Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 13, 2013

Barking dog brouhaha: Animal vocalization draws debate in Tazewell County

It’s hours before the pre-dawn light will cast rays of color across the Appalachian mountains. Moonbeams flicker through the parted drapes, spewing playful twinkles across the hardwood floor. Meanwhile, Mister Sandman is hard at work casting dreams of restful vacations — azure blue seas, white beaches, hammocks swaying with the breeze.

Suddenly, the Caribbean paradise is lost — shattered in an early-morning frenzy of barking and intense howls.

It’s 3 a.m. Do you know where your dogs are?

I jump from the bed and head down the stairs to the main door. Our two 100-pound yellow Labs and nearly 200-pound Neapolitan mastiff have beaten me to the entrance. Minutes before they were sleeping peacefully. Now their crazed barking makes me believe a would-be intruder is lurking about.

Then, a pause in the excited yipping, and I hear the source spawning the early-morning melee. It’s a beagle chasing scent and baying pretentiously, as beagles tend to do.

Roughly eight acres of our property is fenced to give our giant babies plenty of freedom and room to roam. The fence, however, is designed to keep big dogs in — not small dogs out. And thus is the explanation for the beagle’s foray into our backyard.

He was definitely chasing something — raccoon, possum, deer, fox. We’ll probably never know what animal spurred his frantic chase. But his excited vocalization in the middle of the night called our dogs to action.

I open the door and the babies run outside. Immediately, they catch the beagle’s scent and begin to follow him as he continues to pursue his prey. Suddenly, howling commences from the side yard, moves to the backyard and, finally, into the dark forest beyond. All the while, our dogs are barking exuberantly, enjoying the early morning game of chase.

Groggy, frustrated and sleep-deprived, I call our dogs back to the house. The beagle’s howl continues to penetrate the cloak of night, but my babies are tempted back to the sanctity of the brick walls with chicken treats and the promise of a slice of cheese.

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How does one deal with overly excited barking dogs? There is no easy answer. Some canines are simply quick to alert. Such is the case with our Lab, Penny.

Penny began her life in Bluefield with my friend, Sara, but problems soon arose. When the Lab was around 6 months old, Sara sadly informed me she had to find a new home for the precocious pup. “She keeps getting the law called on her,” Sara explained.

Penny’s penchant for barking drew the ire of other residents, who preferred a modicum of tranquility in the neighborhood. Living in a rural area, the husband and I immediately offered to bring Penny into our home.

Now 7 years old, Penny still loves to bark. She alerts us when a strange vehicle pulls into our driveway, when wild turkeys venture too close to the fence line and when deer meander into the backyard to munch on summer apples. Of course, she also yips loudly at strong wind gusts, dogs on television and the occasional katydid that finds its way into the house.

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The issue of barking dogs sparked an intense debate last week at the monthly meeting of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. About 100 people attended the meeting to speak out in favor and against a proposed nuisance barking amendment to the county’s animal control ordinance.

Local attorney Eric Whitesell, who drafted the ordinance, made a presentation to the board that included audio clips of barking dogs he said interrupt the tranquility of Tazewell County. Whitesell said those whose peace is disrupted “are victims of irresponsible dog owners,” and likened it to “school yard bullying.”

“The responsibility of owning a dog is not buying a dog, attaching it to a chain and leaving it in the yard,” he added.

However, Bill Buck of Richlands, Va., had a different opinion and spoke out against the amendment. “My neighbor’s dog woke me up two months ago, but I was glad because there was a man trying to steal from my wife’s car,” he said. “There are fellows in this room who love our dogs and who love our peace, too. I like to keep my dogs under control. We are responsible dog owners and take care of our dogs as good as we do our families ...”

Another resident who spoke against the amendment noted those who live in a rural area will hear the sound of animals. “I choose to live in the county because it is a rural agricultural area,” Leroy Long said. “I accept this noise as part of the community in which I live. It is just the way things are. I chose to live here, so I accept that. The next step is enacting a mooing cow ordinance or a crowing rooster ordinance. We have to make sense.”

However, later in the meeting Whitesell countered this comment noting, “Right now I can’t hear the sound of cows mooing and roosters crowing because of all the dogs barking.”

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One would think a dog’s incessant barking due to being chained with no exercise would be a matter of neglect, and could be dealt with under the ordinance already in place.

However, judging by the passionate debate at last week’s meeting, there’s a good chance the barking dog brouhaha in Tazewell County will not go away quietly. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in coming months.

The real shame is that in such a friendly place as Tazewell County, neighbors were unable to work the issue out between themselves.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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