Idea makes citizens howl

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Dogs chasing cars and barking all night are staples of country living, said a majority of citizens speaking out against nuisance and noise ordinance proposals dealing with animals at hearings before Carroll supervisors Dec. 8.

The proposed noise ordinance named any animal or bird that would "cause frequent or long-continued noise," like barking, whining or howling. The proposal would also regulate noise from loud car or home stereos, collecting garbage before 5 a.m., musical instruments and more.

The nuisance animal ordinance dealt with animals that repeatedly entered and damaged properties, chased cars and molested pedestrians.

Approving these ordinances would give neighbors dealing with noise or problem animals a recourse to make complaints and seek relief from a court, County Attorney Jim Cornwell explained before the public hearings.

The noise ordinance would leave it up to a judge to decide whether a person with barking dogs in the middle of the night, for example, would be held accountable in a court of law. Cornwell said it would then be up to the court to determine if conduct had violated the ordinance.

"We took this right out of certain ordinances that have been adopted by other jurisdictions, which have been found to be valid," Cornwell said.

If a citizen has a radio turned all the way up at 2 a.m., and no other recourse works, then a neighbor can swear out a complaint, he said.

Some citizens didn't pull their punches during a public hearing about what they felt on the proposed noise ordinance.

"First of all, I just think y'all have a whole lot more important things to be working on than a noise ordinance," said Donna Peery.

The ordinance is broad enough that it might apply to someone preaching from the courthouse steps, she added. That would be an infringement on an individual's free speech rights.

She could see the need for a noise ordinance in certain places, like mobile home parks or apartments, but not across the whole county.

"Most of us live in the country and part of living in the country is listening to a dog bark," Peery said. "I listen to mine bark on a nightly basis."

When her dog won't quiet down, she uses earplugs.

There's only two ways she knows to make a dog stop barking — a muzzle or a .22-caliber bullet between the eyes, she said. She won't do either because she might get charged with animal cruelty.

Who makes the determination about noise?

"How much are we going to increase our police force to enforce this ordinance?” Peery asked. "Are we going to have to have more dog wardens?"

Is it even enforceable, "or is it just going to create a lot of friction between neighbors?"

As for Peery, noise from Harley-Davidson motorcycles, pickups without mufflers or lawn mowers are things she doesn't like.

"I don't know if we can legislate every single pet peeve that people have," she said.

A ban on dogs barking is just a little too much, said speaker Junior Horton, a dog breeder. Farmers work cattle with dogs, people hunt with dogs, others use them for protection. It looked to him like people had forgotten that Virginia's state dog is a foxhound.

Applying a noise ordinance to a radio made sense to Horton, but he thought dogs should be taken out of the proposal. He also thought Carroll supervisors ought to worry about jobs in the county.

Citizen Janet Tate said she would prefer county residents having a recourse through an ordinance, rather than them doing something they might regret later when their sleep was disturbed by loud noises.

"I think it's good to have guidelines to help people deal with problems," Tate said. "We all do live together in this county, and I think it's a little easier to live together when there are resources when you have a problem..."

David Winesett, also a dog breeder, called it amazing that the supervisors would even consider this kind of ordinance. Most people believe its absurd.

Children coming out of the church next to his house on Sundays make noise, but Winesett understands that's just a part of life.

Likewise, it's understandable if a neighbor's dog barks when a car pulls into their driveway.

Winesett believes that people that move in from other places are using their "outspoken voice" to tell others how to live. "I can't imagine why they come here to live and want to change us. I just don't understand."

How are people going to hunt if you pass this ordinance? Ray Hunt asked.

"If we pass this law we might as well throw open our arms to these animal rights [groups]," he said. "It'll be just like turning them in the back door."

And Mike DeHaven thought the dog ordinance was a joke.

Hunting dogs in their pen at dark will start to bark, even if they have plenty of food and water, he said. What's next? A bawling cow?

"It's just a domino effect — you get one started, it'll be dogs today, cows tomorrow, and they done got dogs more important than kids in this county," he said.

Robert Longo explained that he moved to Carroll to take advantage of the peace and quiet here.

Living next to property that had been used as a motocross track, Longo felt the more important focus was noise from machines. Dogs should be controlled by the people who own them.

He does think the county needs an ordinance to protect peoples' enjoyment of their property, and that it's important to set guidelines to preserve the beauty here.

Richard Melton said he's a farmer and farm machinery makes a racket when the tractors are running.

He's ridden motorcycles, too, and got enjoyment from it. He's sorry if that disturbed someone else.

He encouraged supervisors to consider the other side of the issue.

Emmett Jones described himself as a believer in the idea that if you want to control something, you have to own it.

Like the guy who owned cattle across from Jones' home on Breezy Ridge. "I had no objection to that, because that property didn't belong to me, and I had no control over it so I never opened my mouth about anything about it."

The Joneses keep their German shepherd fenced, but he barks when people come around, Jones said. That's primarily what they like the dog to do.

"I think sometimes these ordinances can put too much restrictions on," he said. "We need to still have a few liberties at our homes, I think."

Introducing the second public hearing, Cornwell stressed that the nuisance animal ordinance proposal is not a leash law. It pertains to dogs or animals that repeatedly trespass on someone's property.

That person can call the animal control officer for help, and he would come and pick the animal up, the county attorney said. If there's a tag on the animal, it would be returned to the owner.

It's only if the dog trespasses again, that the owner could be charged. Cornwell said the same thing applies to animals that run at-large, chasing cars and people.

The proposal also has provisions in case cattle get out and damage a garden, go on school property or make excessive, continuous noise.

Winesett felt this proposal was an attempt to get at people who hunt.

"What you have here is the beginning of an attempt to stop the right to retrieve law," he said. "It's been done in other places and been supported by animal rights people"

Hunting and fishing is a right in this country, he said. But there are people who don't feel the average citizen can handle their own animals.

Isn't it just common sense that, if your cattle — something you invested money in — get out, you'd go get them? Winesett said.

"I believe, if you're representing your constituency, the people who put you in that chair, if you poll them, you'll have no question in your mind what to do," he said.

Only the dog is at risk when a dog chases a car, said Peery.

"I'm of the opinion if he gets killed chasing a car, he died happy. I mean that's just the way we always viewed the dogs and the road."

Again, she wondered how the supervisors could hope to regulate this issue.

"My sister has a pigpen," she said. "I'm sure it's a nuisance to the lady that lives across the street."

Sure, if her neighbor asks Peery to get her animal off their property, she said she has a responsibility to do that. "I just think y'all are just asking for trouble... with something like this you're just asking for it.”

Peery would bet that a “transplant” — someone not native to Carroll County —brought this up in the first place.

"We're having a little bit of a culture clash here, bless these folks' hearts," Blaine Winesett said.

People need to respect their neighbors, he said. So if his cow is over at a neighbor's house, he'd go get it. If it caused damage, he'd take care of it.

Good fences make good neighbors, he noted.

G.L. Quesenberry felt the whole discussion on the "stupid noise ordinance" was a waste.

"What are you going to do, put mufflers on these trucks so they don't make a big noise? I got one going by my house every night at 2 o'clock in the morning... Stop that racket if you're going to stop racket," he said. "Dogs barking don't hurt."

If people call about a barking dog, it'll be gone by the time police get there.

"You fightin' a losing battle, you spending my tax money on something here that don't mean a dad gum to me or any of my neighbors," Quesenberry said.

After everybody had their say in the public hearings, Supervisors' Chairman Sam Dickson asked if any of the other county board members had a motion to make.

There were none.

If a citizen or a group of citizens come to the supervisors with a concern, then the county board needs to find out the feelings of the community, Dickson explained.

This is a rural community, and most times neighbors can work out their problems.

"I think everybody's taken your words to heart, but we do, you know, have a responsibility to serve all people," Dickson said.