Howling at the Moon

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The recent outbreaks of youth violence in Chicago have made national headlines, and today President Obama announced that he was sending attorney general Eric Holder and education secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago to look into the epidemic of killings.

Meanwhile, the Chicago City Council’s police and fire committee met this afternoon to discuss an ordinance that would impose fines on the owners of dogs that bark too long and too loud.

“It’s not earth-shattering and it’s not going to balance the budget—it’s just a simple thing,” alderman Pat O’Connor said of the ordinance, which he introduced with alderman Richard Mell to give police a “tool” for cracking down on pet owners whose negligence leads to “unnecessary” barking or other noises.

The other aldermen on the committee signaled that they too were ready to stand firm against unnecessary animal sounds, and it seemed reasonable to them that owners could be cited and fined $50 to $250 if such creatures (meaning the pets) were “disturbing the peace” longer than 10 minutes. They agreed it made sense to require that three people would have to sign a complaint before the citation could be issued.

But several were worried that the ordinance could result in the fining of law-abiding people and dogs, such as themselves and theirs.

Eleventh Ward alderman James Balcer was among the most concerned. “Now, I have a dog—”

“Well, you better keep him quiet,” advised Isaac Carothers, who continues as police committee chair while awaiting trial on federal corruption charges.

“I try, chairman, I try,” said Balcer. “But dogs are a big detriment to criminals. They hear that barking and they’re scared off, you know, and I’d sure hate to get in the way of that.”

Carothers called on a city lawyer to explain if Balcer could be subject to a fine if his dog started barking at a would-be intruder. She reminded them that the dog would have to be barking for a full ten minutes in order to be deemed a "nuisance."

“Which is plausible,” Balcer said.

Carothers appealed to everyone to be reasonable. “I think commonsensically, I think this is about people who leave their dogs tied up in the yard all the time.”

O’Connor agreed. “It’s like any ordinance that’s an enforcement issue,” he said. “It’s not intended to cause more problems.”

Still, alderman Lona Lane—perhaps best known for banning ice cream trucks in the 18th ward—wanted to make sure the ordinance was broad enough to include more than unruly dogs. “In our ward we have chickens and roosters,” she said. “This is every morning that we hear their noise.”

She was assured that the ordinance would also cover fowl. This made her happy, because she was starting to contemplate her own kind of justice. “If it goes on, they’re going to end up in a hot pot.”

The ordinance passed unanimously.

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