Your Neighbors May Be Abusing Your Pets
No one can condone truly excessive dog barking. (Anyone who
has taken their dog to a dog kennel knows what truly excessive barking is.)
However, there are those who would declare one bark excessive, while there
are those who grow indignant by merely having to live next door to a dog
that has to be heard now and then.
Because of advances in technology, new and unforeseen methods of animal abuse
have been developed and are currently on the market. Of particular note are
ultrasonic bark-stoppers, high-pitched dog-repellers and other devices that
use sound to punish a dog when it barks. One such flavored device is designed
to be swallowed by the animal and can be activated by a cell phone.
Because these technological devices are so new there are no specific laws on
the books that would regulate (or stop) their use. Most enforcers of animal
cruelty laws don’t even know they are being used, and they are being
used with more regularity than most dog owners realize.
The reason for such ignorance is that these devices are designed to be practically
invisible. Most of the punishing-sound devices are inaudible (or barely audible)
to human ears, yet they can create “discomfort” in animals, particularly
dogs, even when used at great distances. Many such devices were designed to
ward off attacks by vicious dogs, rather than for close-up use on animals that
are tethered or otherwise confined and cannot escape. Manufacturers have discovered
a boon market for these devices, which can be purchased, with anonymity, on
Even when such a device is discovered, proving such cruel use and that the
use is responsible for harming the animals is difficult. Providing witnesses
and photographic documentation is near impossible.
One such device, the Good Neighbor Barker Breaker, advertises that you can “[M]ount
Good Neighbor Barker Breaker on your property, near your neighbor’s barking
dog.” The unit has a built in microphone that listens for barks and emits
a sudden, high-pitched sound that “distracts the dog and stops annoying
barking” with a range of up to 40 feet. It further advertises that it
can even be used “while you’re away!” In an article at http://www.byte.com/art/9801/sec15/art1.htm,
author Marc Abrahams details the “Doggie Don’t” manufactured
by Q-Smith, Ltd. According to Abrahams, the device is a “battery-powered
mini car alarm joined to a cell-phone receiver” that is disguised as
beef-flavored gum and fed to the animal. It is activated by the cell phone.
Even Abrahams states that the device is “at the fringe of legality,” but
extols that “pranksters will have field day with this product, but that’s
the price we pay for having such flexibly useful technology.” As few
dog-owners have their pets x-rayed at the veterinarian, the likelihood of discovering
this device is slight. (The article even extols that it can be reused when
For anyone owning a dog for protection of the home, these devices affect such
protection. The more the dog is exposed to and harmed by the device, the less
it will perform its security duties and not want to bark when needed.
It is not likely that there are any criminal laws that address these tools
of torture in the entire United States; there certainly is no statute or case
law in the state of Maryland. New laws are needed to address these new technologies
and the abuses they can encourage. Moreover, while there are animal cruelty
laws in most county codes, they are usually enforced by county agencies that
are very poorly funded.
Electronic shock collars have been on the market for a long time, and one would
assume that they are safe; however, a February 2006 article in the Whole Dog
Journal indicates that these tried devices may not be so safe. Author Pat Miller
notes that some dogs are affected negatively and exhibit “learned helplessness” behavior
and/or the ceasing of normal dog behavior. The article parades a series of
personal accounts that demonstrate what kind of bad experiences can result
from these tried systems for behavior modification. The individuals wielding
the devices in the article are, for the most part, compassionate owners that
seek the bare minimum in volume or shock. However, the users of the new sound
devices are more likely to be cranking up the volume for maximum affect. Dogs
affected by these devices hide under furniture, walk low to the ground and
shiver. One dog-owner witnessed a neighbor’s handheld noise device attack
on his tethered dog, at close range, and stated that the dog was writhing on
the ground and frothing at the mouth before he was able to stop the attack.
The manufacturers and vendors of these products claim that the products are
safe, yet they extol the punishing virtues of the devices. It is surprising
that these manufacturers would open themselves to civil liability in this manner.
It is true that the animal is valued at a few dollars of personal property,
yet to most pet owners, their animal is more than mere personal property, and
certainly worth more than the dollar valuation assumed for pets. However, an
argument can be made that damages include the cost of a replacement security
system or the decrease in value of a home because of such ongoing nuisance
County agencies are authorized to enforce animal laws in a county, not neighbors.
This western-style justice is particularly offensive because it is hidden and
unknown or ignored.
Glenn H. Meyer is an Owings Mills-based sole practitioner concentrating
in the areas of bankruptcy and collection.