Dogs bark, folks gripe, judge balks


   Fans of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle, may recall a case that turned on the failure of a stable dog to bark while a race horse was being stolen. Holmes deduced from this that the culprit was a stable employee, rather than a stranger.
   As with many details of the Baker Street detective’s Victorian adventures, this plot device is clever, quaint and far removed from the real world of the 21st Century. Anyone unfortunate enough to live next door to a garrulous canine can testify that the beast will bark not only at strangers but also at any and all human beings, cats, cars and falling leaves frequenting the neighborhood.
   Where dogs of this disposition are concerned, familiarity breeds not silence but contempt from the neighbors.
   And so it is that the Montgomery Township Committee finds itself deliberating over the "vocalizations" of dogs in proposed amendments to its animal control code.
   The problem stems from a judge’s ruling in a complaint brought by residents who lived within barking distance of a kennel. The judge noted that the town’s prohibition against "excessive, loud, or continuous howling, crying, barking and/or making and causing of any other such sounds or noises" is too vague to be enforced.
   So the committee is considering language that would set legal limits for the number of "vocalizations" in a "specified time period." Barking dogs would run afoul of the new law with "four vocalizations per minute" within 10 minutes or "two vocalizations per minute" within 30 minutes."
   So-called "obedience" schools for dogs already do a brisk business but they might be well advised to start teaching the pooches to tell time so they can stop "vocalizing" at nine minutes or 29 minutes and thus beat the rap.
   Judges will no doubt expect the timekeeping to be done by humans, however. Will dog wardens or police offices be lurking in the bushes with stopwatches? Will sleep-deprived neighbors have to produce audio recordings of the suspect yapping? These are mysteries yet to unfold.
   For that matter, not all suburban noise pollution can be laid at the paws next door. We envy anyone who can hear barking dogs over the din of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, whining pool filters and blaring music — not to mention neighbors who pace their yards while shouting into their cell phones in order to be heard above all the other noise.
   We sympathize with the Township Committee as it struggles with this dilemma. But the enforcement issues implicit in its proposed solution tempt us to invoke the southern-fried admonition, "That dog won’t hunt."
   Or, more to the point, some dogs won’t shut up.