The issue has become a symbol of the struggle between outsiders and locals to find common ground as neighbors.
“If they don’t like us, why do they spend their money to move here and then try to change us,” said Marva Jennings, a member of the Jackson County Coon Hunters Association. “I think it is a deeper issue than dogs. We have tried over the years to welcome people here. But, it is very hard for us locals to welcome people if they are going to change our way of life.”
Ronnie Bryson said his family has owned hunting dogs on the same tract of land for more than a century.
“We’ve never had an issue with barking dogs from any of our neighbors until these people moved here,” Bryson said. “They come here to see us, ‘Oh, we love y’all, y’all are easy to get along with,’ but they are trying to change us into the people they left from wherever they were.”
Bryson said the only way to make the dogs stop barking is to get rid of them — and that would mean taking away a part of who he is. Hunting dogs are part and parcel with his heritage and way of life.
“They are going to bark. They are hunting dogs. That is a part of life,” Bryson said. “We have to be out at work all day long, and we can’t do nothing about our dogs while we go.”
Frank Clayton said he wants to pass on the tradition of hunting with dogs.
“Whether it is for rabbits or bear or coon or fox or coyotes, whatever, this is a heritage that was built on lifetime’s past by people we have always looked up to,” Clayton said.
Hunting dogs are a part of his family, Clayton said, just as much as any pet.
“We love our dogs as much as anybody here loves the pet at their homes that sit in their lap,” Clayton said.
Commissioners have now found themselves between a rock and a hard place. At least three times during the past year, residents have appeared before the county commissioners talking about incessant barking from nearby dogs and appealing for help to quiet the noise that is driving them crazy.
So commissioners asked the county planner to research what other counties did when it came to barking dogs — which ones had ordinances, how they were worded and how they were enforced.
That set off a firestorm in the hunting dog community, prompting the large and vocal crowd on the other end of the issue to pack this week’s commissioner meeting.
But Corbbit Hall of Savannah, who owns hunting dogs himself, admitted that there are a few irresponsible dog owners causing the majority of the problems.
“If you have 10 or 12 dogs tied up and they bark 24-7 around the clock, yeah, it would get old,” Hall said.
What, if anything, comes next?
Commissioners remained noticeably silent after audience members spoke on the issue. They gave no indication of where they stood — whether the issue was over or whether they would keep exploring it.
As the crowd spilled into the lobby after the commissioners’ meeting ended, they were somewhat at a loss as to whether they had been successful in getting commissioners to abandon the idea of a barking dog ordinance.
“It seems we should have pretty well nipped it in the bud,” said Sam Jennings, who owns several hunting dogs in the Glenville area.
But, commissioners had been mostly poker-faced during the audience comments, leaving the audience wondering where the issue stands.
“I would have liked to hear from them,” said Corbitt Hall from the Savannah community.
That lack of clarity among the public is understandable — commissioners don’t truly know what, if anything, will happen now.
“I think it is tabled for a while. I think we have other things that are more important,” said County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam after the meeting. “It is not dead forever, but it is not on the horizon as something that is necessary to be working on right now.”
To say the county was ever in fact working on an ordinance is a stretch. Commissioners did ask the county planner to brush up on how other places addressed barking dogs but never clearly indicated intentions to pass such an ordinance in Jackson.
Commissioner Joe Cowan isn’t ready to throw in the towel, however, and would like to work toward a solution.
“Personally, I think we need to look into it. I would like to see some kind of accommodation worked out,” Cowan said. “I think we should see if there is middle ground.”
Cowan can see the viewpoint of both sides. A yard-full of constantly baying and barking dogs right next door would indeed be irritating.
“There should be some kind of remedy for that,” Cowan said. “But, people’s dogs are very important to them.”
Debnam indicated that he doesn’t think the county should specifically regulate barking dogs.
“I think it is worth exploring. I don’t think it is worth the effort just to concentrate on dogs,” Debnam said.