Supervisors: Can’t do anything about barking dogs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 4, 2007

COURTLAND— Southampton County supervisors may have felt they had one foot in the future and one in the past during Monday’s meeting.

Looking to the future, the board set a public hearing for a new kennel ordinance designed to remove supervisors from their frequent position as mediators in neighborhood disputes.

Keeping them firmly rooted in their recent history, though, was an impassioned plea for their help with just such a dispute.

While arguments about dogs have been somewhat common during public hearings for kennel permits in recent years — in fact, such disputes were the motivation for a kennel license process that would bypass the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission altogether — Monday’s request was unusual in that it was unrelated to any scheduled public hearing.

In fact, Rita McCormick told supervisors, addressing the board about her neighbors’ barking dogs was &uot;a last resort,&uot; something she chose to do after five years worth of fruitless cajoling and complaining.

&uot;It’s like Chinese water torture,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ve reached a breaking point.&uot;

McCormick told the board that she and her husband had done everything short of suing their neighbor for the noise of as many as 31 dogs kept in kennels 527 feet and 1,500 feet from their Appleton Road home.

&uot;This is not a property dispute,&uot; she assured supervisors. &uot;The issue is the noise.&uot;

She described trying night after night to fall asleep and lying awake until 2:30 or 3:30 a.m., listening to &uot;the relentless barking of dogs.&uot; Her neighbor has ignored all her complaints, she said.

&uot;I know these are good people,&uot; she said. &uot;But they have a blind spot when it comes to these dogs.&uot;

Supervisors agreed that the McCormicks have a frustrating situation, but they said they were unable to do much to help her.

&uot;I would not like to live in your situation,&uot; Boykins District Supervisor Carl Faison admitted. &uot;But I don’t see what remedy there would be.&uot;

Southampton has a noise ordinance, and McCormick said she and her husband had called the sheriff’s department for help at various times, to no avail.

According to Section 10-31(b)(3) of the Southampton County Code, it is a misdemeanor with a potential fine of $250 to keep &uot;any animal which shall be the source of any noise or sound of such a character, volume, duration or frequency as to disturb, injure or endanger the quiet, comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of any other person.&uot;

Some board members worried that taking a stand against the noise in a legally operated kennel could set a precedent that would endanger the county’s hunting heritage.

&uot;You have to be careful you don’t open up Pandora’s box with this,&uot; Newsoms District representative Walt Brown said. &uot;There’s a right to hunt, just like a right to farm.&uot;

Noting that there are legal remedies the McCormicks could seek, County Attorney Richard Railey Jr. said, &uot;This board is not in the business of enforcing criminal law.&uot;

The whole issue of dog kennels has been a source of continuing frustration for supervisors, whose public hearings in connection with kennel permit requests have consumed large parts of several meetings during the past couple of years.

In an effort to remove both themselves and the Planning Commission from the kennel permit process, supervisors agreed Monday to hold a public hearing on new kennel permit procedures during their December meeting.

The new process would make most such permits available after administrative review, and the Board of Zoning Appeals would mediate contested kennels.

&uot;Checks and balances are written into this (new ordinance),&uot; Supervisor Faison said during discussions on Monday.