PHOENIX, Arizona––Infuriated by uncontrolled persistent barking, Phoenix pharmacist Michael Guzzo, 56, on October 26, 2013 shotgunned dog groomer Renee Moore, 36; her husband Michael Moore, 42; their son Shannon Moore, 17; grandfather Bruce Moore, 66, and their two dogs.
Guzzo then fired twice into the home of neighbors Libni and Vanessa DeLeon, before returning home and fatally shooting himself.
Guzzo had repeatedly complained about barking from the Moore and DeLeon homes. Guzzo had longstanding mental health issues, relatives told police and media. He had reportedly exhibited suicidal tendencies on previous occasions. Barking was not really why the Moore family was massacred, though sleep disturbance may have been the immediate trigger to Guzzo’s rampage.
The killings were, however, a grim reminder that “people control” is the actual subject of most animal control ordinances, and that reducing potentially explosive friction among neighbors is among the chief duties of animal control agencies.
Barking dogs in high courts
Appellate courts have rarely been asked to review cases involving barking dogs, but nearly 12 years before Guzzo killed the Moore family, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on April 7, 2002 ruled that the subject of anti-barking ordinances is not the behavior of dogs, but rather the behavior of a petkeeper who persistently permits one or more dogs to upset the neighbors.
The verdict upheld a 1997 ordinance adopted by the town of Baldwin which prohibits allowing dogs to unnecessarily annoy or disturb anyone through continued or repeated barking, howling, or other loud or unusual noises any time day or night.
Kennel owner Kari Carter, fined $3574 in penalties and costs for violating the ordinance, contended unsuccessfully that the Baldwin ordinance was unconstitutionally vague because it did not spell out exactly how much noise dogs are allowed to make.
The court responded, however, that the issue is not what dogs do, but rather whether what dogs do is permitted to become a problem to a reasonable person, not merely to some supersensitive or hypercritical individual.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling came as a common-sense reminder that while animal control bylaws are written mainly to protect human lives and property, reasonable animal control law enforcement consists mainly of trying to improve human relations within a community, by removing reasons why neighbors fight.
How non-pet keepers see animal control
People who love animals tend to measure the success of animal control programs and humane societies by the number of animals their shelters kill or “save” through rehoming. Animal care-and-control experts often pay more attention to the numbers of dogs and cats impounded and killed per 1,000 human residents of the community. For either the experts or the amateurs, fewer dead animals is better.
But the rest of the public may take a distinctly opposite view. Nearly half the population of the U.S. have neither dogs nor cats. Rates of pet-keeping in other nations are significantly lower: only Costa Rica and China have nearly as many pet dogs and cats per household. People who do not love animals do not care how many dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens are killed. Saving animals’ lives is not even a consideration for many non-petkeepers, much less a priority.
What people who do not love animals care about is whether someone responds promptly and effectively to their complaints about animal damage, animals at large, feces on lawns or sidewalks, dangerous dog behavior, and––perhaps most of all––dogs barking long into the night.
Many an animal control director who has reduced animal control killing by replacing catch-and-kill with intervention-and-education of offending petkeepers has been shocked to be upbraided by municipal authorities and perhaps even fired if citizen complaints about nuisance animals increase, even if the complaints come from just a handful of influential cranks.
Historically, nonprofit humane societies holding animal control sheltering contracts came under constant pressure from local office holders to kill more animals, faster, so as to cut the cost of removing problem animals from streets and yards. This was one reason why the much-emulated San Francisco model for achieving no-kill animal control began with separating the work of the San Francisco SPCA from that of the city Department of Animal Care & Control.
The purpose of a humane society is to protect animals from people. The purpose of an animal control agency is to protect humans and property from animals. Even though the work greatly overlaps, the inherent contradiction of goals tends to make conflict inevitable.
Cleveland, Ohio, was in 2001 about as close to being the average U.S. city as any, in demographic terms. Even 14 years later, the 2001 Cleveland animal control workload probably gives as representative a picture as any of what the public expects animal control departments to be doing.
The 478,000 Cleveland residents called in 4,992 complaints to animal control during 2001. This would work out to approximately one call per 11 residents, or per four households, except that people who call animal control departments at all tend to call many times. The 4,992 complaints probably came from half or a third that many people. In fairness, however, many of those people may have been complaining repeatedly about animals and petkeepers whose activities had genuinely become problems to whole neighborhoods.
Nearly half of the complaints to Cleveland animal control in 2001 46% concerned chronically barking dogs.
This is no surprise. The ANIMALS 24-7 files indicate that year in and year out, barking dogs are the animal control problem most likely to surface as a community issue. Until the post-2007 exponential increase in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, mostly by pit bulls, and the simultaneous rise of militant advocacy for no-kill animal control, barking was the most frequent central topic of new animal control ordinances. Post-2007, ordinances meant to increase community “save rates” and reduce dog attacks have been introduced more often, but barking remains a common concern––especially for people who do not themselves have dogs.
There are cultural and regional patterns to barking dog complaints. Barking dogs seem to be a recurring political issue most in older and denser communities, especially in resort and retirement areas, such as the lake country of the upper Midwest and along coastal Florida. At least before the Guzzo incident, barking dogs were contrastingly rarely a public issue in the Southwest, possibly because the relatively new cities sprawling across the deserts of California, Arizona, and New Mexico feature larger yards, or maybe just because sound does not carry well in low humidity.
Cleveland animal control received a fairly normal 4.8 calls about barking dogs in 2001 per 1,000 human residents. The sleepless folks of Seattle, on the other hand ––notorious for imbibing more coffee than the residents of any other city in the world––called in 7.5 complaints about barking dogs per 1,000 human residents. The Seattle shelter killing rate of 11.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents was among the lowest in the U.S., and has since fallen to 3.1, but the frequency of barking dog complaints suggests that a substantial minority of the human population would cheerfully kill more dogs, if allowed to do so.
There is a tenuous association between barking dog complaints and the computer software industry, a mainstay of the Seattle economy. In Montpelier, Vermont, also a center of software development, an organization called the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse has emerged as a collective voice of sorts for people who are annoyed by barking dogs. The NPC web site offers links to more than 150 articles about barking dog legislation, court cases, and related health hazards, mostly via http://www.barkingdogs.net/, a project of the Dog Science Network. But the NPC is not obsessed about barking dogs per se. The NPC site offers many more links about other common noise sources.
Ironically, the only legislative attention of note to barking dogs at the state level in the past 15 years has concerned dogs who do not make enough noise to warn public safety officers such as police and firefighters of their presence.
Surgically removing the vocal cords of dogs to silence chronic barking came into vogue several decades ago as a last resort to keep dogs in rental housing after other tenants complained to the landlord. Except in affluent communities with perennially scarce pet-friendly accommodations, however, the procedure has never really been popular.
In the mid-1990s, drug dealers began turning to debarking to facilitate using dogs to guard their premises without running the risk that noise might attract the attention of law enforcement. Dogfighters also took up debarking, to keep neighbors from becoming aware of their activities.
Groups representing police and firefighters joined with humane organizations in 2000 to push anti-debarking legislation in California, New Jersey, and Ohio. The California and New Jersey bills died due to strong opposition from veterinary groups, who saw anti-debarking laws as a step toward banning cosmetic surgical procedures on dogs such as ear-cropping and tail-docking which have in fact been banned in Britain. The Ohio anti-debarking bill survived, however, and was signed into law by Governor Robert Taft in August 2000.
No further state legislation against debarking dogs has been passed, but Banfield pet hospital vice president for medical quality advancement Karen Faunt in August 2009 announced that the 730 Banfield locations and 2,000 Banfield veterinarians would no longer debark dogs, crop their ears, or dock their tails.
“After thoughtful consideration and reviewing medical research, we have determined it is in the best interest of the pets we treat, as well as the overall practice, to discontinue performing these unnecessary cosmetic procedures,” Faunt told Elizabeth Weise of USA Today.
Dogs and sometimes cats running at large were the next most frequent topic of complaints to Cleveland animal control in 2001, as to most animal control agencies in any year, accounting for 34% of the total complaint volume; 3.5 calls per 1,000 human residents. Cleveland cited the custodians of about one dog in four who was reported to be at large, issuing 0.9 citations per 1,000 human residents.
Oddly enough, while residents of Southwestern cities seemed relatively unconcerned about barking, at least then, Tucson issued 1.37 citations for dogs running at large per 1,000 residents, in a city whose geography suggests that this might be much less a problem than in cities of greater density.
Establishing legal opportunities for dogs to run off-leash emerged as one of the hottest of all dog-related causes during the latter half of the 1990s, and remains a high-profile issue today.
Organized efforts to designate dog parks and dog-running hours came as an apparent backlash by dogkeepers against legislative efforts to reduce dog bites and fecal deposits in public places. Typically this meant amending old ordinances requiring that dogs be “under control” when in public places by adding language specifying that “under control” means leashed, and sometimes also harnessed and muzzled.
The drive to open off-leash running opportunities for dogs met intensive resistance from other users of public space, including non-petkeeping senior citizens, who can easily suffer bone fractures and permanent disability from bumping or pushing by an exuberant dog; parents’ associations concerned about fecal contamination of playgrounds; nature lovers concerned about the harm dogs do in chasing birds and squirrels, and by digging up vegetation; sports enthusiasts who object to softball diamonds and soccer fields going to the dogs; and taxpayers groups, who are aware that allowing dogs to run loose on public property can carry a high liability risk.
Eventually most U.S. cities appear to have designated one or more fenced areas where dogs are allowed to run off-leash. Enforcing safety rules at dog parks soon emerged as a concern, however, especially as pit bull proliferation led to the numbers of fatal dog attacks on other dogs appearing to double from the middle of the first decade of the 21st century to the middle of the second.
Some attempts have been made to operate private for-profit athletic clubs for dogs and their people, but most have not been economically successful. A few humane societies have also tried to offer workout space to dogs, partly as a fundraising activity. These projects have succeeded to the extent that the organizations had land and volunteer staff available. The longevity of humane society-managed off-leash facilities tends to be short, however, because usually a humane society has land available only if the land has been acquired by purchase or bequest for some other purpose, such as building a new shelter. The off-leash facility typically operates only until construction is ready to start.
San Francisco incidents
The Doggie Day Care Center formerly run by the San Francisco SPCA was a typical casualty of a shelter expansion getting underway. The demise of the Doggie Day Care Center, however, was only a footnote in terms of controversy beside a decade-long conflict between the SF/SPCA and the National Park Service over dog access to Fort Funsten, at the Presidio, the former military complex located near Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which extends from Marin County on the north side of the bridge to San Mateo County, and includes the entire western San Francisco shoreline, the Fort Funsten site became the most popular off-leash area in San Francisco after the military facilities were decommissioned in 1979.
As the Park Service took over management, however, the Park Service philosophy of opposition to nonnative species possibly competing with wildlife led to closures of increasingly large sections of Fort Funsten and surroundings, mostly to protect native plants and nesting habitat for the endangered western snowy plover.
The issue was not just about dogs off leash, as the Park Service also viewed the presence of leashed dogs in certain areas as a threat to the habitat and the security of the estimated 17 million human visitors per year who use the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
From circa 1993 until November 2000, under Nathan Winograd, who went on to form the No Kill Advocacy Center across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, the SF/SPCA Law and Advocacy Department fought the National Park Service regulations.
Subsequent to Winograd’s tenure, multiple incidents involving dogs off leash in nearby Golden Gate Park have become local causes celebré. One of the most notable occurred on November 23, 2003, when SF/SPCA volunteer dog training instructor Anna Klafter, 27, illegally allowed her four-year-old pit bull Nettie to run off-leash. Klafter was seen by mounted police sergeant David Herrera, who shouted to her to retrieve and leash Nettie. Nettie, who was adopted from the SF/SPCA, bit Herrera’s horse, named AAA Andy, on the legs and along his rib cage.
Bleeding from multiple wounds, AAA Andy bucked Herrera off, kicked Klafter in the face as she tried to recapture Nettie, and bolted for half a mile with Nettie in hot pursuit. Police sergeant Peter Dacre finally stopped Nettie with two gunshots. Nettie survived and was eventually returned to Klafter, who was fined.
A parallel incident occurred on August 6, 2012 at Crissy Field. According to the San Francisco Police Department report, “A U.S. Park Police Department mounted officer was patrolling an area of the park that is open to off-leash, voice control exercise of dogs. This area is not a fenced-in dog run or dog park. Dog owners using this area are required to maintain control of their pets. A dog identified as an American Staffordshire Terrier saw the Park Police mounted team and ran towards them, covering approximately 200 feet. Upon reaching the equestrian team, the dog leaped up and bit the officer on his leg. The officer ordered the dog owner to take control of his dog. The owner failed to do so, allowing the dog to attack the horse, biting him on the abdomen, then locking on the horse’s leg. The horse fell and threw the officer who landed on the ground and was knocked unconscious. The horse ran from the scene with the dog in pursuit. The investigation determined that the horse ran approximately one mile back to his stable, a place of safety. Unfortunately, the stable doors were closed and the pursuing dog attacked the horse a second time, inflicting additional injuries. The horse ran to the rear of the stable where the dog attacked for a third time…The fleeing horse covered approximately one and a half miles in its efforts to get away from the pursuing dog. As a result of this attack, the horse was bitten thirteen times, sustaining serious bite wounds to its legs, hind quarters, chest and abdominal areas. As a result, the horse was stabled for over twenty days and has returned to limited service. The officer’s riding boot prevented injury from the dog’s bite, but he did sustain a serious injury when he was thrown from the horse.”
Biting and poop
Though most obvious concern about dogs running off leash is the risk of unruly dogs attacking people and animals, responding to complaints about bites and other allegedly dangerous behavior is a relatively small portion of the typical animal control workload––albeit a much larger portion than 50 years ago, as dog bite cases have increased from an average of about 600,000 per year in the early 1960s to nearly eight times as many in the present decade. The total U.S. dog population has only doubled since the early 1960s, so the frequency of dog bite complaints relative to the numbers of dogs has quadrupled.
In Cleveland, bite cases and vicious dog complaints accounted for 20% of the calls to animal control in 2001: 2.4 complaints per 1,000 Cleveland residents. This was in the mid-normal range for major U.S. cities, which was from about 1.5 up to 4.5.
Since then, the rate of dog bite complaints has risen to 6.2 per 1,000 humans.
But while biting and “vicious dog” cases get vastly more attention than other routine complaints, they are not the main cause of complaints about animals running at large. Anecdotally, the leading topics of animals-at-large complaints are dogs and cats defecating or urinating on neighbors property; dogs and cats getting into trash; dogs and cats digging in neighbors’ gardens; and dogs and cats merely trespassing, crossing human boundaries which may be as obvious as fences to us, but are especially obscure to outdoor cats, to whom the tops of fences typically appear to be a safe corridor, elevated above dog threats, as they make their way from one yard to another.
U.S. animal control agencies relatively rarely actually do much in response to poop, trash, and trespassing issues, because the animal control mandate is to protect public safety, not the aesthetic and territorial aspects of property. But many animal control officers do try to educate people whose animals roam that this is not legal, is not neighborly, and is often unsafe for the animals themselves.
Most animal control agencies respond to routine “loose dog” or “stray cat” complaints as workload allows, but actual public safety threats take priority.
Since animal control agencies typically operate at only a fraction of the staffing levels recommended by the National Animal Control Association, many are hard-pressed to do much more than investigate the 20%-or-so of complaints which do involve allegedly dangerous animals.
The most dangerous animal
But as the Guzzo case illustrated, the most dangerous animal tends to the one with two legs, a trigger finger, and nominally a brain.
And, like Guzzo, some of these people take resolving grievances about animal behavior into their own hands.
The outcome takes five typical forms. Three, however, are almost impossible to quantify:
• Common, but difficult to distinguish from other cruelty cases, are instances in which a person with a grievance shoots or otherwise kills the animal. Even when the killing is witnessed, the ANIMALS 24-7 files indicate that cases of people shooting, stabbing, strangling, or bludgeoning a pet for a stated reason pertaining to an animal control issue tend to be complicated by other personal history involving the killer and the caretaker of the animal victim. Often the animal appears to have become a surrogate for an interpersonal dispute having origins in something other than animal behavior.
• Common, yet difficult to recognize, are instances of a person capturing and dumping a neighbor’s pet somewhere. The animal simply disappears. The disappearance may be attributed to wild predators, negligent caretaking, roadkill, or any of many other reasons, and even if the animal is later found in a shelter somewhere, there is rarely any way of knowing how the animal got there.
• More common than is generally recognized even among animal control professionals are cases of neighbors surrendering others pets to shelters to be killed, pretending that the pets are their own.
Back when U.S. shelters were killing an annual average of 115 animals per 1,000 Americans, circa 1970, shelter personnel tended to believe that the seeming indifference of many people surrendering animals to near-certain death merely reflected irresponsibility. Though most of these animals were presented as “found,” shelter workers knew this was often untrue, because the animals seemed too familiar with the people. What was actually happening in many such cases, however, eluded analysis.
In the first decade of the 21st century, as the national per-1,000 killing rate fell gradually to the present 9.5, increasing numbers of shelters eager to lower their killing totals lengthened their holding periods for “owner-surrendered” and “found” dogs and cats. Many animals, especially those who were young and healthy, turned out to have actually been brought in by aggrieved neighbors or family members.
The advent of microchipping dogs and cats for identification led to further detection of “surrenders” and “found” cases involving stolen pets who were perceived by someone as problematic.
Seldom producing definitive answers, but also often raising questions leading to further investigation, have been the introduction of surrender interviews. The initial purpose of surrender interviews was to gain further information about a potentially adoptable animal. But shelter workers have learned that if the person surrendering the animal cannot answer basic questions about reproductive status, vaccination, and previous veterinary care providers, something may be quite wrong. Also, if the person surrendering the animal “found” an apparent pet at large and made no verifiable effort to locate the animal’s home, something may be wrong, and a shelter staff member willing to take the time to ask around the neighborhood can often get the animal back home.
Shelter employees who have encountered such cases are finding themselves rethinking the paradigm of the irresponsible owner. Irresponsibility tends to be a factor in such cases, but the irresponsible acts involve allowing a pet to annoy neighbors, not deliberately giving the pet up to be killed.
Then there are the two quantifiable vigilante responses to animal control problems: pet poisoning, and pet-related homicide
Pet poisoning occurs frequently enough that on April 19, 2000, ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton spent several hours in file-searching and identified 423 then unsolved but still open pet poisoning cases, which had occurred in 25 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. The earliest case dated to 1994. The known victims included 332 dogs and 91 cats.
Returning to the topic of pet poisoning almost exactly two years later, Clifton identified 40 convicted poisoners, including 32 men (80%) and eight women (20%), who were responsible for killing at least 38 dogs and 44 cats. Of the 28 poisoners whose age was identified, only one teenager was younger than 31. The median age was 50; the average was 51. The poison of preference was antifreeze, used in 80% of the cases. Various agricultural pesticides were used in all but one of the remaining cases.
Evident was that pet poisoning is overwhelmingly a crime committed by older people with an extreme sense of territoriality. Among the 28 perpetrators who stated a motive, nine killed dogs and/or cats for defecating in their yards, five were upset by dogs and cats getting into their trash, three were outraged by barking dogs, three were avenging themselves against neighbors who testified against them in court cases, three were infuriated by cats leaving muddy tracks on vehicles, and one was trying to protect quail he was raising to hunt.
Almost all of the poisonings were executed with clear premeditation.
One individual was perpetrator of both a pet-related homicide attempt and a pet poisoning case, both on the same evening. Otherwise, the identities and statistical profiles of the perpetrators revealed little in common, except a sense of exaggerated territoriality.
The 51 perpetrators of pet-related murder and attempted murder, including 38 men and 13 women, had an average age of 36 and a median age of 37. Only eight were older than 50.
All 51 murders and attempted murders appeared to occur in spontaneous explosions of rage, as in the Guzzo case.
In 25 of the 51 cases, the killer or attempted killer at least perceived the action as a defensive response on behalf of a pet, against a person believed to have harmed or threatened the pet.
In 15 cases the triggering event was that a pet was killed, injured, or stolen.
In eight cases the killer or attempted killer retaliated aganst a neighbor for complaining to animal control about alleged biting, barking, running at large, pooping on the neighbor s property, or otherwise creating a nuisance.
In two cases, one petkeeper killed another after their pets fought.
Among the cases in which the murderer or attempted murderer was the person with a grievance against an animal, the triggering event in six instances was that the animal defecated on the property of the assailant. Barking was the triggering event in five instances. Biting was twice the triggering event. No other cause was cited more than once.
Pet poisoners and people like Guzzo who kill others in tantrums over pet behavior represent the most extreme degree of annoyance and frustration over what they believe to be unfairly neglected grievances.
One could argue that because they represent a relatively rare and extreme response, studying their behavior may shed little useful light on the attitudes of normal people toward common problems.
On the other hand, these phenomena are common enough that career animal control personnel and humane workers are likely to encounter them; and they do represent the tip of the iceberg as regards human tolerance of animal behavior. The anger that seethes out in the acts of a poisoner or rage-killer is more extreme in expression than in origin. Even many people who love animals and would never harm an animal may curse a blue streak if a pet repeatedly defecates in the wrong place, knocks over the trash, bites, interrupts sleep, or damages a treasured possession.
The difference in response between the petkeeper who curses because of something his own animal just did and the non-petkeeper who takes lethal vengeance may reflect, in part, that the petkeeper also gets frequent emotional reinforcement from the positive behavior of the pet. The non-petkeeper encounters only the negative behavior, with no positive reinforcement to offset it.
Pet poisoning is a form of passive/aggressive abuse, having much in common with animal-hoarding, even though animal-hoarding is a superficially opposite behavior. Instead of controlling animals to the point of killing them by neglect, the pet poisoner attempts to control inanimate property.
Pet poisoners and animal hoarders tend to share not only an exaggerated sense of territoriality, but also tendencies to be furtive and covert, to imagine conspiracies against them, to practice detachment and denial about what they are doing, and to exhibit a sublimated but all-consuming fear of aging and death.
Animal hoarders are typically people who accumulated animals well before the onset of hoarding behavior, but fall into hoarding after the loss, usually through death, of a child, parent, spouse, or sibling.
Pet poisoners are typically people with time on their hands to brood and nurture grievances, who typically acquired cherished homes, yards, and cars while in their peak earning years, who have subsequently been downsized out of the jobs that gave their lives meaning, or were otherwise forced into unwilling early retirement, or are economically insecure for other reasons.
Like animal hoarders, pet poisoners are deeply insecure. Unlike animal hoarders, yet like bored confined animals, they become obsessive about grooming––but instead of grooming themselves until their fur falls out, they groom the possessions that define their lives’ accomplishments.
Jealousy is often involved in all common forms of abuse, as the animal victims are associated with absent or unresponsive human associates. This appears to be a factor in many animal hoarding cases, and in pet poisoning cases, in which the poisoner often overtly expresses resentment of the affection lavished by the petkeeper on the animal victim.
Symptomatic of the social alienation characterizing most pet poisoners is the impersonal and distant nature of their attempt to dominate a place or situation without risking close involvement. The deeds of pet poisoners may seem sadistic, yet pet poisoners are not sadists in the classic sense, and may not wish to see the victim animals suffer, nor even wish to know they have died. They seem to prefer that death be neat and out of sight. Pet poisoners seem to derive a sense of power from what they do, but seeing too much of the outcome appears to diminish rather than heighten their illusions.
The most noteworthy of those illusions may be that killing a particular animal will not only remove an immediate irritant, but will generally improve their sense of security and quality of life. This illusion may well be shared, albeit to lesser degree, by most people who call animal control after seeing an animal acting like an animal within the one small space over which the human callers can claim dominion.
(See also “How many other animals did pit bulls kill last year?”, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/22/how-many-other…kill-last-year/ and ” http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/16/weak-dog-l. (May 2002.)