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For dog-bark complaints, proof of woof falls on accuser

Meadow Vista woman feels targeted
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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When Jaimie Waller received a letter notifying her of a complaint filed against her for a barking dog, she said she couldn’t believe it. “I was just like, ‘Wow,” said Waller, a Meadow Vista resident. “She wasn’t even there. So now I’m in the county system and our dog wasn’t even there.” At the time of the complaint, she said her German shepherd was out with her son and now she’s concerned about what would happen if more complaints are filed against her. A second complaint could result in a court date and possibly a citation. So what is stopping neighbors from filing a false complaint? The burden of proof falls on the person making the allegations, said Tim Goffa, senior supervising animal control officer for Placer County. “As long as they’re willing testify for the fact that a violation is occurring, then we do have to take the complaint and handle it according to procedures,” Goffa said. According to Placer County code, evidence that the dog barked or howled for an aggregate period of 20 minutes in an hour is sufficient for conviction. In the first instance, animal control relies on “eye witnesses,” Goffa said. An officer will ask questions such as if the person actually saw the dog and how long it had been barking. Then, the dog’s owner will be issued a warning letter, notifying them of the complaint and steps they can take to correct it. On the second complaint, an officer will go to the house of the barking dog and issue a notice that can be discussed in an arbitration hearing between the two parties, Goffa said. If a hearing fails to resolve the dispute, the complainant can direct animal control to issue a citation, and that person will be required to prove in court that the violation occurred, he said. If there’s sufficient evidence, the dog-owner faces a $100 fine the first time or, in the case of a repeated offense within two years of the first, a misdemeanor charge along with a $500 fine, up to six months in jail and removal of the dog from the property, according to Placer County code. Placer County Animal Control receives about five dog barking complaints on average per week and about one instance every month or two results in a citation, Goffa said. The agency’s service area excludes Auburn – which has an animal control officer at its police department – Roseville and Rocklin, he said. Though unable to speak on a specific case, Goffa said he’s aware of complaints that weren’t able to be proven in court, but he has never heard of a false complaint issued with ulterior motives. “If they believe they’re falsely accused, once they get a notice from us they should contact us right away,” he said. “Or they can send us a rebuttal letter.” In Waller’s case, she said she has contacted Placer County Animal Control to dispute the complaint. Waller said it would be hard to determine the source of a barking dog in her neighborhood since she lives in the valley and there are multiple dog owners on her street. Desiring to be closer to her elderly parents, Waller moved to Meadow Vista in April and has been temporarily living with her family in a 26-foot recreational vehicle on the same 2-acre plot as her parents’ house until they can begin building another house on the lot, she said. Waller believes she’s being targeted. She said animal control would not disclose which of her neighbors complained. “I think the neighbors, because they couldn’t get us through code enforcement because we weren’t doing anything wrong (regarding the RV), they have resorted to this. I don’t know why,” said Waller, a disability analyst for the Social Security Administration. “I’m just going to be as nice as I can be to the neighbors, do what I normally do and be who I am.” Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com.