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Test case of barking dog ordinance dismissed

County judge says prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence
A test of La Plata County’s new barking dog ordinance was dismissed after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to show the defendant had been properly warned of the nuisance before being cited.

A test case of La Plata County’s new barking dog ordinance resulted in charges being dropped after a county court judge found insufficient evidence to support the charges.

La Plata County enacted the law in March 2017 after an outpouring of complaints from rural residents fed up with barking dogs.

Over the past two years, there have been a number of citations and warnings filed. But only one case between feuding neighbors was headed to trial, which was the first time the ordinance would have been subject to trial proceedings.

The court case stemmed from a complaint lodged by La Plata County resident Norman Fish against his neighbor, Daniel Gregory. According to county documents, Fish said Gregory’s dogs barked at all hours from his property near Purgatory Resort.

6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne said the case was dismissed March 29 by La Plata County Judge Dondi Osborne.

Osborne declined to comment for this story.

Champagne said Osborne dismissed the case because she felt prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to show Gregory received proper warning that he was violating the barking dog ordinance.

According to the statute, warnings are issued first before citations can be written.

Champagne said he thinks prosecutors provided solid proof that Gregory was warned.

“We felt we had sufficient evidence to proceed forward and to get to a verdict,” Champagne said. “But the judge did not agree.”

Gregory did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Fish wrote in an email to The Durango Herald that he is not surprised the case was thrown out. He said the ordinance itself is flawed and needs to be rewritten.

Leading up to the case, La Plata County officials were curious to see how the new ordinance would stand up in court. Fish said Osborne’s decision to dismiss the case is proof it is time to go back to the drawing board.

“Every means should be employed to inform the (La Plata County) commissioners that this is a total failure and fix it,” he wrote.

Fish said the incessant barking of his neighbor’s dogs has been going on for five years. He said he filed multiple complaints from November 2017 to March 2019. For the barking to continue, and for the court process to fail, is “totally unacceptable,” he said.

Champagne said it is too early to say whether it is necessary to rewrite or tweak the ordinance. Instead, in the short-term, his office will seek clarification from the court on its interpretation of the law, so next time, prosecutors will know what to expect.

Other than this particular case, Champagne said the barking dog ordinance has prompted positive outcomes between neighborhood disputes over noisy pets. He said warnings alone settle 80 to 85 percent of complaints lodged with Animal Protection.

“Usually, the owner of the dog is conscientious about stopping the problem,” he said.

As for the other 15 to 20 percent of situations, Champagne said devoting his office’s time and resources to settle a dispute over a barking dog is not “the ideal outcome.”

“We’d prefer it dealt with outside the courtroom entirely,” he said. “But we will do what we need to do to uphold the law.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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