Saturday, February 14, 2015

Barking for Dollars

What are the real, quantifiable damages associated with dog barking?  I have had MANY folks email me about a recent civil case.   Apparently, a dog owner loses a $500,000.00 lawsuit over their allegedly barking dog.

Relevant actors:
- Woodrow Thompson, plaintiff.
- Denise Norton, defendant.
- Cawper the superbarker.

"In a sprawling 36-page complaint, Norton's neighbor Woodrow Thompson alleged that Cawper is known for "raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking" and that he is an outrage, with intentional infliction of emotional distress -- and that his barking caused "profound emotional distress."

I am with you there, brother!  People often use their dogs to project aggression, since almost everyone knows that aggression of all types via dogs is perfectly acceptable.  Indeed, my ex-neighbors across the street would respond to complaints about their dogs by moving them to their front yard so as to increase the noise level in my home even further.   This type of behavior is so common in these sorts of cases it is now my default assumption.

"Thompson's complaint suggests Cawper is capable of barking at 128 decibels through double pane windows. According to Purdue University research, that would mean Cawper is louder than a chainsaw, a clap of thunder and just a hair quieter than the takeoff of a military jet."

That may be a bit of an exaggeration.  I think the world record for loud barking is ~113 decibels.  Consider that a Decibel is a logarithmic unit:  For example, 110 decibels is NOT 10% louder than 100, it is MANY TIMES AS LOUD.  This would mean that Cawper is generating MULTIPLE TIMES more sound energy than any other dog recorded.   I believe your typical superbarker generates 105 decibels, still enough to damage human hearing in close proximity, and carry for long distances and through solid objects.

Not that I dismiss that portion of the claim out of hand:  They keep breeding pit bulls bigger and bigger.... why not keep breeding barkers louder and louder?  It is only a matter of time before we have 200+ lb pitbulls in our neighborhood, so a superbarker loud enough to shatter concrete may not be far behind!  Forget about mere noise trespass and harassment - Fido can now level buildings with his exclamations!

On to the legal aspects:  One interesting thing about this case is that the plaintiff did NOT win the case on merit.  The case was won by default.  The defendant did not take the complaint seriously, and ignored it.  She flat out disregarded the summons.  Who are those lowly peons to complain about the almighty Dog?

I am a relatively experienced litigant:  You do NOT ignore a summons!  Even a frivolous case can and will be won if you don't defend it.  If the case truly is frivolous, for example if the defendant had the dog debarked years ago and can prove that, then they need to offer that as an affirmative defense AND perhaps counter sue the plaintiff for harassment.  DO NOT THUMB YOUR NOSE AT THE COURT.

So, the takeaway is this:  There is a BIG difference between (A) doing the right thing, and (B) doing the wrong thing and getting away with it.  If you let your dog bark all the time you fall squarely into the (B) column.  While dog owners enjoy "noble" status (for now) that does NOT grant you unlimited political and social capital.  Keep up the bad behavior and you WILL get into trouble eventually.   Do not be wildly overconfident when dealing with the lower (i.e. non dog owning) underclasses as they CAN rise get you if they try hard enough and/or you are irresponsible enough.



  1. I've read that in California you can sue your neighbors for excessive barking to the tune of $5000. I think it should be this way everywhere. How much trouble is it really to get off your ass and shut your dog up or take care of it properly so it's not bored, lonely, under stimulated, under exercised? Have it debarked or put a bark control collar on it? If you're not willing to step up to the plate don't have dog-it's better off without you.

  2. Have you seen this nuisance barking dog story?

    1. Yes, that's another one that has gone viral. I intend to write about it soon.

  3. Things would be much better off if dogs were banned from urban and suburban areas entirely. This isn't the 1600s. There aren't huge open spaces between tiny towns and villages anymore. The Romans had banned chariots riding through the city at night because the rattle of the wheels and the clacking of the horse's hooves against cobblestone would wake everyone up as it passed through. There's an example of action being taken against unnecessary noise. Dogs nowadays are unnecessary noise since everyone is too busy to take care of it. Dogs should be reserved for farms and other open-space workplaces because it gives them something to do and burn off all the energy that they have on running and herding, not barking and howling. Hey, if lawmakers reserved farm animals to be on farms, they should move the dog to the farm animal category as well. It clearly belongs there. It does not belong next door, on the front yard, yowling up a storm, or escaping and eating your child's face. If it does eat some hapless creature's face, kill it immediately.

    Either way it's sliced, dogs are a huge problem as there are so many breeds and so many idiots willing to defend those breeds because society told them to. What a bunch of sheep. Who here has heard of prey defending a predator? It makes no sense.

  4. My family owns dogs and they are friendly but the BARKING annoys me so much. Same goes for dogs belonging to others. Doesn't matter if it's in the front yard, back, or indoors, most bark excessively even after you pass. The city was ten times worse, as every neighborhood was in close quarters so you'd have dog after dog barking when someone or something came by. I came to dread 4PM bar Sundays, as on Sunday you don't get the mail! I took a lot of long walks in the city too, and it was almost a game to see how long before X dog at X house noticed me and started raising the alarm.

    Seriously, barking is one of the major reasons I'm put off from having my own dog. Neediness is the other big one. You can find a dog that suits your exercise, grooming, space, and people-friendly needs, but every breed barks and every breed demands a lot of daily attention. For me that's more trouble than it's worth, and it very well may stay that way.

  5. If you can't handle the responsibilities of dog ownership, don't have one. Remember, it's OKAY to be pet-free!

    1. It took a me long time to realize there was nothing wrong with losing enthusiasm over the idea of having my own dog. I LOVED dogs as a kid but while I'm still drawn to some breeds, over time I mellowed into a "dog-liker". I think it was partly from spending a year in Indonesia, where some of us liked dogs but most of us didn't. Those who did knew dogs are animals, not people.

      I later moved in with a family back in the States. And oh, I love this family. But they've always owned dogs, and I quickly found I wasn't keen on having dogs around me ALL THE TIME. After the close-quarter daily barking and neediness, the glamorization of ownership started to crumble.

      I did anthropomorphize dogs throughout my teen years, but I didn't like collective anthropomorphism making them more important than other animals, apparently. It felt selfish to me. But this was America, so I felt weirdly censored from voicing my disgruntled attitude. So I convinced myself I still loved dogs to avoid judgment, which is silly looking back, but that's how it went. First Amendment on all but Fido, eh?

      It's not 100 percent set I'll never have a dog, though getting one would likely be at the behest of my metaphorical future wife. And I'd be very picky about breed, regardless of whether it was hers or mine.

    2. I live with my guy's dog and keeping a dog properly is a lot of work, expense and FILTH. In a study the average cost of keeping a medium size dog, eating only average quality kibble and getting only routine vet care, was about $100 a month. If your dog lives to 14 that's over $16,000 blown with nothing to show for it but pictures. That doesn't include the most common homeowners insurance claim-dog bite. The average settlement in a dog bite case is over $29,000 and the average in a pit bull mauling is over $500,000. A dog bite judgment is typically NOT dischargeable in bankruptcy court. Add in the cost of a destroyed house and yard-the carpeting has been shat and pissed on all over and will have to be replaced-I don't see any manner in which dogs are worth it. Don't forget you'll have to get off your rear and walk you dog briskly at least 30 minutes twice a day no matter what the weather is or how shitty you feel. The dog will be up your ass anyways-most dog people seem to LOVE that but I don't want anyone or anything up my ass all the time.

  6. "Keep up the bad behavior and you WILL get into trouble eventually."

    County lien for not paying the barking dog fine.
    Failure to refinance the house due to the lien.
    Federal tax lien on the property.
    Property seized by Feds.
    3 counts of aggravated assault (domestic violence)
    Sexual offenses. (unknown if with minor)
    Weapon offenses.

    yep, you got that right.

  7. It was quite enjoyable seeing a Forensic officer photograph him, his hands, cuff him and put him in the back of the Paddy wagon. Law enforcement were at that house and had traffic detoured for 13 hours. It's day/vision I will always remember fondly.

    His 3 day trial by jury is the middle of next month. I presume the prosecutors office didn't offer a plea deal.

  8. @Anonymous: Your story proves what I've long believed.

    And here goes: The owners of relentless barkers have more issues than just their failure to control their animals. They often have legal issues.

  9. i am unable to follow this conversation. wtf is going on here?