A dog out for a walk in the Falmouth Nature Preserve. The town is considering tightening its rules governing barking and nuisance dogs. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

FALMOUTH — As the town grows and neighbors live in closer proximity to each other, Police Chief John Kilbride said his department is responding to more calls about nuisance dogs, especially incessant barking.

In response, Kilbride is asking the Town Council to consider creating a more objective standard for officers to follow when enforcing the rules.

Another change, Kilbride told councilors at their Aug. 12 meeting, would be no longer requiring a complainant to make a written statement to police.

He said there are about 800 licensed dogs in town, and estimates about 200 more are unlicensed. Kilbride said his department receives an average of at least one call a day about nuisance dogs. There’s no doubt, he said, that “we’re receiving more complaints. With neighbors living closer together, barking dogs have become more of an issue.”

This week Kilbride said the calls in Falmouth are likely “no more than average for a community of this size,” but also said the ordinance changes he’s proposing would better protect both the dog owners and those who file complaints.

“This is not a one-sided change,” he said. “This will assist us in serving the public through a more objective standard, (while) providing equal protection.”

Kilbride said the existing ordinance is “very subjective” and there is also no benchmark for determining what qualifies as a nuisance.

“The current language limits our enforcement … causing frustration to our citizens and law enforcement officers,” he said in a memo to Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Under the propose new ordinance language a nuisance dog would be defined as “a dog, which by loud, frequent and continual barking, howling, or other loud or unusual noises, unnecessarily annoys or disturbs any person at any time (and) in rapid succession for 20 minutes or more … in an unprovoked setting without legitimate cause for provocation.”

Kilbride said the first step under the ordinance would still be a warning. If the behavior continues, he said, the dog owner would be subject toa $50 fine for each violation. He said officers have issued very few summonses over the years and that in these situations his department gets “voluntary compliance 99% of the time.”

He said the proposed ordinance language “clearly identifies and applies a timeline (and) allows the officer to actually observe the (situation) to establish if there is a violation. This protects the animal owner and complainant from misinformation regarding the incident and helps people who may fear reprisal or intimidation from their neighbor.”

Overall, Kilbride said the proposed change is “fairer for both sides.”

Kilbride said he worked with the animal control officer on the ordinance language and “looked around regionally to review what worked (best) for all parties involved. This language was supported and recommended by the ACO based on his experience in working with several (other police) agencies in the past.”

Councilors did not discuss the proposal at the meeting but said it would be considered again at an unspecified date.

The original requirement for a complainant to submit a written statement about a nuisance dog was most likely an effort to better establish the facts, Kilbride said. But now police departments have come to understand that it actually acts as a deterrent because it causes people to get intimidated about coming forward.

No one wants to cause friction with a neighbor, he said.

“… Complainants are often hesitant to file a written statement because … they can be fearful of retribution while potentially creating a hostile living environment,” Kilbride said in his memo to Poore.

Kilbride said the Police Department is “filled with animal lovers that are dedicated to protecting them,” but added that dog owners also have a part to play.

He said it’s key for dog owners is to both understand and follow local ordinances regarding animal control.

They need to be “responsible,” Kilbride said, and understand that owning a dog means showing “respect, love and dedication, not only to the animal, but to your neighbors and the community.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.