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Embarking on a tale that wags the dog

The story of the Cheektowaga woman who allegedly tried to feed poison meatballs to a neighbor's dog because she was sick of its barking is getting interest from around the world.

What can't be known is whether people are drawn to this story because they are shocked and sickened by it or because they've fantasized about doing the same thing.

If that seems like a terrible thing to even suggest, visit the Web site barkingdogs.net. This is a sampling of comments from people who frequent the site.

"I wouldn't like to hear any repetitious, monotonous, guttural sound from anybody, or anything, for over four and a half hours straight. I was subjected to that length of barking in February and March of last year. This isn't to mention all the three-, two-, and one-hour performances I've endured."

And: "In my case the constant hellish dog barking has: destroyed my health; driven me out of my home into a hotel many times; almost cost me my job from dog sleep deprivation effects on my job performance."

Or this: "Obtain a copy of a tape with continuous barking dogs. Force yourself to listen to this, while you are working, watching television, gardening, and then while you sleep. That will only be a beginning for you to completely understand our dilemma."

Craig Mixon is a psychologist in Northern California who started out studying canine behavior to determine how to make a dog "bark trained." He established the Web site in 2003, and it has become a clearinghouse for information on barking dogs.

"Noise tears lives apart," Mixon said in response to an e-mail question. "It destroys marriages. It ruins families. And not everyone has what it takes to sit passively by and see their loved ones injured and their quality of life destroyed."

No one on the site is suggesting that death by rat poison is an appropriate response to the problem of a barking dog -- although Mixon is surprised that it doesn't happen more often. And in the Cheektowaga case, neighbors told police the canine victim did not bark constantly.

In 2006, Cheektowaga police received 98 calls from people complaining about a barking dog in their neighborhood, and Capt. John Glascott said an officer responded to every one. But in many cases, by the time the patrol car arrives, the barking has stopped. When police investigate further, it's common for them to find that the barking is a small part of a dispute between neighbors.

"You've got two people who are often living in close proximity with one another who for whatever reason don't get along," he said. "Sometimes it's very legitimate. Sometimes you have a dog that barks and the neighbors don't care; other times somebody's calling just because they don't like their neighbor."

If the problem persists, the police talk to the owners. In extremely rare cases, they are given appearance tickets to answer a charge in court.

So when the police can't make the noise stop, people call the SPCA. Often.

"Multiple times, all day," said Gina Browning of the Erie County SPCA. "We receive a lot of phone calls from people who think this constitutes animal cruelty, so they'll call us and say, 'Isn't there something you can do?' We explain to them this isn't animal cruelty. . . . The animal barking alone, sure it's breaking noise ordinances, but it's not necessarily cruelty to animals."

The barking can be a form of separation anxiety, Browning said. And while she said that it is immoral and unethical to leave a dog outside barking all day, the law says it's not animal cruelty.

Craig Mixon says it's something worse: human cruelty.

e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com

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