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Barking-dog violations show no bite in La Plata County

Worries that calls would inundate Animal Control unrealized
Only six citations have been written since La Plata County’s barking-dog ordinance went into effect in March.

Since La Plata County’s barking-dog ordinance went into effect more than six months ago, worries that complaints and violations would overburden Animal Control have not materialized.

La Plata County Animal Control Supervisor Travis Woehrel said Tuesday that only six citations have been written for barking dogs since the ordinance took effect in March.

Of those six citations, Woehrel said he was aware of only one case that resulted in the person charged paying a $50 fine, with associated court costs that ended up amounting to about $90 total.

The fine was for a dog barking in the 26000 block of U.S. Highway 160.

Woehrel said he was unaware of the current status of the other five violations.

Since March, Woehrel said Animal Control has issued 49 warnings. Through March to the end of July, he said reports of barking dogs amounted to only 3 percent of the department’s total call volume of more than 1,500 calls.

That surprised Woehrel, who told La Plata County commissioners and staff members that he and his department were worried about being able to handle the call volume once the ordinance went into effect.

“We were prepared for it to explode,” he said. “But through the first few months, we received only 10 or 12 calls. The impact we’ve seen is fairly small so far.”

In December, La Plata County commissioners unanimously passed the first regulations to address barking dogs, a move prompted by an outpouring of complaints from rural residents.

The new laws allow the county to impose fines and court appearances on owners of habitually loud animals, including dogs that bark for 20 minutes straight or to the extent a “reasonable person” considers it a nuisance, among other stipulations.

First complaints result in a written warning. Then, owners have 10 days to fix the problem or face summons and fines.

Throughout the process of drafting regulations on barking dogs, the public was highly involved. So La Plata County officials were surprised Tuesday to learn of the low call volume.

“Originally, we were concerned it would overburden your staff,” County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt told Woehrel.

Woehrel said the majority of calls to report a barking dog come from neighbors with longstanding feuds. However, he said many county residents respond proactively after being contacted by Animal Control.

“A few people have done corrective things, such as bringing dogs inside at certain times,” he said. “It’s helped a few people. I think there are some others in that ‘I moved out here for a reason’ kind of thing.”

Of the 49 warnings written, Animal Control had to revisit residences only six times, which shows a majority of people are taking proactive measures or the people reporting don’t want to take the issue further, Woehrel said.

A number of the complaints came from the Forest Lakes subdivision north of Bayfield, but on the whole, where complaints come from are random, Woehrel said.

“I’m honestly surprised,” said County Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “Sometimes, just passing an ordinance makes people a little more responsible.”

La Plata County officials resolved to revisit the matter next spring.


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