County regulations all bark, no bite?

GREENFIELD — A resident’s complaints about a neighbor’s dogs has county officials mulling a noise ordinance that would hold pet owners responsible.

County resident RC McDanel on Tuesday told the Hancock County Board of Commissioners about a neighbor whose seven dogs bark all day and night, adding that because there is no noise ordinance on the books local authorities cannot help.

The county has an ordinance that limits the number of animals homeowners can keep on their properties — which is four — but there’s no ordinance that governs loud noises, such as dogs barking. Commissioners said it’s an issue worth looking into but noted enforcement could be difficult.

Paul Miller, director of Greenfield-Hancock Animal Management, said his office fields a lot of calls from county residents about dog issues, but he doesn’t have a lot of tools for dealing with them.

The department has policies for handling dogs that run loose in the county but little else, he said.

When calls come in about other issues, Miller said, his staff does what it can to help neighbors work through them, but there is little recourse for a resident whose neighbor is consistently inconsiderate.

“We can’t issue a citation or anything,” he said. “We do go over there and try to talk to the neighbor to resolve it that way.”

McDanel pointed to the city of Greenfield’s ordinance, which gives officers discretion to fine residents $50 if their dogs are habitual barkers.

That ordinance enables animal management to issue a warning to residents with noisy dogs for the first offense. Subsequent offenses could result in the owner having to appear in court to answer for the violation and pay a fine.

McDanel said he’s surprised there’s no county ordinance in place, and he said his calls to the sheriff’s department haven’t proved successful in dealing with the issue.

He said he’s no longer able to enjoy his property. Every time he’s outside his home, the dogs bark, he said.

McDanel said he has dogs of his own and doesn’t mind his neighbors’ pets “as long as they’re well-behaved.”

Hancock County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Brad Burkhart said his deputies take plenty of calls about noise, but not all residents heed their requests to maintain peace and quiet. Without an ordinance regulating noise, those requests often fall on deaf ears, he said.

“We go out there and express our concern about it generally and ask them to stop,” Burkhart said. “There’s nothing I’m aware of that you can actually make someone stop.”

County ordinances take time to prepare and pass and are generally hard to enforce, commissioner Brad Armstrong said.

Nuisance ordinances are particularly hard to enforce, and violations are difficult to punish because they’re civil issues rather than criminal, he said.

Commissioners Tom Stevens, Marc Huber and Armstrong said they’d consider an ordinance.

“I think you brought a good issue to light, and I’m glad you came in here,” Armstrong told McDanel. “I think it’s a good issue, and I think we need to look at it.”

“We can work on it on our end,” Huber said.

The board meets again Aug. 4.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.