It takes half an hour to go barking mad - judge

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 April, 2011, 12:00am

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Most people find dogs barking an annoyance. But how long does a dog have to bark before its owner falls foul of the law?

A High Court judge yesterday gave a helpful answer - 30 minutes or more.

If the barking is kept to 10 minutes, the owner is not liable, Mr Justice Louis Tong Po-sun of the Court of First Instance ruled.

But he said barking that persisted for 30 minutes would not be tolerated by a reasonable person.

'The reason why this kind of noise causes annoyance is its continuity. The loudness would be less important,' the judge wrote in his judgment handed down yesterday.

On that basis, Tong set aside a summons served against pet owner Chan Oi-chun, who was found to have violated the Noise Control Ordinance by allowing her dog, which had been left alone at home, to bark for 10 minutes during the day.

But Tong upheld the fine imposed by a magistrate for another incident during which the dog barked for half an hour.

Animal groups said the judgment was reasonable. The problem was not with the complainant but the owner, who left the dog isolated for long time, making it feel anxious, they said. The appeal arose from a complaint filed by Wong Chi-hung, Chan's neighbour, who was annoyed by the barking of Chan's dog when she was out.

He told the court the noise made him anxious. It also affected his daughter's study, he said.

According to the judgment Wong and Chan lived 10 metres apart. It did not disclose their neighbourhood.

On May 16 last year, Wong called police after Chan's dog barked non-stop from 1.30pm until 6pm. Wong called police again on June 15 because Chan's dog kept barking between 11am and 5pm.

Chan later told a police officer that she put her dog in a room when she went out. The dog would bark when there was no one at home, she said.

It would be quiet when someone was home.

Chan admitted that she did not shut the windows when she was out.

Police officers heard the dog bark for only 30 minutes in the first incident and 10 minutes in the second before they gave up waiting for Chan to return home.

The charges were based on these two intervals, the document read.

Explaining why he set aside one of the summons, Tong wrote: 'Non-stop barking that continues for half an hour can cause annoyance.

'But I have reservations over whether [barking that lasts] 10 minutes would cause annoyance.'

Sally Anderson, founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, said people should not keep a dog if they were out at work the whole day.

She said the dogs that kept barking were likely to be suffering from separation anxiety when they were left alone.

'All dogs bark as a way of speaking. They are a sociable animal. They are not happy in isolation.'