When Lassie gets loud

Today, Guss, founder of Stop Torture, Abuse & Neglect of Dogs, and PetPAC founder Hemby determine the proper response to loud and intimidating dogs. Previously, they debated the stymied "California Healthy Pets Act" and pit-bull deprogramming. Later in the week, they'll discuss canine living quarters and rights for pets.

Don't throw out the dogBy Daniel Guss

The dubious, breathtaking comments you made this week astounded lots of people, including a high-ranking shelter official in Southern California who writes, "Ask [Bill] to come to one of our shelters, and he can spend the day in the kill room.… Better yet, he can hold the puppies while they are being poked in the belly with a needle and hold them while they die. Would he even care?"

Because you're busy bringing even more dogs into the world, I imagine barking-dog complaints are nothing new in your neighborhood.

But for normal people who have only one or a few dogs, I think barking complaints are more often about "getting even" with the neighbors: "You complain about my stereo, so I'll complain about your dog barking!"

Several years ago, I was asked to help mediate such a situation. For a year, the city of Los Angeles wasted resources until both parties moved out of the area for unrelated reasons. Multiply that by a few hundred such complaints and it's no wonder that L.A. has such a backlog of mostly irrelevant dog-barking cases. The only thing more congested in L.A. is the traffic.

Ed Boks, general manager of L.A. Animal Services, has kept a dog, Stu, held in the system for nearly two years (albeit on a different complaint) even though the L.A. Animal Services Commission discovered this week that one of its former members made ghastly procedural errors that it said suggested bias. That's the same kind of vindictiveness found in most un-neighborly barking-dog cases.

It's too bad that they're not as civil as we are, right, my friend? It's a purely civil matter that should be handled, well, civilly.

The etiquette of the issue is the same that applies to a neighbor's noisy stereo: If one of your other neighbors is also bothered by the noise, the complaint probably has some merit. But if you're the only neighbor complaining, you might be making an issue out of nothing. It also depends a lot on the vibe of your neighborhood.

If you and another neighbor concur that the dog is truly barking too much, it is likely that the dog is in distress, lonely, hungry or in pain — the same reasons that babies cry. Try to be understanding and suggest that maybe it needs a companion or a visit to the vet. Once again, these are things that an attentive owner or civil neighbors can address with common sense or a recommended trainer.

You don't throw out the baby, and you shouldn't throw out the dog. It's a really bad lesson to teach your kids, especially when you'll need them to care for you someday.

Of course, some dogs just like to bark. One of my neighbors has a dog who barks just because he feels like it. In fact, Lucky is barking right now. I don't like it, but I deal with it. I am turning up the stereo.

Daniel Guss is a Los Angeles writer and MBA who founded Stop Torture Abuse & Neglect of Dogs (STANDfoundation.org).

The curse of the barking dogBy Bill Hemby

If your high-ranking shelter official in Southern California were reading this, I would let him or her know, "Yes, I do care." I have been in animal shelters. I have held my own dogs in my arms when it was necessary to let them go because of incurable diseases or emergencies. That is my responsibility as an owner. The last thing I want my dog to see when that needle is inserted is me, its lifelong companion.

By the way, I wish I could have extended that same courtesy to your shelter person when I was a San Francisco cop, a job in which I once held in my arms a young blond woman who had just blown her head apart, and in which I picked up a child who strangled to death when he slipped between the slats on his crib. Oh yeah, then there was the kook who set himself on fire in protest — that was a thrilling rescue.

Like most cops, I responded to many barking-dog complaints in my day. If the dog was barking, I talked to the owner, which usually sufficed. It was a great waste of time and kept us away from our favorite doughnut shop.

Some dogs just like to bark because of frustration, loneliness or protecting their property.

If you can make friends with the animal, it might help. Better yet, make friends with your neighbors.

For neighborhoods with habitual barkers, I often did two things. One was issuing a citation that required the owner to purchase and use a bark collar — one that uses painless sonic sounds or citronella spray rather than electric shocks. Another was telling neighbors to buy air horns similar to the ones you hear at football games. When a neighbor's dog barks, open the window and let him have it. It will not only stop the barking but wake other neighbors so they too can enjoy the same cacophony of sounds at 3 a.m.

Where I live, Dan, in the middle of a forest, it's kind of like "The Hound of the Baskervilles." The real thrill is when the coyote and her pups living near us start up in the early hours of the morning, or at their dinner time. Our dogs, hounds that they are, join in the chorus.

I do agree with you, Dan, that this sets neighbor against neighbor, the same as will happen if one of those crazy mandatory spay/neuter laws were to pass: You want to get even with the dog owner behind your house? Just turn him in for having an unaltered dog.

Bill Hemby is the chairman and founder of PetPAC, an organization that fights for the rights of pets and their owners, and lobbyist for the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs.

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