For those who didn't read my column last week, let me make a long story short by saying that I was recently ticketed for having an overly vocal dog and have since been recounting my experience here.
Most who have had anything to do with the legal system know that easiest way to deal with the court is to plead guilty, pay your fine, do your time and move on. While Americans love to say "innocent until proven guilty" those with experience know that the saying should be more like "innocent until paper work is served". I'm passing on this little piece of McManus wisdom because I have decided to go against my own logic and ride out a not guilty plea on behalf of my dog Puff.
When I showed up for court in East Carbon last Thursday I was confident that I wouldn't be the only dog owner in the room. What I didn't expect was to be just one among the many. Following one brief human to human crime, the flood gates opened and K-9 Court was in session.
My introduction to the seriousness of my pet's transgression was made immediately clear to me when I witnessed the judge hand down a $200 fine and 12 months court probation for the day's first animal offender. The defendant was ordered by the court to commit no further animal related offenses during probation lest she face an order to show cause which carries a possible 20-day jail sentence. Yes, you read that right, 20 days in jail stemming from insufficient restraint of two dogs. Based on what I learned from the proceedings, the woman's dogs had not bitten anyone or maimed another animal during their time on the lam. They simply were not properly restrained.
Court continued with charges like failure to license a dog, barking dog, illegal frolicking dog, overtly panting dog, indecent doggy exposure. Okay, the last three I made up but I was very disturbed by what I was seeing. Why are our court officials being forced to try these cases? Is this really the chief function of EC's local justice court?
When my name was finally called, I silently thanked my neighbor for this experience and walked to the podium. After affirming that I understood my rights, I was asked for my plea. You see, I was ready with statements and witnesses and the whole nine yards until I found out that nothing was going to happen at my arraignment. I knew this having dealt with the courts before but for some reason I had chosen to forget. This is what I mean by saying that you are innocent until the paperwork rolls. If I indeed do ride this out and the city attorney does charge me, I will have two more court appearances before my case is even heard. That's three days missed work before a trial commences and let's not forget, we are talking about a charge of barking dog here, not manslaughter. The fine would be far less than three days pay and there's always the high chance that a guilty decision is headed down the pike.
I'm fairly certain a system set up to protect the public was never meant to make everyday citizens feel this powerless.
Well, unlike most, I get paid when I show for court and the pleasure of going through this process far outweighs the potential cost (at least I hope so). After I entered a plea of not-guilty, the judge asked me if I had any questions. When I inquired about guidelines for ruling, she pointed out that case details could not be discussed but that the ordinance was available. And the ordinance is great.
Did you know that East Carbon has animal control protocols in place for venomous fish and piranha? Is there something in Grassy Trail Reservoir they aren't telling us about?
The ordinance is more than 25 pages long and details everything from the definition of a wild animal to an overly broad and ambiguous nuisance provision. By East Carbon City ordinance, any animal which damages, is vicious, is smelly, is dirty, defecates on the sidewalk, barks or chases is a nuisance. I would say that encompasses every dog I know at least a little. Specifically, owners can be cited if their animal barks, whines, howls or makes other disturbing noises in an excessive, continuous or untimely fashion. That's right, an untimely fashion. When this was written I wonder if they outlined a timely hour for barking and whining.
That is my point. Dogs bark. Dogs run. Dogs like to be "at large" and this activity only becomes illegal when we choose to define it as such. I have spoken to several police officers recently who despise receiving animal nuisance calls. Most police officers did not sign up to locate, impound and relocate Fido. I would also venture that the time of our court officials might be better used.
As I finished the ordinance, the animal cruelty section stood out to me as the one place where the spirit of the law could and should be represented. Since my dog was ticketed for barking in an untimely fashion I have had other dog owners recommend that I use a shock collar or have Puff de-barked.
Where the city defines cruelty as physical abuse you would think that shocking or maiming one's pet would be more of a crime than the simple noise of the neighborhood.