AKRON, Ohio – City council members met on Monday in a special work session trying to determine what penalty might be enough to convince pet owners whose dogs continuously bark to address the problem.
The city’s current ordinance considers violations a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine.
The penalty does not change regardless of the number of violations a pet owner might have.
Councilman Russ Neil believes a stiffer penalty for repeat offenders might help remedy the problem.
He is proposing an ordinance that would make a repeat offense a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
The current city code makes a fourth degree misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine and a possible sentence of 30 days in jail.
Neil says while he cannot do anything about what the city has on the books as the punishment for a fourth degree misdemeanor, he really does not expect the courts to impose a jail term because of a barking dog.
“I trust that our judges would use good discretion and not send anyone to jail. It just happens to come with the territory the way our misdemeanor four is written,” said Neil, following a special council work session on Monday.
Neil says since he proposed an increase in the penalty he has been surprised at the number of calls and emails he has been getting from as far away as Los Angeles, most of them in favor of a stiffer penalty.
Council on Monday was told that so far in 2018 the city has taken 172 complaints about constant barking from residents.
The actual number is believed to be somewhere between 90 and 100 with the remainder of the complaints from people who are calling about the same offender.
One problem in enforcing the current ordinance, however, is that many times the people who are making the complaints do not want to be identified fearing retaliation from their neighbors.
In fact, residents of one Akron community who tell FOX 8 News they have been complaining about a problem in their neighborhood for several years refused to go on camera fearing retaliation.
Another dog owner who confided in FOX 8 that he had been issued one citation himself for a barking dog also refused to go on camera fearing that he would become a target of animal control.
As a result of such reluctance to be identified or to testify, council was told that in the past five years there have only been seven cases filed, only five of which actually went to court.
Councilwoman Tara Samples is concerned about any proposal that would include jail time as a possible resolution.
“Gun violence is an issue here in the city of Akron. We have an opiate epidemic going on here in the city of Akron and this just doesn’t rise to the occasion of something that should be a priority for the city at all,” Samples told FOX 8, adding, “We have people out here who are committing armed robbery, homicides, burglary. I think that’s what the jail is meant for right now.”
“If they are not influenced by (the current penalty) why would they be influenced by a new one?” she asked.
Some on council have suggested that even an increase in the penalty to $250 is not enough.
Councilman Donnie Kammer, who chairs the city’s safety committee, has researched similar ordinances in other Ohio cities including Cincinnati, where the penalties graduate for repeat offenses to $1,000.
During Monday’s work session he was willing to entertain a lower maximum fine without a jail option.
What council would ideally like to see is a process that helps educate dog owners and helps neighbors work out their differences among themselves without having to take anyone to court.
“People want to live peacefully in their neighborhoods, no doubt about it. But I think what you heard from people, even some of the council members, is about the need for being educated about what the law is and the need to bridge neighborhood relationships,” said Veronica Sims.
Council members used their session on Monday to share thoughts and information so that they could ultimately arrive at an informed decision, saying that they are in no hurry to write a new ordinance.