Clarence dog owners found plenty to howl about Wednesday night at a hearing on a new animal-control ordinance, and the Clarence Town Board responded by tabling the measure for more study.
A provision that would limit households to three dogs drew the most fire, with people arguing that it's not how many dogs a family has but how they are taken care of that counts.
Even a measure that would subject owners of dogs that bark incessantly to court appearances and fines brought warnings that it could also be used as a weapon in disputes among neighbors.
Among other complaints by speakers was that the ordinance is too vague, poorly written and fails to spell out important procedures dealing with how strays will be treated, euthanasia, and the disposal of wild animals killed in traffic.
The code proposes fines ranging from $25 for the first offense to $100 a day for persistent violators, including owners or custodians of "any dog which, by its frequent barking, howling or whining (for) longer than 30 minutes, (disturbs) the comfort or response of any person."
One man in favor told of living near a kennel whose owner "thinks this is all a big joke," while another said his next-door neighbor has three dogs who bark for several hours at a time at night.
When his neighbors' dogs woke up the family at 6:45 a.m. one recent Sunday and he called to complain, the Heroy Road resident said he "got the phone hung up in my ear.
"I always seem to come out to be the bad guy, but if my dog were to bark for 10 minutes, I'd be out there doing something about it," the man told the board.
The man with the three barking dogs -- who also was in the audience -- rose to explain that his dogs are "outside dogs" and suggested there should be separate laws for "inside dogs and outside dogs."
The neighbor said he leaves his dogs out, in part, to protect two antique cars in his yard. He said he can't stop his dogs from barking at other dogs or people who approach.
Residents were skeptical about enforcement of the barking-dog provision of the ordinance after the town animal control officer explained that he would investigate barking-dog complaints by personally verifying that the barking lasts more than 30 minutes before issuing a ticket.
The animal control officer would have to work "steady nights" and spend all his time timing how long dogs bark, residents said.
In addition to enforcement problems, the barking-dog measure "allows for conspiracies among neighbors" bent on harassing someone they're involved in an unrelated dispute with, said an East Boncrest Drive man.
The man also asserted the town doesn't need that part of the ordinance when state laws provide legal recourse in cases involving disturbance of the peace.
Enforcing the town's existing leash law, enacting a "pooper-scooper" law and passing a "fair" anti-barking law are what the town needs, said a Tonawanda Creek Road woman.
"Fifteen Chihuahuas are a lot less dog than two Irish wolfhounds," said Jonathan Ketchum, who identified himself as an officer in the Great Dane Club of Western New York.
If Clarence limits dogs to three per house, it's only fair that town officials also consider limiting the number of fish in aquariums and cans of beer in refrigerators, Ketchum said.
"Superfluous beer is known to cause problems, while superfluous dogs are not," Ketchum said. He declared that residents, not the town, have the right to decide if they have the property and the means to care for more than three dogs.
Speakers said communities where households are limited to two, three, or four dogs are more densely populated than Clarence, much of which is still rural.
People with one dog -- who let it out at night before bedtime to foul lawns and cause other dogs to bark -- are far more of a problem than people with several dogs that are confined to their property at all times, the board was told.
"What difference does it make? If one dog messes on other people's lawns and has puppies all over Clarence, then one dog is too many," said a Shimerville Road woman.