Flier flusters dog owners

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Police are not changing their manner of enforcing nuisance animal complaints

By Carol A. Clark

Some dog owners are barking mad thinking they could be cited or arrested for their canine’s feisty behavior.

“The Los Alamos Police Department would like to clarify that there is reasonable and then there is unreasonable dog barking behavior,” Capt. Randy Foster said. “Incessant barking is indeed a nuisance to surrounding neighbors and our intent is to find a happy medium for all of our community members.”

In an open letter to the community from the Los Alamos Police Department’s Animal Control Division, Public Safety Officer Sgt. Charles Lujan explains that after the recent mailing of an informational brochure sent to residents, some members of the public have contacted him to relay concerns that the police department has changed the way it intends to enforce nuisance animal complaints.

“The brochure was mailed out in May in order to address the 300-500 barking dog complaints that the police department handles each year,” Lujan said. “We would like to take this opportunity to clarify our position and the information contained in the brochure. We have not changed any policies regarding the nuisance animal ordinance and we will continue to enforce the nuisance animal ordinance reasonably and fairly as we have always done in the past.”

The process in place to enforce the ordinance is as follows:

•When an animal control officer receives a complaint of a barking dog that is creating a nuisance; they will respond and try to determine why the dog is barking and how long the dog has been barking. The officer will attempt to make contact with the dog owner to advise them of

the disturbance and see what steps can be taken to alleviate the problem.  

•Animal control officers are aware that dogs bark occasionally in the natural course of the day and it would be unreasonable to enforce or promote a “no bark policy.”  It is not the intention of the animal shelter staff to create an impression that dogs are never allowed to bark. The occasional bark from a dog will not result in enforcement action.

•However, frequent or incessant barking does create a nuisance for other neighborhood residents. If the officer determines that the noise is excessive and is indeed creating a neighborhood nuisance, he or she will issue a warning notice to the animal owner. If the owner demonstrates that he or she has taken reasonable steps to alleviate the problem, they will be allowed a second warning notice.

Examples of “reasonable steps” might include keeping the dog inside when owners are away, having the dog stay with friends when owners are on vacation or purchasing a no-bark collar, Lujan said.

Most situations are resolved upon issuance of a second warning, he said. In the few cases that are not resolved, if subsequent complaints are received by animal control officers and follow up visits determine that the dog continues its excessive barking, the owner will receive a citation to appear in Municipal Court.  

“It is important to note that, although we receive several hundred barking dog complaints each year, the actual number of citations we issue is less than a dozen per year,” Lujan said. “Most dog owners desire to be good neighbors and may not even be aware that their dog is barking when they are away from home. Once concerns are brought to their attention, they will voluntarily address the issue and resolve it without any need for further police enforcement or citations.”

“During the summer months, residents like to spend more time in their backyards, as well as wanting to enjoy the cool breeze during the evening hours by having the windows open to their homes,” Lujan said. “Our goal is to try and promote an enjoyable summer environment for the entire community by ensuring that dogs are not disturbing the peace and by trying to alert dog owners to take proactive steps that will prevent their pets from being a neighborhood nuisance.”  

For questions regarding nuisance animals, the approach outlined here, or the language of the ordinance, contact the Los Alamos Animal Control staff at 662-8179 or 662-8222. The staff is available to visit with the public about the ordinance and their approach to resolving animal noise concerns.