City passes new ordinance for barking dogs

By Peter Jones
Published: 06.08.10

By reckoning of some, the balance between the rights of pets and those of human residents shifted June 7 when the Centennial City Council passed a new ordinance regulating loud dog barking.

“I don’t have the privilege that the dog has,” Joe Capicotto said before the council’s unanimous vote. “The dog has the privilege to bark for almost 20 minutes anytime day or night, take a break and start over. Whereas I don’t have a luxury of having a quiet time.”

Such complaints have become common in Centennial. Under the city’s previous ordinance, a dog could bark loudly for long periods with impunity as long as it stopped shy of 20 full minutes of barking. The enforcement clock effectively restarted if the dog took a short break, regardless of what time of day — or night — the barking occurred.

“We sat down for Christmas dinner and the dog next door started barking maniacally,” Lynn Nelson told the council. “This is with our windows and doors closed. We could not hold a conversation at our table during Christmas dinner.”

Residents like Nelson and Capicotto were elated with a kind of holiday present in June when the council, as expected, approved long-awaited changes to the way Centennial deals with excessively barking dogs.

Joe Stafford, the city’s animal-control field-services manager, outlined the new ordinance for the council before its final vote.

The policy cuts in half to 10 minutes the amount of time a neighbor must endure barking before the city takes action. At night, the time is cut to five minutes. Cumulative barking of 90 minutes in any 24-hour period will also constitute a violation.

A written warning will be issued to dog owners upon a first offense. An animal-control officer will have the discretion to give a verbal warning, but fines will only be imposed after a written warning has been issued.

After a written warning, the owner will have five days to find at least a temporary solution. A neighbor will be required to file a written complaint by fax or e-mail. An in-person signature will no longer be required.

A summons and complaint will be issued to an owner if a second violation occurs on the same property within 12 months of the written warning. The first fine will be $50. It then jumps to $75 and $100 for successive offences.

“They absolutely have the right to bring that matter to court,” Stafford said. “... What we’re trying to get is resolution. We’re not trying to get into people’s pocketbook.”

A warning will expire after one year. In other words, if a second offense occurs 12 months or more after the original warning, the owner will receive a new warning, instead of a summons.

“What this does is it recognizes people who have taken action, attempted to resolve the problem, and gives them another opportunity for resolution,” Stafford said.

Potentially mitigating situations, such as dogs barking in response to urban coyotes, will be taken into consideration by animal-control officers, he added.

According to Stafford, his office received about 250 complaints a year under the former system. Although he expects that number to as much as double under the new ordinance, the official does not anticipate significant costs to the city.

“We were very careful to make sure that we would not overextend ourselves,” Stafford said of his staff’s drafting the ordinance.