Akron residents with dogs that bark too much could face jail time under a proposed rule change.
At a safety committee meeting Monday, members of Akron City Council welcomed Councilman Russ Neal’s request to increase fines and add as much as a month of jail time for pet owners whose dogs are caught barking to no end.
Current city law classifies the nuisance as a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine. That amount does not increase with the number of citations written by dog wardens or police officers.
Safety Committee Chair Donnie Kammer, Neal and others on council said a $100 fine for signing a formal complaint and potentially testifying in court is “a waste of somebody’s time.”
“For those residents who are held hostage by dog owners who let them bark and bark and bark, I’d like to send a message that we’re serious about this,” Neal said.
Neal’s legislative change would treat excessive barking the same as strays or unvaccinated dogs by making a second offense a fourth degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $250 fine.
Kammer did Neal one better, saying he’d like to see the fine as high as $600. “We need to put a big bite into this,” said Kammer, who wore what he called his "Dawg" pin — an orange Browns helmet button.
To understand the issue, council members in public session questioned City Prosecutor Gert Wilms, whose office takes on the nuisance cases, city attorney John York, who helped Neal draft the proposal, and John Valle, the director of Neighborhood Assistance, which oversees Akron’s two full-time and two part-time dog wardens.
The discussion made it clear that elected leaders are getting conflicting information about how to handle barking dogs. The mixed signals are relayed to constituents.
Councilwoman Marilyn Keith said authorities told her that dog barking complaints require two witnesses to prosecute. Wilms said that like any crime, she needs only one witness to prosecute. But it has to be a person, not a video or audio recording of a barking dog anonymously sent to her office. “That is an ongoing issue,” Wilms said of evidence discounted for lack of credibility.
Kammer asked if barking dogs have to be outside to get their owners in trouble. Wilms said there’s nothing in the city’s laws that exempts dogs barking out of windows.
Kammer said that’s not what he was told. He provided an email from the city’s lead dog warden, Ron Rowdy, who looked into an issue 100 feet from Kammer’s Firestone Park home.
“Yes the dog was barking, but out a second story window. The barking dog ordinance says the [dog] must be outdoors to be in violation,” Dowdy wrote in the email to Kammer.
“People are frustrated,” said Neal, noting that dog wardens work during the day, not at night when the noise keeps people up, especially older residents who have taken to complaining to their representatives. “They’re told to call the police. They try to record the dog. Then they’re told that’s not suitable to address the concern.”
Kammer told his committee that he would arrange a meeting this week with city administrators and animal wardens to get everyone on the same page before finalizing Neal’s proposal, likely in October.
In order to bump the fine even higher, as Kammer has suggested, Wilms said the city would have to move dog barking into an even more egregious class of crime than the proposed fourth-degree misdemeanor.
When Neal made his original request for the law department to craft his proposal, he asked for research on how other cities have handled the issue. York, citing insufficient staff, told Neal to ask for help from the mayor’s administration, which has researched other proposals.
As for enforcement, Councilman Bruce Kilby said getting dogs to pipe down “was a tough thing to do … even when we had more animal wardens … I know the dog owner is responsible for the dog, but is there anything we can do to take the dog away?” he asked.
Wilms said the city can possess an animal if it attacks someone, or is willingly relinquished by its owner, but not for barking too much.
Neal said there’s no hurry to pass his legislation. He wants to have a conversation and “do it right.”
In the meantime, residents with four-legged neighbors that won’t shut up can call for help.
“When we get a complaint in the 311 call center for a barking dog, our wardens go out and investigate every complaint,” said Valle. “Obviously when they drive by and hear nothing, they log the address. If they know they’re in an area near an address with a lot of complaints, they’ll go back and reinspect these properties,” he said, adding that his wardens “try to be as proactive as they can.”
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.