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Conflict over dogs barking leads to tense council meeting

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The 17 dogs that call the Wadena Humane Society shelter home have been barking to a point where neighbors say they’ve had enough. 

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Although the supposed nuisance violates neither zoning nor noise control laws, members of an informal group of citizens that live near the shelter on Highway 10 west of the intersection with Highway 71 allege that the dogs at the Humane Society bark both for extended periods of time and at night while humans are trying to sleep.  The neighbors and people from the Humane Society were invited to speak their mind on the issue during the regular Wadena City Council meeting held Aug. 14, but members of the two factions got testy with each other at times.

“My observation is, the friction here between the two groups is not very pleasant,” Mayor Wayne Wolden said at one point. “If it were a different attitude – of willingness to work together and compromise – I think it would be accepted better.”

The council first gave the floor to the society’s neighbors. Carmen Robinson said she’d be pleased if the shelter were to move to a different spot away from their house, although she didn’t explicitly suggest they should move.  

“I am for the Humane Society; I agree with what they do,” she said.  “I think there’s too many unwanted pets. But I just wish it was located somewhere other than right next to us.”

After the concerned citizens were finished speaking, Wadena Humane Society President Susie Stoddard took her turn addressing the room. Stoddard said the Humane Society had to expend a great deal of effort to get the shelter  put into place in the 1990s, and that workers also put a lot of time now into making sure the dogs are not a nuisance to the community.

“We do our darnedest not to have them bark (except) from eight to eight; business hours,” Stoddard said. “At night, they’re quiet.”

Wadena Planning and Zoning head Dean Uselman said that the Humane Society was not doing anything unlawful according to the city zoning ordinances. The shelter is zoned as a C1 (commercial) property, he said.

“They’re not doing anything wrong as far as the zoning ordinances,” Uselman said.  

When asked by Wolden whether the alleged dog barking was a violation of city noise ordinances, Interim Wadena Police Chief Naomi Plautz said it was not.  

Uselman stressed the need to find a simple, inexpensive compromise to the alleged barking problem. He brought in a handout with a listing of humane barking control methods that he had found after research. They included sonic deterrents that punish the dog without causing pain, opaque fencing to keep the dog from being overstimulated, and simply spending more time with the dogs. One excerpt mentioned the use of shock collars but said a citronella-dispensing collar was a preferred method.

The passionate emotions involved in the situation were obvious during the meeting as both “sides”  of the conflict interrupted city officials as they were speaking. Wolden had just talked about how he personally had used a noise deterrent to try to prevent barking and was in the process of asking for suggestions on additional solutions when Shelter Manager Carolyn Hartman began to talk over him.

“You have to remember that these dogs have come to us… some from abusive situations, some from rescue; abandoned,” she said.  “The last thing we’re going to do is put a collar on them to control barking. They are in a changing mode. We’re working with them to re-socialize them for life.  Unfortunately, their two-footed friends are not as kind.”

One-on-one conversations with members of both sides the next day were considerably more civil and compromise-minded.  When contacted Wednesday, Stoddard said she had already begun working with Hartman to change the order of which dogs were exercised when, in an attempt to prevent “excitement barking.”

Stoddard said that hypothetically a fence would be feasible if funding and labor materialized for it, but cautioned that she was expressing her personal opinion and not speaking for the Wadena Humane Society Board as a whole. She would seek input from the 11-member board at its monthly meeting on Aug. 29, she said.

“We’re not opposed to… having a happy neighborhood,” Stoddard said. 

Carmen Robinson’s husband Dale acknowledged some possible solutions as well, although he too cautioned that his opinions were his own and not that of all the neighbors.

He said the Humane Society could keep their dogs outside for the same duration of time that they do now, but move the dogs’ outside times to later in the morning and earlier in the evening to prevent barking from becoming a nuisance.

“Obviously they’re not going to move, and I don’t want to move either, so there (has) got to be some compromise,” he said. “I think in my mind, that’s probably all a guy can do.”

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