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La Plata County adopts barking dog, animal neglect rules

Vicious or dangerous animal must be registered annually
Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald file

A landmark moment for La Plata County was recorded Tuesday with the unanimous passage of the county’s first regulations to address barking dogs.

The new rules, which came in response to an outpouring of complaints from rural residents over the years, allow the county to impose fines and court appearances on owners of habitually vocal animals.

Newly approved additions and revisions to another ordinance address animal cruelty and loose dogs. Some primary stipulations include:

A dog barking for a continuous 20 minutes, or barking to the extent that it disturbs a “reasonable person,” is considered a per se nuisance and is grounds for an individual to lodge a complaint.A first complaint, which cannot be submitted anonymously, will result in a written warning. The dog owner has 10 days to fix the problem. Subsequent offenses may result in a summons and fines.Demonstrative evidence is not required but is encouraged from complainants.Working dogs, veterinary hospitals and permitted facilities, including kennels, boarding and training facilities, and animal and rescue shelters, are exempt.Animal control officers are authorized to seize an animal if they have probable cause to believe the animal is mistreated, neglected or otherwise abused.A vicious or dangerous animal must be registered annually.Tuesday’s meeting, as usual for the topic, drew a healthy crowd of proponents for the new measures. Sam Bridgham, a resident of Florida Road (County Road 240) , said people like himself who live in high-density housing where city and county limits meet, are disproportionately affected by the county’s lack of regulation on nuisance dogs.

“There is a lot of public housing in the county right on the county line,” he said. “We have a pair of dogs just outside city limits, so it’s not controlled by the city, but it’s annoying the hell out of everyone within distance. This has gone on at least two years. Then you hear remarks like, ‘Someone ought to kill that dog,’ and the dog is left on its own for a long period of time. No one’s done it, but my concern is for that, too, because we don’t want that.”

Bridgham said the new rules seem to satisfy the problem to every reasonable extent the county can take it. “I’ve been attacked three times while outside hiking or on a bicycle,” Martha Iverson told the board. “I’m afraid to go outside. I think there are others who feel the same but are afraid to come forward.”

Rules regarding nuisance barking will take effect March 1, to give the county time for public outreach and education on what the regulations mean. All other alterations and additions to the ordinance, including those addressing animal cruelty, will take effect within 30 days.

County commissioners, who began the process more than a year ago, agreed the ordinance strikes the proper balance. “I really believe it is time for this ordinance,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said. “The county population has grown and shown this is a mounting issue. We’re more urban. We have more county residents living in closer proximity to their neighbors, and nuisance barking can impact your neighbor’s health and well-being.”

To view specifics of the code, visit the county website at co.laplata.co.us. A final draft with minor changes will soon publish.

jpace@durangoherald.com

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