The Laguna Beach City Council took the first steps toward updating its municipal code regarding dog barking, tying animals to moving vehicles or bikes, and determining a vicious, dangerous and nuisance animal.
According to a staff report, the move to modify portions of the Title 6 municipal code comes after recognizing the current definitions appear vague and subjective.
Professional Services Administrator Jim Beres, who oversees the police department’s three animal control officers and Laguna Beach Animal Shelter, gave council an overview of the details.
“Our current section on barking dogs is very subjective and undefined,” Beres said. “If one were to ask, ‘what is the current threshold of a dog committing a code violation by barking too much?’ the answer is not currently defined.”
The existing dog barking ordinance and enforcement is based on the number of complaints the police department receives and “what the animal services officer thought was reasonable,” Beres said.
“That gives us a situation where some dog owners feel like they’ve been treated differently than others,” Beres explained. “Right now, we won’t issue a warning notice or a citation unless the complaining party is willing to appear at an appeal hearing and defend the ticket because the onus is really on the complaining party.”
The new ordinance would adopt the same enforcement standard as Orange County Animal Control, as 13 other cities in the county have done, which defines a dog barking violation as “30 minutes of incessant or continuous barking within a 24-hour period” or “60 minutes of intermittent barking within a 24-hour period.”
In 2021, Laguna Beach Police Department received 222 barking dog complaints. This year, Animal Control has issued 23 warnings to residents with barking dogs and no citations.
Laguna resident and professional dog trainer Penny Milne said she agrees with creating a more objective standard of what constitutes a barking dog but would like to see animal behavioralists involved with the ordinance language.
“Part of the problem now is that neighbors get to declare whether a dog is a nuisance or not,” she told councilmembers. “Even though we’re putting a time on barking, it will still be a neighbor’s declaration. As a dog behavioralist, I can say that incessant barking is extraordinarily rare. Irritating and persistent barking, yes, but it ceases for two or three minutes, then picks back up. The neighbor would be responsible for some kind of definition and logging that. Not only is that a lot of logging to do, we’d be depending on an irritated neighbor to be fair and accurate.”
The next ordinance in question prohibits owners from tying animals to trees or shrubs along public sidewalks, streets and within city parks and beaches. Public poles, parking meters and benches are also off-limits.
Amended language would include tying animals to bicycles, e-bikes and vehicles if it endangers their well-being. Exceptions to the rule include non-motorized transport like scooters, skateboards and roller skates.
“Say someone is riding an e-bike at a high rate of speed and is ‘walking,’ if that’s the right word, their dog at a high rate of speed, and the dog isn’t healthy enough to walk that fast, maybe the dog isn’t injured or killed, but the dog’s well-being is negatively impacted. We can use this tool to address situations that are admittedly rare and infrequent. This isn’t common, but it has happened. We’ve had interested residents contact us because they’ve witnessed a neighbor walking their dog while riding a bicycle, and they’ve felt concerned about the animal’s welfare. We haven’t had an enforcement tool to address those issues in the past.”
Beres said the third ordinance, the current process on what determines an animal as a public nuisance, is unconstitutional. The animal services manager, which is Beres, has the power to declare any pet he so wishes as a nuisance.
“We’ve spent the last year or so working with the city attorney on drafting what we think is a really good ordinance, and it’s based on Irvine’s current ordinance, but we’ve tweaked it for Laguna.”
The proposed ordinance would clearly define what a vicious, dangerous and nuisance animal is, the city’s process to declare an animal as one and what the owner’s appeal procedure would be if they disagree with the city’s findings and orders.
The council approved the first reading of the ordinance to amend portions of the municipal code relating to animals and requested minor language changes, including the distinction between a domestic and wild animal, before a second reading is presented to the council.