The Laguna Beach City Council is looking to streamline local laws for citing dog owners for their pets’ excessive barking and possible public safety threats.
The new ordinance would create a specific time period that a dog would need to bark before being considered a public nuisance.
That limit would be defined as 30 minutes of continuous barking or an hour of intermittent barking within a 24-hour period. There are currently no guidelines for excessive barking.
The ordinance would also define a “vicious” animal as an animal that severely injures or kills another person or pet or causes excessive property damage.
Animals considered vicious can be impounded by animal control, but the owner can go through a hearing process to appeal the citation.
The motion was passed unanimously by the council July 25 but requires a second reading at a future meeting before it goes into effect.
Jim Beres, a city administrator who oversees the city’s animal control officers, said the new guidelines will create a more even playing field for animal owners and complainants across the city.
“Some dog owners have felt that they’ve been treated differently than others, and in all candor, that has been true to some degree,” Beres said at the July 25 council meeting.
In 2021, Beres said the police department received 222 barking dog complaints from residents across the city. In that same year, officers issued 81 warnings to pet owners and nine citations.
There were five citations and 76 warnings in 2022. In 2023 so far, there have been 23 warnings and zero citations.
Beres said the number of warnings and citations will likely decrease if the changes are implemented since the rules will be less subjective.
Previously, citations were issued on a subjective basis based on the officers’ interpretation of excessive barking.
The new barking time limit matches other cities across Orange County like Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Tustin and San Juan Capistrano, according to the staff report.
Penelope Milne, a Laguna Beach dog trainer and animal behavior consultant, said she worries about how the police department will monitor the new barking time limits when getting complaints from residents.
“The idea to make a more objective standard is excellent, but the problem is neighbors get to declare whether a dog is a nuisance or not,” Milne said during the meeting. “There aren’t too many other things in the city where the evidence base is the irritated next-door neighbor without any kind of cross-check.”
Susan Hamil, a resident who lives in Laguna Canyon, said her large dogs live outside her home and bark at strangers passing by. This makes her safe and she expressed concern it could fall under the definition of excessive barking.
“Watchdog is a function of these dogs for coyotes, strange people that wander in the canyon at night and come up to your house and sometimes the Amazon driver too,” Hamil said during the meeting’s public comment period.
“You don’t want to be up here by yourself and have an odd person that you might have in Laguna Canyon wandering around your house.”
Although Hamil said no one has complained about her dogs barking in the past, she’s concerned that could change in the future.
The ordinance also added new guidelines that prevent pet owners from tying their animals to vehicles, bicycles or e-bikes.
There is already a state animal cruelty law that makes it a crime to drag an animal behind a moving vehicle, but this change would address instances that fall below the threshold of animal abuse but can still cause concern for an animal’s wellbeing.
The Laguna Beach City Council meets again on August 8 at 5 p.m.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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