OPINION: Atlanta council takes a bite at bothersome barking dogs

The city of Atlanta faces a myriad of intractable issues — crime, homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, an economic inequality divide.

So, the City Council last week went head-long into solving another stubborn problem: Barking dogs.

The council voted to put a 10-minute limit on Fido yapping in your yard, disturbing the neighborhood. Suffice it to say, this legislation has dog owners and their neighbors growling.

WSB-TV put this story online and got 1,500 comments. Many were impassioned. Some were irritable. Others defensive. This is not surprising because Earth is divided into two camps — people weary of their neighbors’ dogs constantly barking. And those offended that anyone would have the gall to criticize their fur babies.

It’s certainly annoying. Two years ago a Dunwoody man, at his wit’s end, barged into a neighbor’s home and screamed at them to quiet their dogs. He, not the dogs, was arrested. Sometimes I worry my wife will get hauled off for the same thing.

One common theme of criticism of Atlanta’s law came on Facebook from a lady named Selena. “Guess what folks,” she declared. “Dogs bark.”

Yes, they do. And some yelp and howl and whimper and ...

Credit: A.P.

Credit: A.P.

Another appraisal came from a professor eminent in the study of housing issues. “Really? There’s a housing crisis & a gun crisis. This?” he wrote on Twitter, indicating he’s unaware of the barking dog crisis.

But those who bash the city for trying to silence relentless barking while Rome burns forget that moving on one issue doesn’t necessarily negate acting on another. People, even City Council members, can do two things simultaneously.

The president can negotiate a nuclear weapons treaty and the next day pardon a turkey. And while the reprieve doesn’t compare with Armageddon, it’s still important to the turkey.

The law was pushed by Councilman Dustin Hillis, a taciturn fellow who heads the Public Safety Committee. The council vote was a tweak of existing law that halved the time dogs can bark nonstop from 20 minutes to 10. The revising legislation came out of nowhere this month and Hillis has largely buttoned up on the issue other than to say the law has existed for years and the change allowed “more realistic enforcement.”

I can see his reticence in this affair. Sure, he has dived into dicey matters like building a cop training center in a forest and renting out the city’s jail to the sheriff. But get crosswise with the owners of yappy Pomeranians and watch out!

The law states it’s unlawful for a pet owner “to fail to restrain the animal(s) from, or to allow the animals, to bark, meow, whine, howl, or to make other sounds common to the species.” This, I’m sure, was added by city lawyers to make the law non-discriminatory, so that no animal or their fussy owner feels singled out.

And the “persistently or continuously” barking, meowing or braying means “nonstop utterances for ten (10) consecutive minutes with individual interruptions of less than twenty (20) seconds at a time during the ten minute utterances.”

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

OK, I went back to Hillis to explain that clunky verbiage to no avail. I think it means if a dog stops howling six minutes into his rant to get a 30-second drink from his water bowl, then the 10-minute barking clock dials back to zero.

Can you imagine having a cop or animal control officer standing in your yard for 10 minutes to catch uninterrupted barking and howling? Probably not. I suppose you can record it on your iPhone but then the pet owner neighbor would argue that it’s not his dog yapping, that you simply went down to the dog pound and taped the cacophony there. Fines start at $150 and go north if the owner, and dog, don’t abide.

Councilwoman Keisha Waites, the lone no-vote, said she was “livid” about the legislation and dropped in a few sailor’s epithets while discussing the matter. Waites, who owns two dogs, said the ordinance was unnecessary and “we’re going to legislate ourselves into nothingness. I think you’ll see frivolous complaints coming.”

Council President Doug Shipman said the issue originated with complaints from a Grant Park resident. He said trying to catch a dog barking for 20 minutes was “unenforceable.”

“As we get more density in the city, this will continually come up,” he said. It will also keep occurring as we get denser dog owners, which is happening.

Much of it has to do with the pandemic. Many folks, including those who should not own a dog, adopted them during COVID when they needed a snuggle buddy. But keeping a dog exercised and engaged takes time and effort, so many owners simply open up the back door and go about their business. Sometimes they just don’t hear the barking. Often, they just leave and let the neighbors absorb the bother for hours.

Now that more people work at home all day, barking dogs are more of a nuisance. They’re like four-legged leaf blowers.

In our discussion, Shipman brought up a novel strategy: “Most of these cases can be solved by ringing a doorbell,” he said.

It is elementary, dear Watson. Be thoughtful of your neighbors. And mind your darned dog.