Barking Dogs Make a Community Growl

Merrill Joan Gerber
Sunday, March 26, 2000

IT'S TIME FOR ``Citizens Against Barking.'' The family dog is an icon in our society, pictured as a friend to the lonely, a comfort to the old, a playmate for children, a guard dog for our property, and in every way ``man's best friend.'' The dog is so beloved that those of us who suffer from repetitive barking-dog noise are afraid to speak out.

But a dog's instinctive barking is often an expression of boredom and indignation in a city environment where the dog is left unattended in a yard or is kept outside when his masters are inside.

A dog without freedom to roam is a restless prisoner and expends enormous vocal energy at a person walking by or a squirrel in a tree. A dog will bark for hours, or howl, or yip as a way to entertain himself.

Dog expert Barbara Woodhouse says in her book ``No Bad Dogs,'' ``There is no such thing as a difficult dog, only an inexperienced owner.'' But many owners are not only inexperienced, they are indifferent to the problem. The hapless citizen who lives nearby will be unable to sleep, to read, to work or to dream.

A study published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (``Noise: A Health Problem'') states that ``noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress. No one is immune to this stress -- noise causes stress and the body reacts with increased adrenaline, changes in heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. Even a small increase in the percentage of heart problems caused by noise could prove debilitating to many thousands of Americans. Noise contributes to heart and circulatory disease and is suspected to lower our resistance to the onset of infection and disease.''

The EPA report states that ``when noise becomes sufficiently loud or unpredictable, or if the stress imposed is great enough, our initial annoyance can become transformed into extreme emotional responses and behavior.''

Cities take action about airport noise and pass laws about leaf blowers, but airplanes will pass over and the gardeners will move on: Dog noise is ongoing, daily, forceful, and unpredictable. City ordinances and enforcement are historically weak in this area (unless they are about picking up dogs' droppings). But what of dogs polluting the environment with noise? The job of ``watchdog'' has largely been replaced by computerized alarm systems, and, in any case, how reliable is a barking dog when anything will set it off and when a prowler can quiet it by tossing it a handful of biscuits?

Barking dogs, like car alarms, don't even raise an eyebrow these days. Those who work at home, or sleep during the day, are most susceptible. If we carried a set of drums into our backyard and banged on them at intervals during the day and night, we would be cited for disturbing the peace. The barking of dogs is as violent a disturbance as any uninvited sound and should not be regarded as a benign expression of animal life.

Occasionally one reads a letter to the editor from someone who is deeply disturbed by dog-barking, but I wonder if there are large numbers of people who share this view and would like to organize for the common cause of quiet in our cities. Former Surgeon General William H. Stewart said in an address to the Conference on Noise as a Public Health Hazard: ``Those things within man's power to control which impact upon the individual in a negative way, which infringe upon his sense of integrity, and interrupt his pursuit of fulfillment, are hazards to public health. Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience.'' In California we have made serious efforts to reduce smog, but will we quiet our dogs and create peaceful communities?


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