Akron City Council hears objections to jailing owners of barking dogs

October 1, 2018

Akron City Council hears objections to jailing owners of barking dogs

AKRON, Ohio – After hearing push-back from residents regarding possible jail time for barking-dog violations in the city, Akron City Council is taking a step back to let the Law Department come up with other options

Toughening penalties for barking dogs was originally proposed by Ward 4 Councilman Russel Neal Jr., who said he was simply responding to complaints by residents in his ward.

Neal’s proposal included increasing nuisance barking from a minor misdemeanor with a $100 maximum fine to a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a $250 maximum fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Ward 7 Councilman Donnie Kammer also  called for tougher regulations, asking the Law Department to amend Neal’s legislation to increase the fines further.

Since then, council members have been hearing feedback from residents, especially those concerned with jail time as a penalty, Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith said at a Monday work session devoted to barking dogs.

Neal said his proposal has attracted calls from across across Northeast Ohio, with one call coming from Los Angeles.

“I have received a call from a constituent in every one of your wards,” Neal told his colleagues. “I didn’t know this was this big of an issue.”

During the information-gathering session, City Prosecutor Gert Wilm said only five of seven complaints about barking dogs have led to convictions, and only one conviction was this year.

Since the beginning of the year, the city’s 311 information line has logged 172 calls specifically about barking dogs, but many of them are duplicates, said John Valle, the city’s director of neighborhood assistance.

Valle said most complaints are handled neighbor to neighbor or through the dog warden issuing a warning.

Most residents filing complaints don’t want to appear in court and identify themselves, because they fear retaliation for making the complaint, said Animal Control Warden Ron Dowdy.

Normally, when animal control officers get a complaint about a barking dog, they go to the address, and listen, Valle said. If they don’t hear any barking, they log the address as a potential problem so they can check back later, and they move on to the next complaint. They also leave a note so the resident knows a complaint was made.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Samples said she has heard from animal rescue organizations that they fear people will begin dumping their dogs rather than face tougher penalties.

She also pointed out that the jail is so crunched for space it can’t hold people for minor weapons violations, so passing out jail time for owners of barking dogs doesn’t make sense.

Kammer said he supports something that offers council “tools” for effectively dealing with barking dogs without sending owners to jail.

At-large Councilwoman Veronica Sims said upping the fines to more than $600 is too steep for dog barking, so council needs to be prudent about setting fines.

Council members Keith and Rick Swirsky, Ward 1, said they would like a clear process put in place for handling complaints about barking dogs so everyone is on the same page.

Wilm said the law department will look at various options for strengthening the fines, without tying the fines to jail time, and present them to council.

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