A proposed Lewis County ordinance would essentially make a dog's bark worse than its bite.
If passed, owners whose dogs create a public nuisance by barking could be fined up to $500 and could spend as much as 90 days in jail.
Magistrate Dan Moody, who forwarded the proposal to the County Commission, said dogs who bite can cost the owner a $100 fine and 30 days in jail.
"We're going to work with these people," Moody said. "We're not just going to take their dogs and put them in jail. First, we are going to talk to them, tell them there has been complaints. We are going to give them all the options in the world to stop it."
Moody said there has been a number of complaints to the magistrate court regarding constantly barking dogs. He said one person went as far as to bring in a video showing that every time the person stepped off the porch, the neighbor's dog barked incessantly.
The proposed ordinance states that at least two different people must make a complaint in writing to law enforcement officers against the same owner before the authorities will investigate the matter. If the nuisance is determined to be in violation of the ordinance, the owner could be fined up to $500 and jailed for 10 days on a first conviction. A second conviction would result in fines between $100 and $500 and up to 90 days behind bars. Probation of up to one year could also be levied.
Commissioner Sam Hicks said he believes the law would create more problems than it could solve.
"How are you going to shut a dog up?" he asked. "It's a part of the dog to bark."
Commissioner Agnes Queen said she realizes there is a problem with barking dogs keeping people from getting a restful night's sleep. She said there could be problems with enforcing the statute, as it would be a low priority for departments already short-staffed.
"I do feel bad for those having this problem," she said. "But I just don't see how you can stop people's dogs from barking."
Commissioners also expressed concerns that the proposal could lead to neighbors using the ordinance to harass those living nearby they do not like or to complain about those legally operating kennels.
"I think you could see a lot of misuse of that ordinance," Queen said.
The ordinance would only pertain to those living outside of corporation limits, Moody said. The cities of Weston and Jane Lew would have to create their own law.