The barking was incessant.
Day or night, the small dog’s high-pitched yapping ground away at Gary Leonard’s nerves, sometimes rousing him from sleep.
Leonard and his wife, Echo Park residents, had had enough and eventually filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Animal Services.
Leonard, though, was frustrated at the pace of the department’s hearing process. “It was silly how long it took,” he recalled, adding that he endured the dog’s barking for more than a year and showed up at two hearings before the woman removed her dog.
Such complaints — of the slow process and lack of teeth to the city’s barking ordinance — finally prompted officials to act.
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to amend the city’s barking law, imposing fines on the owners of dogs that bark excessively — even if the canines are not licensed by the city.
Under the changes, dog owners would face fines starting at $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third if a hearing conducted by the Department of Animal Services determines that a dog barks too much.
But exactly how much barking is too much?
The changes approved in the 12-0 vote would make that clearer to animal services officials, Assistant City Atty. Dov Lesel said.
A dog’s barking would be considered excessive if it continued for 10 minutes or more, or intermittently for 30 minutes or more within a three-hour period, Lesel said.
In addition to the new fines, the changes would give animal services officials more power in dealing with owners of unlicensed dogs.
Under the old ordinance, last amended about 20 years ago, hearings did not proceed against residents who did not have licensed dogs, essentially stalling city action, Lesel said. There were also no fines.
“Prior to this, it rewarded people who did not have licenses versus people who were law-abiding and had licenses,” Lesel said.
Jose Sigala, president of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council’s board, said the changes make the ordinance more fair and clear to residents. Sigala, however, worries that the fines are too steep.
“I can see this affecting a lot of working-class neighborhoods,” he said, noting that many residents have dogs to deter break-ins and other property crimes.
Brenda Barnette, general manager of the Animal Services Department, called the fines reasonable, adding that dog owners would have time to remedy the problem before a fine would be imposed.
“If a dog hears somebody or something and barks, that’s a good thing. That’s a warning,” Barnette said. “If a dog just stays out and barks and barks, that’s really not reasonable.”
Barnette said her understaffed department has a six-month backlog of hearings, the bulk of which involve excessive barking cases.
During Tuesday’s brief discussion on the ordinance amendment, Councilman Richard Alarcon urged that a marketing strategy be planned to inform Los Angeles residents of the new fines and changes.
The amended ordinance will now go to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is expected to sign it. If he does, it will take effect before the end of the year.