ROMNEY - A provision that would have fined Hampshire County residents if their dog barked on more than five occasions within a five-day period is being dropped from a proposed barking dog ordinance.

Several people appeared before Hampshire County Commissioners Don Cookman, Steve Slonaker and Robert Hott Tuesday during a public hearing to comment on the proposed ordinance.

Robert Ciszewski questioned how the ordinance would address the issues that were originally brought to the county commissioners for resolution dealing with kennels and rescues in the county with large numbers of dogs and the sanitary problems with them.

He said noise was a concern but was more concerned about the kennels and the unhealthy situations created by some of them.

Hott said the county-appointed committee on dog-related issues is continuing its work and the barking ordinance is only the first step.

"We are still meeting and we are going to address those concerns," he said.

Eugene Hobgin said he was concerned about dogs on property where the owner encourages their dogs to bark, particularly at the neighbors whenever they are outside. He, too, said he wanted to see additional health regulations.

Hott said state code addresses some issues relating to kennels but not necessarily those involving private citizens.

He also said the committee is working on establishing the number of dogs in kennels or rescues. "To my mind, that is what people can reasonably take care of," he said.

Returning to the proposed ordinance, Cookman said he believes it is a good first step and the proposal outlines the steps people must follow in order to file a complaint.

He said people from at least two separate households will have to sign an affidavit of complaint and that complaint will be investigated by the county's animal control officer, David Gee, with the assistance of another officer and the use of a sound meter.

Shayna and Jay Richmond, who operate a rescue kennel, are neighbors of Ciszewski, who has complained about their dogs, expressed concern about some aspects of the proposal and also asked if there are provisions to prevent harassment through continual complaints from neighbors.

Like other documents that must be sworn to, the person filing the complaint will be subject to prosecution if they don't tell the truth in the document, Cookman said.

The proposal states that a dog's barking, howling or yelping that occurs continually for 30 minutes or more and is audible beyond the property line of the premises on which it is located or for a shorter duration occurring on more than five occasions within a five-day period, is subject to complaint.

In response to the Richmonds' concerns, the commissioners agreed to omit the section related to the intermittent barking and said they would add the word unprovoked.

The ordinance will then read that it shall be prima facie evidence that any such dog is a public nuisance if the dog's unprovoked barking, howling or yelling occurs continually ..."

The Richmonds pointed out that the dogs usually bark when people go out to take care of them for feeding and kennel care and that usually occurs at least twice a day. "Anything like that stirs them up for a few minutes," Jay Richmond said. "If it goes on too long we know we have to check on them but we don't let it continue."

Jackie Roach asked what prima facie evidence is and Cookman explained it is evidence that is sufficient to show violation of the ordinance.

"It still has to be proven in court," he added.

He also said, "We are trying to find a happy medium here; it is not our intention to punish dog owners."

Cookman said Gee will assess and investigate all complaints but the investigation requires people to take responsibility for their complaints and follow through.

"All too often people call and complain but aren't willing to sign a complaint," he said.

Joyce Meyers and Gerry Gunn arrived as the hearing neared a conclusion. Meyers noted a situation in which at night someone rides a four-wheeler near her dog kennel using a dog whistle that causes the animals to bark. The commissioners agreed that would provoke animals to bark and if she could prove they were doing that the ordinance would not apply.

She also emphasized the need for compassion for animals and said that she wants to see the county become a no-kill county.

Gunn questioned the misdemeanor nature of the ordinance to which Gee noted that all animal violations in West Virginia are misdemeanor offenses.

At the end of the hearing Cookman said the ordinance would be referred back to the committee for changes and another public hearing would be held before the ordinance is adopted.

Meyers asked the next public meeting be held in the evening when more people could attend.

Contact Mona Ridder at monaridder@verizon.net.

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