On February 9th, the Dallas City Council’s Quality of Life Committee met to discuss loose dogs and barking dogs in Dallas.
Dogs vocalize by barking, but what happens when they bark, and bark, and bark … for long periods of time. As an animal lover, foster mom, Board Member of the SPCA of Texas, Dallas Animal Services supporter, and real estate nut, I wanted to dig deeper into this topic because it is important and affects real estate in our community. Who wants to live next door to a dog barking all day or night? Or my question: why are dogs not inside on dog beds or the owner’s bed at night?!
As The Dallas Morning News reported, the Committee is looking to rewrite the city’s animal noise ordinance, known more formally as the section of the city code labeled “Disturbance by Animals.” Presently, city code says, “A person commits an offense if he knowingly owns an animal that unreasonably barks, howls, crows, or makes other unreasonable noise near a private residence.” Noise made by an animal is unreasonable under this subsection if the noise: continues more than 15 consecutive minutes; or exceeds the sound pressure level allowed in a residential district under the Dallas Development Code.
So what’s the process for making an animal disturbance complaint? The City requests that citizens call 311 and an Animal Services Officer will “investigate and respond within 72 hours.” (Let’s hope the dog doesn’t keep barking for those 72 hours). Once the complaint is received, the City (Dallas Animal Services) sends a letter to the complainant and the accused. The letter to the accused warns them of the complaint. The letter to the complainant explains the reporting process with the City Attorney’s Office. You see, to file a formal complaint with the Municipal Court, presently the dog has to be recorded barking consecutively for fifteen (15) minutes or longer. Recording for 15 minutes is hard because Animal Control Officers, who are already slammed with calls about loose dogs, injured dogs, etc., don’t have time to drive out and sit recording noise for 15 minutes. Dallas Animal Services presently has 27 animal control officers (5 new officers are slated to come on board soon) to service an estimated 2.5 million residents and 871 square miles.
At the meeting, the Committee and Jody Jones, the director of Dallas Animal Services, proposed lowering that to 10 minutes. (At first 5 minutes was proposed, but Dallas Assistant City Attorney Jeff Cornell, who’s spent the last two and a half years trying to prosecute animal-related cases, cautioned against citing the likely “drastic increase in the number of complaints we’ll get.”)
The Dallas Morning News reported that there are already plenty of complaints — “1,682 during the last fiscal year alone, says Kris Sweckard, director of Code Compliance Services. And not a single one of those service complaints resulted in a citation. Not. One. Imagine the number of complaints a five-minute rule will bring — an avalanche.” Thus, it was determined that 10 minutes might be the magic number.
So I reached out to my pal Cate McManus, the Operations Manager at Dallas Animal Services and veterinarian. Dr. Cate reported that based on a map of the City, the complaint calls seem to be evenly distributed around the entire city, though the fewest calls seem to be in districts 3, 6, 8. District 3 and 8 are in South Dallas, 6 is an area of West Dallas that is largely commercial.
Dr. Cate further provided that it seems like some of the calls are a result of neighbor disputes or an unwillingness of neighbors to communicate with each other. When that appears to be the situation, the City tries to get a mediator involved, but there are a very limited number of them (I’m guessing the ones who work for/with the City) within the city.
Presently , if three or more complaints are received in one year, Dallas Animal Services will ask an animal control officer to go out. (Again, barking is a dog’s way of vocalizing, so couldn’t something be wrong? No food or water? Tethered/chained 24/7?) Per Dallas Animal Services, this visit is usually more of a compliance check and educational opportunity because animal control officers don’t have the time to sit and listen for a dog to bark, unprovoked for 15 minutes straight. All of Dallas Animal Services’ citations are criminal at the moment, so a person must be at the home, answer the door, and present an ID to write a citation for any violations.
Which begs the question: maybe the Dallas City Council’s Quality of Life Committee should be discussing more than just shaving 5 minutes off the consecutive barking time. If no one is home, or no one answers the door, or no one shows ID, citation can be left anyway! Seems like this process must be reevaluated and streamlined for efficiency of both Animal Services Officer’s time and tax dollars and to make sure the dogs are being properly cared for and citizen’s complaints are legitimately being addressed.
Which is why Jody Jones also recommended two other changes to the existing ordinance: If someone receives three complaints in a single month, they’d get a visit from code compliance. The city would also drop the two-witness requirement needed to take civil action against a dog owner.
The Committee will get another briefing on the subject next month. This seems to be an important topic that affects both property values/desirability, the health and quality of life of animals in our City, and our tax dollars. Stay tuned and voice your concerns to your City Council member.