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Barkers and Roamers and Lawyers, Oh My!

California county settles nuisance pet problems in animal court

California county settles nuisance pet problems in animal court

It was a bureaucratic nightmare not unfamiliar to many in animal control: An overloaded court system in Stanislaus County left even simple cases unprocessed for months and amplified isolated barking dog complaints into deafening neighborhood disputes.

“There were actually a few disturbances between neighbors that all started with a barking dog,” says Michael Rodriguez, director of Animal Services for the California jurisdiction. “So not only was the problem taking ages to fix, it was starting new problems that the county then had to respond to.”

The slow process of competing for time with cases unrelated to animals also came at a significant financial cost. When Rodriguez analyzed the numbers, he found that sending animal-related complaints through the established judicial system was costing the county $73,000 a year—and it wasn’t addressing root causes. “Every time we sent people to court, they were just fined and sent on down the road,” Rodriguez recalls.

The unwieldy bureaucracy cried out for change, and two pivotal incidents helped Rodriguez develop a plan: First, his son saw Judge Wapner handle a complaint involving a German shepherd on Animal Planet. Then Rodriguez himself attended one of The HSUS’s Pets for Life training classes. “It made me realize how a lot of people end up getting rid of pets for behavior reasons and need to be educated about behavior,” he says.

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