In the course of monitoring significant legal developments in the jurisdictions that I cover, I often come across amusing or quirky stories that make me smile, but also make me think (possibly because I’m a total geek…). I mean, when you analyze or discuss these stories you realize that there might be deeper underlying societal and legal questions. (And often someone’s personal issues as well – but I won’t go there.) Sometimes what appear to be small issues are really those that affect people the most in their daily lives, and there are often conflicting rights and interests at play.
An article published last week in the second-largest daily newspaper in New Zealand, The Dominion Post, was just such a story. The article – entitled “Bark Diary” Evidence Used to Evict Noisy Dog– told the story of BJ the ten year old border collie who ran into some trouble with his neighbors. After four years of complaints about BJ’s barking, 200 hours spent on the dispute by staff at the Napier City Council (including a survey of forty other residents in the neighborhood), police involvement, two books that the neighbor filled with written records of the date, time and duration of BJ’s barking, and a discussion at a recent Council meeting, the neighbor finally succeeded in having BJ taken away to the pound.
Why did this issue justify an article in The Dominion Post? Was it simply because it was vaguely amusing to picture the situation, or perhaps because it showed the true value of persistency? In fact, I think it would have been of interest to a large number of people in New Zealand – complaints about dogs, and barking dogs in particular, are probably one of the most common matters dealt with by local councils in New Zealand (and I’m sure in other countries as well!).
In terms of the legal regime relating to barking dogs in New Zealand, each council employs a Dog Control Officer, who has powers under the Dog Control Act 1996 to issue a notice to the owner of a “persistent and loud barking or howling” dog requiring them to “make such reasonable provision on the property to abate the nuisance.” If the owner doesn’t obey the notice they can be fined up to NZ$1,500 (that’s about US$1,070 ), or the dog can be removed. There’s a right of appeal, of course, and it looks like BJ’s owner is going to utilize that right. In the meantime, BJ will be kept in custody.
The Napier City Council also has bylaws and policies on barking dogs available on its website that would apply in BJ’s case. It provides guidance on why dogs bark and how to minimize barking as well – maybe some of this could help BJ out of his current predicament?