Friday, September 6, 2013

Dog wars

Goochland is not a one size fits all kind of place, especially when it comes to crafting local ordinances about dogs and hunting. Our supervisors grappled with this at their September 3 meeting as they sought to update the portion of Goochland law that deals with animal nuisances, which essentially means excessively noisy dogs.

The existing ordinance, which has been deemed unconstitutionally vague, provides no remedy for residents tormented by noise from dogs on neighboring properties. A proposed revision to the “companion animals causing public nuisance” section of the code drew a large crowd of owners of hunting and show dogs.

The proposed changes include: civil, rather than criminal penalties; specifying the duration and time of unacceptable noise; citing trespass only if it animals cause damage; and attacking other companion animals to cause injury or death. (The complete text is in Part B of the September 3 Board packet on the county website:

As Board Chair Ken Peterson, District 5, pointed out, the baying of hunting dogs in pursuit of prey is music to the ears of some people, others, not so much.

Many speakers at the public hearing on the matter observed that Goochland is country and the sounds, sights and smells of a rural area are different from a city and part of the elusive notion of rural character than everyone claims to want preserved.

Catherine O’Brien, who raises show dogs, contended that the two dog noise complaints received by the county do not constitute a clear need to tighten regulations on everyone.

Goochland County Attorney Norman Sales explained that the ordinance needs revision to make it constitutional and follow state statutes.

Several speakers contended that reducing the number of complainants from two to one provides a handy mechanism to fuel grudges between neighbors.

Floyd Smith, a gentleman of firm opinions who lives in the upper end of the county, often cautions the supervisors when he believes they are about to take the first steps on the road to ruin. He complained that the ordinance under discussion was not the same one advertised. He asked how the county would fulfill the portion of the proposed ordinance that required confinement of accused animals, which in the case of a kennel, could be 50 dogs. After consultation with animal control officers, the confinement provision was removed from the proposed ordinance.

Smith also chided the supervisors for listening to comments via email and phone from people who did not bother to attend the hearing.

Expressions of passionate concerns that the ordinance changes would eventually prevent hunting in Goochland received vigorous applause.

One gentleman contended that every change made to this part of local law affects current kennel owners. “I have no use for Goochland if I can’t have dogs,” he said.

Currently, there are more than 200 registered kennels in Goochland. Given the county’s cost structure for dog licenses, it is more cost effective to buy a kennel license than register many dogs separately.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson pointed out that the supervisors will address revisions to the definitions section of the county code in future months. She suggested that, going forward, modifying the definition of a kennel and regulating where they may be located with regard to nearby homes could alleviate some of the issues.

Jonathan Lyle of Manakin Road pointed out that animals other than dogs can be noisy. “If the city comes to Goochland, the city needs to adapt to Goochland and not the other way around…I don’t know what problem we’re trying to solve.”

Following a break, Sales explained that the proposed ordinance exempts kennels, hunting, show, service, and rescue dogs as well as hunting and training activities.

All kennels are exempt under the proposed ordinance. Those in existence before any ordinance changes are voted into law will be grandfathered. The supervisors expect to consider revisions to the definition of "kennel"  later this year. To be on the safe side,folks considering establishing a “kennel” should do so immediately.

Bob Minnick, District 4, pointed out that, while most dog owners are responsible and respect their neighbors; some have no regard for others.  He contended that the supervisors need to provide a pathway to resolution of grievances. While the proposed ordinance revisions include civil penalties, there is no guarantee that a court will uphold a complaint. He said that he wants to receive additional input on the matter and believes that the county needs to craft a clear ordinance.

After a good bit of thoughtful discussion, the supervisors voted to defer action on the matter. As Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2, said the proposed ordinance as written was not “ready for prime time.”

Sales will tweak the proposed ordinance using input from the meeting and bring it back to the board in October. If the next version is substantially different from that presented on September 3, a second public hearing will be scheduled.

Growth will bring challenges to the prevailing rural sensibilities. Conflict between longtime residents and come heres will be a staple on the menu of government. The supervisors seek balance between the expectations of newcomers and the rights and traditions of Goochland. That is a worthy quest.







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