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Wadena's dog ordinance: One family's perspective

Just over 10 years ago, my husband and I decided it was time to move from southern Illinois back to our home state of Minnesota. We felt that a central Minnesota location would best facilitate the needs of the small business venture on which we were about to embark, and we wanted to be closer to our families. At the time, we had one toddler and three beloved dogs, but were planning to expand our family and wanted to locate in a safe community with a small-town feel, quality schools and medical care, recreational opportunities and adequate shopping and dining establishments. Several central Minnesota locations were in the running, but after a couple of house-hunting trips, and unable to find a suitable property in the country, we decided to purchase a house on a large double lot in my hometown of Wadena. Since then, our family has grown to include two more children, four indoor dogs, and two indoor cats. Three of those dogs were adopted from shelters; the other was a "freebie" we took home from a street fair. The cats arrived at different times as stray kittens on our property, and, being told that the shelter was already bulging and could not handle any more cats, we adopted them too.

For the first nine years, we lived peaceably with all of our neighbors. We have shared many hellos and friendly waves of greeting, and help each other when needed. No one ever mentioned or complained about the fact that we had more than two dogs in our household. Then, about a year ago, one of our "neighbors" decided to report us to the police. I am not even certain whether the problem was barking or just the fact that we have more than the city limit for canine companions. I was not told the name of the neighbor, so I was unable to try to make amends or work with the neighbor to try to figure out a solution. Another year passed and a few weeks ago, I received another visit from the police. This time, I was 99 percent sure who made the call, since the neighbor was out in his driveway when my dogs began barking at him. During this "incident," I was on the phone, but I was able to get the dogs back into the house within about five minutes. I am truly sorry the barking irritated my neighbor. I try my best to avoid letting the dogs out when I see someone outside; in this case I didn't see people until it was too late to prevent the barking.

That said, It would be nice for people to remember that sometimes, dogs simply need to go out to do their business; in this case, my dogs had been scratching at the door. Yes, sometimes, they bark. Though our dogs may bark at passersby or run the fence line (a common behavior of fenced dogs) until a pedestrian has passed our property line, they are not a threat and, in my opinion, they are not a nuisance. In a recent trial, it took me one minute and 10 seconds to walk at a moderate pace from our driveway in our front yard, around the corner, the length of our fence on the street-facing side yard, and just past the first neighbor's driveway. Even if the dogs are out and they spot you right away, I don't consider just over a minute of barking a nuisance. Listening to a dog howl and bark endlessly because it is tied up in a backyard or kenneled in a garage 24/7 is a nuisance. From my many walks around the neighborhoods of Wadena, just about every dog I encounter barks at me as I pass, because that's what dogs do! That is their way of communicating, whether it is to say "Hello," "I'm scared," "Will you play with me?" "Mail's here!" or "This is my turf." Any reasonable-minded person should know that; if not, please Google "dog behavior" and educate yourself!

I would be happy to pay for a kennel permit, even though my definition of a "kennel operator" violently clashes with the City's definition of the same term, but the City will not issue a permit to those living in a residential zone. I do not breed dogs or run a boarding business. Simply stated, I am a responsible pet owner who cares and provides for more than two dogs. My dogs are my family. Am I really going to be fined, forced to give up two family members, and/or thrown into jail for non-compliance with City ordinance? Am I really going to be told that our dogs are welcome to go outside between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. but they can't make a peep during the outing? Shall I provide my dogs with little ballet slippers so their claws don't tap on the deck, or remind them that playful growling is not permitted while they wrestle with each other during that time frame? If a household has only one to two dogs, are those dogs allowed to exercise their vocal chords during that time period while my dogs are expected to be mute? What if it is hot and they start to pant but don't bark? If you want to get technical, my dogs (as most others) do "emit a noise" when they pant. How about when they eat too much grass and hack up a big grassy gaboon? That's not barking, but it definitely "emits a noise."

My group of dogs consists of a 12-year-old lab who is about ready to go to the Rainbow Bridge, two chocolate labs that are a bonded pair, and a small mixed breed puppy, who has captured the hearts of my entire family, especially my children. Strictly hypothetically-speaking, if I were to give up any of my dogs, I am convinced that the puppy would have the best chance of finding a new adoptive family, though it would be a rough transition, both for her and our family. With the assumption that our oldest dog will be dead soon, that leaves me with a grieving, heart-broken family (dogs included — they grieve for their lost ones too) and the bonded pair that, incidentally, barks the most; how is that a solution?

What about all those other animals that the city feels should be "given up?" Will they be able to find new homes? Will they be surrendered to the shelter — creating more heartbroken families, an over-crowded shelter that will result in increased barking volume, and dogs that become depressed because they can't figure out why the family that has loved them is no longer in the picture? Or, worst of all, will these animals have to give up their lives too early, because their families feel there is no other alternative?

Ten years ago, we went through all the jumps, hoops, and red tape required to establish our business here in Wadena. We went through the stress of obtaining a conditional use permit when we built my husband's workshop on our lot. We have shopped locally whenever possible, and sent our kids to the local district school. We have paid our taxes and maintained our property without complaint. We are very active in our church and in our community. Our property has the room and our family has the time and financial resources to care for more than two dogs. All of our pets are spayed or neutered and annually vaccinated. Those canines have more loyalty, character and heart than most people I know. If and when push comes to shove, we will leave. Sadly, however, not every two-plus dog family in town has that option.

City of Wadena, I have some questions for you. Are you really going to kick out a young, professional family that chose to set up house and business in your town, just because that family has four dogs instead of two? Are you willing to deny your local merchants the revenue they would have made from our purchases? Are you going to deny your school, already suffering from declining enrollment and budget cuts, money it would receive from our kids remaining in the district? Are you willing to give up the potential for any additional employees we might end up hiring in our business? Will you send someone to my home to talk to my kids and explain why they must give up their beloved pets? Will you foot the bill for any therapeutic services needed for my family members to help us cope in the aftermath? Are you willing to put us and other dog-loving families through all this stress, just because it's too much paperwork and legal expense to change the dog limit or issue permits on a case-by-case basis?

Citizens of Wadena, I have some questions for you too. Would you mind holding your summer barbeques indoors, with your windows closed, so I don't have to listen to your boisterous chatter and laughter? Would you please trade your gas mower for the old-fashioned rotary version that is far less noisy and smelly? Can I ask you to quit slamming your car doors or honking the horn as you lock your car, or better yet, just get rid of your vehicles? Would you please refrain from emitting any sort of noise outside between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m.? Or is it possible to practice some tolerance and act as neighbors should — with care and concern for one another and and the animals with whom we share our lives?

We are just one family, one business. Perhaps we don't matter enough to the City of Wadena to allow any sort of exception to the rule, but we do matter in the lives of our pets, just as they matter tremendously to us. Incidentally, ten years later, we are still awaiting our First Dollar of Profit from the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe we should take that and the City's ridiculous dog ordinance as a sign that we are not wanted nor needed here.

Suzanne Moe,

Wadena, Minn.