Public divided on barking law

LIHUE — Opinions are sharply divided between dog owners who oppose the current barking ordinance and want to repeal it, and upset neighbors who want to keep it in place as a way to hold owners accountable for incessant barking.

Bill Peterson is one of the latter.

He appeared before the Kauai County Council Wednesday to say that he has noticed a gradual decrease in noise.

“The mere existence of the ordinance has made our neighbors more aware of the impact their barking dogs have had on the neighborhood,” Peterson said, adding that he has not had to file a complaint.

Testimony was split down the middle during a public hearing to consider repealing the county’s barking dog ordinance, which was put into place a year and a half ago after being championed by councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

While the hearing was for testimony only, Kauai County Council Vice-Chair Ross Kagawa, who proposed the repeal, said he did not know whether he has enough votes to carry it through.

“It’s going to be close,” Kagawa told the crowded council chambers where around 30 people spoke.

He said even if he is not successful in his effort to completely repeal the 2014 ordinance that outlines financial penalties for dog owners who fail to keep their animals quiet, Kagawa said he is glad people recognize the need to make changes. Even if the repeal fails, he is open to the possibility of amending the existing ordinance at a later date.

“This (ordinance) right now is not working. If we get to a better bill that holds up in court, I’d be open to that,” Kagawa said.

Hunting, Farming and Fishing Association Board Member Shyla Moon agreed with Kagawa that the ordinance creates problems between neighbors, and spoke in favor of repeal.

“This is about neighbors arguing about something in their neighborhood,” she said. “I don’t think we are being very supportive of our hunting community either. It’s a way of life and needs to be protected.”

That was a point echoed by many of hunters who attended the hearing, including Forrest Callahan of Kalaheo.

“This is about Mainlanders coming here that cannot accept our lifestyle,” he said in front of the council.

Callahan, who said he has about 20 hunting dogs on his agricultural property, said he has never had a complaint from neighbors. Following his testimony to the council, he told The Garden Island that when problems do arise, people should “work with each other. It’s all about how you approach things. You can solve a lot of problems with respect and common courtesy.”

Kauai Human Society Executive Director Penny Cistaro said that in her experience, complaints are generally filed against neighborhood pets, not hunting dogs.

“We don’t really get complaints on hunters,” Cistaro said. “The hunting community is actually quite responsible with the volume of dogs. They are responsible with their dogs and pay attention.”

The way the ordinance that was approved in 2014 was written, a dog owner may face penalties if a dog barks, bays, cries, howls, or makes any other noise consistently for a period of 10 minutes, or intermittently for 20 minutes of a 30-minute period, regardless of the time of day.

If, however, the barking is due to a person trespassing or provoking the animal, penalties do not apply.

Penalties range from $50 for a first violation to $100 for a second violation occurring within 90 days of the first violation. Subsequent violations can result in penalties that run from $200 to $500, and a judge can order other remedies such as obedience school.

The Kauai Humane Society is responsible for enforcing the barking ban. Cistaro said the organization has gotten 75 complaints since the ordinance went into effect two years ago, and of those 17 citations were eventually issued.

She added that when possible, KHS tries to mediate a solution before issuing a citation.

Cistaro said a solution for the chronic barking problem is needed, and her organization does not favor repealing the ordinance outright.

“We would prefer that we re-evaluate the existing ordinance for its effectiveness and make any improvements that are needed,” Cistaro said.

Several others who testified at the hearing suggested the same thing, but because Kagawa’s proposal repeals the barking dog ordinance in its entirety, councilmembers do not have that option — they can only vote to support or not support the plan.

“I hope we don’t throw out all this work that’s been working,” Yukimura said after the meeting.

In written testimony submitted to the council, David Schwartz, of the Wailua Homesteads, urged councilmembers to keep the ban on barking dogs.

“Prior to the ordinance, dog owners may not have even given much thought to their responsibilities to keep their dogs’ noise down while they are away at work during the day,” Schwartz wrote. “Because the ordinance is in place, everyone is now aware they have a responsibility to ensure that their dog is not a nuisance, and that failure to do so has some consequences.”

If councilmembers want to amend the ordinance to change the length of time that a dog needs to bark in order to be considered a nuisance or make other changes, they would need to do that as a separate bill.

Christine Murphy of the Kauai Humane Society said that sometimes, the solution is just to tell a dog-owner there is a problem.

“Most people don’t realize. They’re noise-blind to their dogs,” Murphy said.

The bill now goes to committee.

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