Are dog-barking complainers simply howling at the moon?

The yippy-yappy cries of barking dogs have left Jackson County commissioners in a quandary as they face a rising tide of howls from unhappy residents.

How best to balance dog owners’ rights with residents’ growls for peace?

“I’m hoping that somebody has a magic solution out there,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said. “Because it’s a heck of a thing to figure out how to enforce.”

The county manager said that in addition to hearing multiple complaints from the public during recent county commissioner meetings, he’s received numerous emails and letters asking something be done.

Both Haywood and Swain counties have regulations governing barking dogs; Jackson and Macon do not.

Swain County, facing mounting complaints as Jackson is now, ultimately adopted state regulations that prohibit “habitual” barking dog offenders, Commissioner David Monteith said. Because as Wooten pointed out, it’s difficult to write an ordinance that commissioners will agree to pass and that is actually enforceable by local government.

“We looked at, I think, a dozen different ordinances,” Monteith said, “and couldn’t agree on any of them. We finally just adopted the state law.”

The keyword, Monteith emphasized, is “habitual.” It is an easier strategy than setting absolute limits, such as a certain time of night when no barking is allowed or a specific duration of barking that is just too much.

Haywood County’s ordinance regulates “frequent or long continued barking” that “disturbs the peace, quiet and comfort of residents of the area.”

Swain’s ordinance allows hunting dogs to bay unfettered, something that keeps local hunters happy — and they are always a strong political force to be reckoned with by local governments here in hunting-happy Western North Carolina.

But other residents weary of listening to neighbors’ dogs are pushing Jackson County commissioners hard. The latest complaint came from Margo Gray, who pleaded with commissioners earlier this month to do something. Gray, who owns three dogs of her own, is actively known for her work in the community promoting canine causes as a leader of the Western Carolina Dog Fanciers Association.

But now, Gray is entangled in a civil case with one of her neighbors in Webster, where she’s lived for 16 years, because of incessant barking by this neighbor’s dog.

“With owning a dog comes responsibility,” said Gray, who is co-owner of The Sylva Herald newspaper.

Gray said the barking, which she can hear inside her home day and night, is ruining her life.

David Young, who lives in Cashiers, couldn’t agree more. He expressed optimism this week that county workers truly seem interested in finding a solution, but that upbeat assessment was tempered by the fact he’s been complaining since 2008 on behalf of residents in Red Fox subdivision.

Young said the residents there are at their “last resort,” as is Gray, of “having to take their own legal action” against the dog owner to quiet the barking.

It shouldn’t be left to taxpaying residents to be forced into the court system to settle these matters, Young said, who added the question, “how is not acting on this helping to keep the peace?”

Wooten said he would ask County Planner Gerald Green to review dog-barking related ordinances; specifically, what might fall under the health department’s possible jurisdiction, and to consult with Sheriff Jimmy Ashe. Once Green has completed the research, he will present those findings to the county planning board to draft an ordinance for possible recommendation to commissioners, Wooten said.

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