From May 28 through Sept. 2, 26 reports of barking dogs were called into the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
That’s a 16 percent decrease from the total of 31 complaints for the same period a year ago.
The Flume determined those numbers by looking at calls for service dispatch logs kept by the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
By owning a dog that barks with certain characteristics, a Park County resident could be violating Park County resolution 2008-32.
According to that ordinance, it is “unlawful for any person to own or keep any dog which disturbs the peace of any other person or neighborhood by loud, habitual, untimely or persistent barking, howling yelping, or whining.”
The ordinance gives any law enforcement officer the authority to impound the dog if the owner of the dog can’t be located and the officer determines that the dog is disturbing the peace.
Violation of that ordinance carries with it a petty offense penalty.
Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore said when the Sheriff’s Office receives a complaint about a barking dog, an Animal Control officer is sent to investigate the report.
“What they’ll usually try to do is see what exactly the cause of the barking dog is, or what’s going on,” he said.
The Animal Control officer will try to get the dog to settle down or locate the owner to silence the dog, he said.
If there are multiple instances of deputies receiving complaints about barking dogs, a citation will be issued, he said.
Such a citation was issued in 2010 to Bailey resident Susan Spincken, who was charged after her dog “Jester” barked, drawing the ire of neighbors.
She was cited for three counts of having a barking dog – second offense, all petty offenses.
Acting without the aid of an attorney, she argued successfully that Park County’s barking dog ordinance should be overturned for being unconstitutionally vague and in February 2011 Fairplay-based County Judge Brian Green issued an order with that finding.
In part, Green cited a lack of specificity in the ordinance about what “disturbing the peace” meant.
Park County appealed the decision to Fairplay-based District Judge Stephen Groome, and in June 2011 he upheld the county’s barking dog ordinance as constitutional.
In an email to The Flume, Spincken said she hasn’t changed her stance that the county’s barking dog ordinance is unconstitutional.
She said she’s discovered a 1980 case that appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals that seems to agree with Green’s interpretation that the county’s ordinance was vague.
However, last Nov. 14 the Colorado Supreme Court denied review of the Spincken case.
Park County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Bobbi Priestly, the deputy in charge of Animal Control Officers, said most deputies will work with dog owners before issuing citations for barking.
She said the majority of barking dog complaints are from the Bailey area.
She said the first contact with the owner of a barking dog is usually either a verbal or written warning.
For most dog owners, that’s all it takes for the animals to be hushed up.
“A lot of times, people are unaware of their dog’s barking,” she said.
Priestly said the law requires that a dog be barking for more than 20 minutes before it constitutes a criminal violation. And the dog can’t be barking because it’s provoked or because there is wildlife present.
She said the first contact with a dog owner gives the owner a 72-hour window to correct the barking behavior. After that, citations can be issued – $40 for the first offense, $80 for the second offense.
The third offense is a summons to court, she said.
She said it’s rare that a case would be taken before a judge.