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Willmar, Minn., police chief to review barking dog ordinance after mayor questions time spent

WILLMAR -- Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels will be reviewing the city ordinance that prohibits keeping or harboring a dog that habitually barks, bays, cries or howls.

Wyffels told the City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee at its recent meeting that he was asked by Mayor Frank Yanish to look into whether the council would be interested in revising the ordinance or looking for other ordinances that may have different regulations.

The council enacted the barking dog ordinance Nov. 7, 2001. It prohibits keeping or harboring a dog which habitually barks, bays, cries, or howls. Habitually barking, baying, crying, or howling is defined as barking, baying, crying, or howling continuously for at least 3 minutes with less than one 1 minute of interruption.

In order to violate the ordinance, the barking, baying, crying, or howling must be audible off the premises where the dog is located at the time of the incident. Violation is a petty misdemeanor, the sentence for which is a fine of not more than $300.

Yanish asked Wyffels how many people are fined.

Wyffels said normally very few animal owners are fined. He said his officers use the "three strikes and you're out'' approach. He said it would take a minimum of at least two calls before owners are cited.

"Usually on the third time we cite the person,'' the chief said.

He said the department handled 1,115 animal calls in 2009, 903 in 2010, 1,280 in 2011, and through July 31, 503 calls. Wyffels said the department does spend a lot of time on animals and said dogs bark for a number of reasons.

Yanish told the committee that the current ordinance is too time-consuming for the Police Department.

"Our Police Department should have better things to do than spending time determining how long the dog barks,'' he said.

In an interview later, Yanish said he wanted an ordinance that would provide stronger enforcement.

"If we are sending police out to wait for 3 minutes to see if a dog barks for 3 minutes steady, that's what the ordinance says, they can give the owner a warning,'' said Yanish. "But if it quits barking in that 3 minutes, they have to start over. It's not a good use of police officers' time.''

Wyffels said the department will still receive complaints whatever the ordinance is changed to "and we'll still have to go investigate it. It wouldn't remove us from that responsibility unless we didn't want the police to investigate animal complaints.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150