When barking & poop lead to mayhem & murder
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.
Rather, an anti-barking ordinance is about the behavior of a petkeeper who persistently permits one or more dogs to upset the neighbors.
The Maine 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.”
How much noise can dogs make?
Kennel owner Kari Carter, fined $3,574 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.
But the rest of the public may take an opposite view.
Nearly half the population of the U.S. have neither dogs nor cats. What these people tend to 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 or very early in the morning.
Average City, USA
Cleveland, Ohio, was in 2001 about as close to being the average U.S. city as any, in demographic terms. Even 17 years later, the 2001 Cleveland animal control workload probably gives as representative a picture as any of what the public wants 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 Cleveland 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.
Cultural & regional patterns
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.
The Guzzo incident aside, barking dogs are 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.
Noise Pollution Clearing House
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 20 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 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.
Banfield banned debarking
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.
Off-leash running areas
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 initially 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; beach-goers who prefer not to be surfing in dog poop; 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.
But moving dogs into fenced “dog parks” appears to have resolved most of the complaints from other park users.
Most U.S. cities now have one or more fenced areas where dogs are allowed to run off-leash.
Enforcing safety rules at dog parks has emerged as a growing concern, however, and source of disputes, complaints to police, and lawsuits.
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 tend to succeed to the extent that the organizations have land and volunteer staff available to supervise the use of the exercise areas.
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 nationally 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.
Complaints about cat behavior tend to focus on cats crossing human boundaries which may be as obvious as fences to humans, 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.
Most animal control agencies respond to routine “loose dog” or “stray cat” complaints as workload allows, but actual public safety threats take priority.
The most dangerous animal
As the Guzzo case illustrated, however, the most dangerous animal tends to be the one with two legs, a trigger finger, and a brain, if not necessarily a sense of proportion.
When people take resolving grievances about animal behavior into their own hands, the outcome typically takes one of five forms.
• Common, but difficult to distinguish from other cruelty cases, are instances in which a person with a grievance shoots or otherwise kills the animal. Such cases are often 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 originating with a different issue.
• Also 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. 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 deliberately surrendering others’ pets to shelters, pretending that the pets are their own. This is believed to be happening less now than in the past, however, due to the advent of microchipping pets and the introduction of surrender interviews at most shelters.
The two quantifiable vigilante responses to animal control problems are pet poisoning and pet-related homicide.
ANIMALS 24-7 in April 2000 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.
Cross-checking the case list almost exactly two years later, ANIMALS 24-7 identified 40 convicted poisoners, indicating about a 10% case resolution rate. The poisoners included 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 person, a 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 of pet poisoning and pet-related homicide reveal little in common––except a shared sense of extreme territoriality.
Among 51 perpetrators of pet-related murder and attempted murder whose cases ANIMALS 24-7 examined were 38 men and 13 women, with 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 against 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.
Poop, barking & murder
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 the perpetrators believe to be unfairly neglected grievances.
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.
Responses more extreme in expression than in origin
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 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.
Poisoners & hoarders
Pet poisoning may be viewed as 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.
The time factor
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 appear to be deeply insecure and defensive.
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.