptable substitute for an effective, immediately enforceable criminal law.
A Reactive/Back-Loaded System
In my younger years, I lived in a house that had no screen door on the front entrance. Much to my frustration, I shared the place with a guy who was forever leaving the door open. If he was unloading groceries, going to get something from the car, or dropping something off next door, he'd leave it open while he was gone. Or he'd stand inside the house, with the door wide open, having a long conversation with someone standing on the porch. Why not invite them in, or go out and talk to them on the porch? Why stand there with the door open for twenty minutes?
Each time he did it he'd save the four or five seconds it would have taken to close the door. Then, for the rest of the day, I would spend an enormous amount of time and energy stalking mosquitoes, swatting flies, poisoning roaches and trapping mice.
There's a moral to the story, which is this: It is infinitely easier to avoid a problem than it is to correct it after it develops. Any firefighter will tell you it's more cost effective to prevent a fire than to put one out. That's so obvious any fool can see it.
Nonetheless, the United States has a back-loaded dog management system. That is to say, the system is structured so that absolutely no attempt is made to avoid dog-related problems before they develop. All the resources of government are directed to the amelioration of problems after they occur.
To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a single jurisdiction in the entire nation that screens potential dog licensees to weed out unfit owners. No government official says to the potential owner, "Before you take this Pit Bull for a walk past the elementary school, you're going to have to prove that you can control the dog." No one says, "Before you chain this Beagle out in your front yard, you're going to have to satisfy us that he will be afforded a high quality of life. And before the dog is ever allowed to set foot on your property, you're going to have to guarantee us that he will not bark and disturb the neighbors."
Currently, there is no specified code of conduct to which a potential dog owner must agree to adhere. And there is no screening, and there is no mandatory training. In the eyes of the current animal control system, you can never be too ignorant, too irresponsible or too belligerent to own a dog.
Who is served by a purely reactive system? Not the general population of humans. Many of us can no longer work, rest, sleep or relax in our own homes due to chronic barking. And statistics show that most of us have suffered at least one dog bite before we even make it to junior high. Certainly the canine population does not benefit from that type of system. As a result of the back-loading policy, dogs are neglected, mistreated, and slaughtered by the oven-full, millions of them every year.
A proactive system that emphasized screening, training, and the exclusionary licensing of potential dog owners, would immeasurably relieve the suffering.
Devastated Dogs & the Public Health of Humans
The current dog licensing system allows absolutely anyone to acquire a canine, regardless of their fitness for the formidable task of socializing, caring for and supervising a dog. The result of allowing unfit people to acquire dogs has been to devastate the canine population. Every year our animal shelters put to death something in the neighborhood of three million dogs. Dogs that must die because government allowed them to be acquired by people who were not equal to the responsibilities of ownership. Averaged-out, that comes to a rate of 342 dogs being killed every hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the week, every week of the year. But you don't need any statistics to know that the canine population is in torment. Just listen to the number of dogs crying out in misery within earshot of your house.
However, dogs aren't the only ones suffering the effects of this atrocious system. Both the barking and the biting epidemics exist because people who are unfit for dog ownership are, nonetheless, permitted to acquire animals.
From a public health perspective, it has proven to be a disastrous way to manage the canine population. Roughly five million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Around 800,000 of those injuries are serious enough to require medical attention and 5,000 of those are so severe as to require hospitalization. On average, 18 of our countrymen are mauled to death by canines each year. As a society, dog bites cost us $1 billion dollars a year in medical expenses and liability claims, and another $310 million is eaten up yearly by insurance payouts. Furthermore, dog attacks are the leading cause of traumatic injury throughout the general population, according to the New England Journal of medicine, and they are the leading health problem among children, who are the most frequent victims of such encounters. And it's getting worse. The number of dog bites is increasing faster than the number of dogs. And it is happening because there is no screening component to our industry-oriented, back-loaded system.
The Increasing Exclusion of Canines From the Public Life of Humans
I picked up the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back and read that Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old San Francisco woman, was mauled to death in the hallway, just outside her apartment, in the upscale building where she lived. As the attack began, one of the dogs was leashed and the other was standing in the doorway of his owner's apartment. But with a combined weight of 233 pounds, they simply dragged their owner behind them down the hallway until they got to where the victim stood, and then ignored her attempts to restrain them as they slaughtered Diane. The male dog was so large that one of the animal control officers who responded to the scene would later report that the noose on the come along (the control pole carried by the ACO) would barely fit over the dog's head.
The animals continued the attack for five minutes. One tore at Diane's clothes while the other delivered deep wounds to her body. According to the Chronicle, "Police and paramedics found the woman lying in blood, with bloody handprints covering the walls. Bits of clothing littered the floor, and a blood-soaked green nylon leash was lying nearby." The onslaught was so ferocious that the coroner reported that chunks of the victim were missing, and said it was easier to say where she wasn't bitten than where she was.
That night on the news, we heard reports that, even before the attack, the people of the neighborhood feared the dogs, nicknaming them the "dogs of death." In fact, one of the dogs was named Bane, which is defined as: "Killer, slayer, or a source of death, harm or ruin." The dogs were known to have killed sheep, chickens, and cats and one of them had bitten the victim in an earlier incident. One veterinarian reported that he had warned the owners that the dogs were dangerous, calling them "ticking time bombs."
My wife observed, "The owners of the dogs must be devastated. Think how bad you'd feel if you ignored the warnings about your dogs and then they killed somebody like that."
But I knew that population better than she did, and I told her, "I guarantee you that those people don't feel bad about it at all. I can't tell you the exact details of how they have the thing rationalized. But I'm sure they view themselves as being altogether innocent and believe that the woman killed by their dogs is the one responsible for all this."
I spoke with great certainty because I knew it was a pretty good bet. When you're dealing with a profoundly obstinate dog owner, you almost always encounter that perspective: "I'm the real victim here, and the one who is complaining about the behavior of my dog is the one who is victimizing me."
It doesn't matter how outlandish or farfetched they have to get. One way or another the irresponsible owner is going to turn it around to some absurd scenario in which, by insisting that they take responsibility for their dog, you are supposedly victimizing them. I knew the dog owners would feel that way, but I never dreamed they'd come right out and say it in public in a case as high profile as the mauling of Diane Whipple. But they did!
The next day the dog owners released a statement implying that the dog attack might have been provoked by the victim who may have triggered aggressive behavior in the animals by wearing perfume or taking steroids, and went on to say that Diane had enough time to escape into her apartment but supposedly failed to do so. The implication being that it was her fault she was attacked. It's the old you didn't run away fast enough so it's your fault my dogs killed you defense. At one point, one of the dog owners seemed to be trying to paint herself as a heroic figure because she risked her life trying to drag her dogs off Diane, even though Diane had supposedly brought the attack on herself and was, therefore, getting what she deserved. I guess that's the nature of irresponsible people. They feel that they are not responsible for what occurs, regardless of how integrally involved with the event they may be.
The city put down one of the dogs almost immediately, but held the other in custody while the authorities tried to determine whether she participated in biting the victim to death or merely ripped the clothing from her body as she fought for her life. In the meantime, the dog owners, who were still walking free some months after the attack, filed legal papers demanding that the surviving dog be returned to them. They said she was their "pal," and they wanted to return her to their one bedroom apartment where they intended to once again keep her as a pet.
The day after the death of Ms. Whipple, an Oakland resident hesitated before leaving the safety of her fenced-in front yard after seeing that her neighbor's very large Cane Corso was loose out front. The dog's owner was nearby, however, so after speaking with him and receiving his assurance that the animal was not aggressive, she stepped out of her yard, only to find that the dog leapt upward, lunging for her throat the instant she came out of the gate. She instinctively raised her hand to block his thrust and he ripped her arm open clear through, delivering a wound severe enough to require reconstructive surgery. The victim reported that she spent eight hours in the emergency room and four days in the hospital, and then came home traumatized and desperate to convalesce, only to lie awake most of that night, as she does every night, unable to sleep because of the noise from her neighbor's barking dogs.
Not long after that, a wandering Pit Bull went on a rampage at a South Bay middle school. The dog bit two boys on an athletic field before charging into a classroom to lay open a third. The police shot the little warrior on campus after a brief experiment in which they determined that pepper spray sure does piss off Pit Bulls.
Within a day or two of the middle school attack, another local dog being walked on the lead bit off a piece of a woman's face, and a family of three was attacked by a Rottweiler on a San Francisco street, and everyone bitten. That same afternoon I found myself walking slowly backwards, speaking to a Doberman Pinscher in soothing tones. It's terrifying to face down an animal who could hope to score no more than two or three points on a standard intelligence scale, and know that whether or not you walk with a limp for the rest of your life depends on what he decides to do. I could go on forever telling dog attack stories. There are plenty of them. They occur in San Francisco at a rate of about one a day, while in Oakland, for reasons that are painfully apparent, people have taken to referring to dogs as "fuzzy guns."
There is a viewpoint that dogs are chaotic, unpredictable creatures that might just willy-nilly do any damn thing. But it's not true. Dogs reflect the behavior and psychological state of their owners. Chaotic people raise chaotic dogs. Undisciplined people have undisciplined dogs. Vicious people engender viciousness in their dogs, and malicious and irresponsible people bring up barking dogs. Not surprisingly, well behaved, affectionate, fun-loving people, raise up well-behaved, affectionate, fun-loving dogs.
The problem is that so many stupid, malevolent and irresponsible people own dogs that, in the collective consciousness of society, we are increasingly coming to view dogs as stupid, vicious creatures. And the public distrust of the species seems to grow perceptibly with each passing decade.
A recent public opinion poll shows that 72% of the people in the bay area believe that all dogs should be kept on a leash, and in the wake of the Diane Whipple tragedy, a proposal was introduced to require that all big dogs be muzzled while in public. The proposal was ultimately voted down. But if we continue on in this direction, the day may come when we will be looking at legislation requiring that all dogs be muzzled and on the lead at all times, when off the property of their owner.
But beyond the increasing restraints being placed on dogs and their owners in public places, there's a whole other problem of where it is we're going to take our dogs in the future. Every day there are fewer places where they are welcome.
Following Diane's death, one of her friends said, "Many things in life happen, and there's just no explanation." A news commentator said it happened "for no apparent reason." And a journalist described the problem as being that the dogs "went insane." But in the end there is no escaping the conclusion that it happened because unfit people were allowed to acquire dogs they could not control.
Providing Disturbed People with a Way to Legally Inflict Injury
The dogs that killed Diane Whipple were Presa Canarios, an enormous breed possessing a lethal volatility that, arguably, surpasses that of any other strain of canine. Imagine a dog two to three times the size of a Pit Bull, stronger, more suspicious, equally aggressive and territorial, and even more easily offended. That's the Canary Island fighting dog. They are genetically truculent creatures, predisposed to attack. That's what they were bred to do.
A good trainer with a strong hand, a kind heart, and a peaceful demeanor may be able to keep one without a resulting catastrophe. But when a chronically belligerent person with no dog training skills acquires a Presa Canario, the script is written, and before the movie's over there's going to have to be at least one scene of disaster and heartache.
The people who owned the killer dogs have never apologized for the attack. On the contrary, they have said several times that they differ with the depiction of the event as an attack and implied that the dogs were merely responding to provocation on the part of the victim. Even after they killed someone, the dog's owners continued to maintain that the animals were not vicious.
One of the dogs was put down by authorities immediately after Ms. Whipple's murder, and the other was eventually euthanized as well. However, weeks after the attack the dog's owners were still calling for the return of the second animal. They wanted to take her back to the same one bedroom apartment and continue keeping her as a pet, taking her out among the public, walking her through the playground where your child could be doing summersaults across the grass, unaware of the danger.
The state of California has what was then a twelve-year-old "mischievous dog" statute. Interestingly, there are no vicious dogs in California, only "mischievous" dogs. Ted Bundy was not a bad boy, the lad was just a trifle mischievious.
The owners of the killer Canarios received the maximum penalty allowed under the state's "mischievous" dog law. They have been prohibited from owning or controlling canines for three years.
Over a period of months their dogs bit several people, terrorized the community and, ultimately, slaughtered a woman. But under the "mischievous" dog law, they would be allowed to acquire more dogs in just three years. The truth be known, under the "mischievous" dog law, their dogs could have killed everyone from the Golden Gate to the Mexican border and, under that statute, the rap would have still been a misdemeanor, and the maximum penalty would still have been a simple three-year suspension of ownership privileges.
Watching and reading interviews with the dog owners, I was struck by the fact that they held themselves inculpable for Diane's death. It is interesting to note that they were both attorneys, with expert knowledge of the law and how the system works. Based on that expertise, they concluded that, in the eyes of the law, they were, indeed, blameless.
They knew the system didn't work because the proof was there before them. In the days after the attack, the police compiled more than forty reports of threats or actual attacks committed by the dogs, including lunging at the stomach of a pregnant woman. Yet, for all those many incidents, no action was ever taken to hold the dog owners accountable.
If we were privy to the details of the forty-some incidents of aggression, and compared each event to the others, we would find that the dogs grew continually bolder and more aggressive as they progressed along a continuum of violent behavior, growing steadily more ferocious with each new outburst. In other words, the dogs were shaped into vicious behavior. Each time they lashed out at someone they enjoyed it, and there was no aversive consequence, so they progressed along the continuum. Likewise, the dog's owners found it rewarding to allow their dogs to lash-out, and their indulgence brought no aversive consequence from the authorities, or from those they terrorized, who knew they weren't the kind of people you wanted to square off with. Since the dog owner's behavior was also shaped, they too grew bolder and allowed their dog's aggression to evolve.
As for the system, forty-some incidents were not enough to trigger alarm bells and stir law enforcement into action. My guess is that the authorities were not even notified. People usually don't bother to report belligerent dogs and malicious owners because it's rare that anything comes from it. In most places, it's almost as difficult to get something done about a vicious dog as it is to get action taken on a barking dog.
Before their trial, Terrence Hallinan, then the district attorney for the city of San Francisco, told ABC news that if the dog owners had been contrite, instead of defiant and unrepentant, they could have avoided the charges of involuntary manslaughter and second degree murder of which they were eventually convicted. And I'm sure that's true; when it comes to aggressive dogs and barking dogs, the system is the friend of the irresponsible.
In the twelve years that California's Mischievous/vicious dog statute had been in effect, the temporary ownership ban against the owners of the Presa Canarios marked the first time that a San Francisco animal control officer ever responded to a dog attack by banning someone from owning a dog, even for a short time.
Everybody who walks, jogs, or reads the public health statistics, knows there are a lot of belligerent dogs out there. Yet, regardless of how dangerous the dog or how ferocious his attack, in those twelve years, in the densely populated jurisdiction of the City and County of San Francisco, no hearing officer ever before ruled that someone was too violent, too crazy, too irresponsible, or too prone to criminal behavior to be banned from keeping a pugnacious dog, even temporarily. My point is not that San Francisco is a particularly glaring example of the laxities of the system. On the contrary, before the Whipple mauling put the city in the spotlight, San Francisco's program was fairly typical of America's animal control efforts, and that's the problem. Almost everywhere, the system goes after irresponsible dog owners with the vigor of a slug on Phenobarbital.
In fairness to the city, I have to add that in the wake of Diane's mauling, San Francisco has grown more serious and gotten much better about vicious dog enforcement. But what an astounding indictment of the system to have a vicious dog law so spineless, with an activating threshold of savagery so high, that someone had to die in the course of an internationally noted tragedy before the statute ever even kicked in.
Judging by the number of ferocious canines in California, I'd have to say that the vicious-dog law does about as much to eliminate vicious dogs as the multiple-household law does to eliminate chronic barking. When you encounter laws that bad, you have to wonder if the real intent in passing them was to eliminate the problem they supposedly were written to address, or to preempt the passage of more stringent laws that might have proven effective.
If you click on the David Vs. Lamoreaux link (coming soon to barkingdogs.net), you'll see some illuminating Judge Judy footage that really captures the absurdity of the animal control system. It seems that a couple living in a residential section of the city of Los Angeles, for some reason, find it rewarding to keep animals. In addition to chickens and a rooster, they have a Rottweiler and a Doberman Pinscher in their backyard. Every time someone walks by, both dogs explode into an enraged frenzy of vocalization as they throw themselves against the chain-link fence, trying to get at each passing pedestrian. The dog owner's unlicensed, unvaccinated Pit Bull is too vicious to pen with the other dogs, so they keep him chained in the driveway.
When the new guy moved in next door, he did his best to resolve the problem with the owners in a neighborly way, without calling the authorities. However, after a half dozen visits to discuss the matter, and numerous complaints from other nearby residents, it was clear they had no intention of ever quieting their dogs.
After all attempts at negotiation failed, the new neighbor, Mr. Ryan, realized he had no choice. In desperation, he took the bait and called animal control. And life went to chaos as the cold war went hot.
The female half of the dog-owning couple retaliated by destroying Ryan's screen door and beating on his front door while shouting obscenities and screaming for him to come out. The tirade culminated when she sprayed a garden hose through his open window, soaking the entire room, including his mattress, and creating a mess that took a full day to clean up. Additional unpleasantness marred the days that followed.
Against all odds, the victims actually managed to secure a hearing before an official body, that ruled against the dog owners. But it didn't make any difference. It rarely does. At the time of filming, the victims had already suffered through more than a year of continual abuse and there was still no end in sight as they waited for the city to rule on the dog owner's appeal of the verdict. In the meantime, the barking and the hostility just rolled on in waves of noise and hate.
That's typically how it goes in those situations. The ordeal seems to stretch on endlessly, steamrollering through your life like a juggernaut, until it becomes the dominant focus of your existence, sucking up your energy and rendering you forever tense, upset and exhausted. Over time, as fatigue and anxiety diminish your ability to function, the constant disruption of the noise and the antagonistic behavior of the dog owners comes to impact all your relationships and the quality of your every activity.
As you watch Judge Judy/David Vs. Lamoreaux, keep your eye on Ed Villalonga, who is one of the two dog owners. Watch closely as Mr. Ryan, the neighbor, relates the details of his year-long ordeal, talking about how his life has been shredded by the constant noise and the stress of the ongoing conflict he is powerless to resolve. As he describes the past year, the depth of his distress is obvious, but almost the entire time he's talking, Ed the dog owner is barely able to suppress a smile. You can see the delight on his face as he listens to the account of the suffering he has caused. Watch it for yourself and tell me that Villalonga is not using his dogs to torment his neighbors as a form of amusement. For him, the whole thing is just a sadistic lark, a highly entertaining recreational activity. And the legal system has empowered him to do it!
By passing laws that remove dog owners from timely accountability, government has condemned tens of millions of dogs to premature death, and many times that number to lives of unspeakable suffering. And in the process, they have provided disturbed people with a way to legally inflict injury on their human neighbors.
An Impossible Standard
The word ambient means "surrounding on all sides." When I speak of ambient barking then, I'm referring to the total amount of barking present in a community. Not just the noise being produced by the dog or dogs from one particular household, but the total amount of barking produced by all the dogs within earshot of a given location.
A while back, the national park service starting getting a lot of complaints from visitors to the Grand Canyon about noise from commercial aircraft that were providing tourists with an aerial view of the park. At first blush it seemed petty for people to complain about the noise from scenic flights that only lasted a matter of minutes. But when the experts gathered the data they found that, while it is true that each flight lasted only a short time, there were so many flights that the sound of one aircraft or another could be heard 90 percent of the time.
That brings us to the concept of critical mass. When you continue to get more and more of something then, at some point, the essential character of the thing changes. Listening to the noise of an airplane for a few minutes each day is an altogether different thing than having to listen to the sound of an aircraft engine 90 percent of the time. Just as living near one dog that barks X amount is an entirely different experience than when you live near ten dogs who all bark with that same frequency.
Imagine that, within earshot of your house, you have ten neighbors who each have one dog. Each of those dogs lets loose a short burst of barking once each hour. That means that inside your house, on average, you will hear a flurry of barking once every six minutes, which is more than enough to transform your daily life into a stress-ridden ordeal.
If you turned to the authorities with that problem you'd be out of luck, because the pillars of Juris Prudence tend to see every barking dog as an isolated entity. Therefore, they focus solely on the question of whether the negligence of each individual owner, considered in isolation, rises to the level of criminal culpability. The result is that, with today's laws and today's standards of enforcement, you wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of solving a severe problem of ambient barking through the criminal justice system.
If you live in a jurisdiction with a three-household law, to get a single ticket written to each of the ten dog owners contributing to your ambient barking crisis, you would have to write ten letters yourself (one for each dog owner). You would then have to induce two of your neighbors, from separate households, to join you in writing a letter complaining about each of the ten negligent dog owners. Therefore, you would have to generate a total of twenty letters of complaint from other people in the neighborhood. Each co-complainant would also have to agree to testify in court in all ten cases.
It is an impossible standard.
The Origin of a System Designed to Do Something Else
As you read through the various sections of this website, at some point, it will occur to you that everything to do with the legal aspect of barking control is wildly ridiculous.
The absurdity of the animal control system first occurred to me when I was looking for relief from a barking problem in Westminster, California. At that point, I just assumed that the Westminster City Council had originated the three household ordinance and that it existed only in that one jurisdiction. I kept trying to visualize the group of people who could set out to originate an ordinance to eliminate the barking crises, and end up with the three household law. I pictured ten city council members, all of them the product of incest, with three teeth and thirty IQ points between them, as they met to dream the thing up.
"Ooh, ooh," squealed one excitedly. "I got an idear. Let's write a law that endangers the victim, establishes an impossible standard of proof, and takes a long time to work, if it works at all."
"I second that!" said another enthusiastically.
"Well, that ought to clear up that pesky barking epidemic," they all said in unison. Then, no doubt, they turned their attention to developing guidelines for the deregulation of the state's energy system.
Imagine that the police no longer wrote citations to speeding motorists. Imagine that, before anyone could be fined for speeding, three private citizens from three separate households, all residing along the street where the violation occurred, all had to do the following:
How many motorists do you think would be cited for speeding if that's how traffic enforcement was structured?
I was born in the morning, but it was not this morning. I could see that the three household law was not designed to work. On the contrary, it was constructed so as not to work. But that left me more perplexed than ever. Who would write and implement a law that was clearly intended not to work? Over the years my bewilderment turned to astonishment as I came to realize that multiple-household laws were not only in place through the length of California, but in other states as well. At that point it became clear that the multiple household ordinances are not simply the product of a few incompetent imbeciles who dreamed up an unfeasible law and put it in place without thinking. Someone invested a lot of time and a vast sum of money to ensure that the people of the United States would be saddled with unworkable barking laws for generations to come.
Some astute observer of the political process once noted that the U.S. has the best politicians money can buy. That being the case, getting a law passed requires a lot of lobbying, which in turn, requires vast resources. So, I asked myself, who has the time and money necessary to railroad an unworkable law into existence in multiple states? For the answer, go to The solution to all of our dog related problems
Written by Craig
Spanish translation - Traducción al español
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