Barkers beware: New law has bite

Camas updates its ‘subjective’ animal noise ordinance

Camas dog owners, take note: A newly amended city ordinance could come back to bite you, if your barking pup is disrupting your neighbors.

The Camas City Council passed an amendment to the animal noise ordinance on Tuesday, Jan. 2, that strengthens the language relating to barking, howling or disruptive dogs.

Until last week, the city’s animal noise ordinance stated that it was unlawful for any dog to habitually bark, whine or howl to a degree that is disruptive to neighbors or the public.

The council voted to replace the word “habitual” with more specific language to meet the standards set by the Washington Supreme Court in the Spokane v. Fisher, which found the word “habitual” too subjective.

The amended ordinance now states that dog owners should not allow their pet to bark, bay, cry, howl or make any other noise continuously for a period of 10 minutes or more, or bark intermittently for 30 minutes or more, to the reasonable disturbance of any person at any time of the day or night.

Animal control and police officers will enforce the city ordinance.

Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey said the updated ordinance should be easier for the public to understand. He added, however, that tickets for animal noise violations are rare, since his officers are usually able to work with dog owners before the noise becomes a true nuisance.

City leaders began to re-evaluate the animal noise ordinance last summer, after a Prune Hill resident complained about his neighbor’s dog and said the city needed stricter enforcement for disruptive dogs.

Animal Control Officer Rick Foster said the first thing he does when responding to an animal noise complaint is figure out if the complaint is a one-time occurrence or if the dog has been disruptive for a while.

After establishing the length of the noise complaint, Foster contacts the owners and usually suggests solutions to the barking, such as bringing the dog inside or using an anti-barking collar.

Foster said bringing the dog inside usually works better than the collars, because dogs have sensitive ears and are likely barking at an outside noise.

For instance, Foster said, dogs might be barking because they hear construction in the neighborhood, yard work or wildlife.

Luckily, Foster said he rarely writes a citation, since most dog owners try to solve the problem once they’re made aware of the complaint.

“I consider education better than citations,” Foster said.

Washougal rewrote their animal noise ordinance last fall to meet the standards set by Spokane v. Fisher, Foster added. Camas and Washougal now have the same guidelines.

If dog owners do make it to the citation stage, it will cost them $99 in Camas and $76 in Washougal.