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Southern Delaware
Sussex County Council requests more time in addressing possible ‘excessive’ barking dog ordinance

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council wants more time for analysis and discussion before possibly unleashing an authoritative ordinance designed to muzzle “excessive” barking dogs.

The proposed draft ordinance, as presented by Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin at council’s July 16 meeting, identifies violations as any dog that barks continuously for 30 minutes or more anytime of the day, or any canine that habitually engages in howling, crying, whining, or barking between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

County constables would enforce the county code ordinance, mediation the preferred initial phase. Fines would range from $25 to $300, depending on the number of offenses.

Council members, after Mr. Godwin’s presentation, chimed in with thoughts and concerns -- and their decision was to put on hold for several weeks any action on introduction of an ordinance to adopt Chapter 97 regarding excessive dog barking into Sussex County Code.

“It seems a little confusing,” said Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View. “Constables, are they on duty 24 hours a day? This will add a different aspect to how we have constables available. Would designate a certain constable each night or each day that would be available to respond to this complaint?”

“Say our constable is called out at 2 o’clock in the morning … a barking dog. Does he (constable) have to sit there for a half hour?” said Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, adding that the complaint could be a matter of a neighborly feud. “Maybe (it’s) one neighbor against another. This is getting to be a hassle if you really want to look at it.”

“If you’re going to hear a dog barking you have got to be there,” added Mr. Wilson. “If you don’t hear it, that’s hearsay.”

“Well, likely there are witnesses if we have complaints,” said Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes.

“One of the things you have to remember, law enforcement rarely witnesses a crime,” said County Attorney Everett Moore. “State police all of the time go out and question witnesses. I would anticipate the same with our constable. The constable doesn’t actually have to hear it.”

Under the current proposal, a barking dog that is provoked -- be it human or animal -- or is intentionally teased would be exempt from the code per incident.

Mr. Godwin noted that both Kent and New Castle counties have such waiver exemptions in their animal noise ordinances. He added that many people have dogs that serve as watch-dogs.

“We may have them chained or they may be near the front of the home, and if someone approaches we want the dog to sound,” said Mr. Godwin. “Or if in my own case I know that we have a lot of deer. The deer walk by the dog ‘s house, wakes the dog up, he’s going to bark for a few minutes.”

Mr. Godwin said that the experience in Kent County is that often barking dog problems are solved neighborly through mediation.

“I would think that possibly the first step would be to take the complaint to whoever complained, take it to the complainer, and find out what the details are,” said Mr. Godwin. “If it’s the next door neighbor’s dog, go talk to the next door neighbor next. As the lady explained to us from Kent County, they have a lot of mediation where they just go talk to folks and often the problem goes away.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at 629-5505 or grolfe@newszap.com.

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