HOUSTON Drive around east Houston with your windows down and you re bound to see and hear one of the neighborhood s most ubiquitous problems: Dogs walking around the neighborhood, many of them barking all hours of the day and night.
The animals wander the streets, some of them strays, but many of them so groomed and well-fed its evident they re owned by people who don t keep their pets in their yards.
It is kind of a big problem out here, said Alex Villanueva, a postman who delivers mail to about 700 homes and businesses in the area. You know, soon as you pull up to that mailbox, it seems like one starts barking and it triggers off the rest of the dogs.
Now Houston city officials have rewritten the rules on animal control, hoping to make it easier for police and other regulators to crack down on people who let their pets wander around or bother neighbors with persistent barking. Under the new rules set for a city council vote this week, dog owners who don t comply with orders to keep their dogs in their yards or keep them from barking will face fines that start at $100.
The new regulation will also close a loophole some people in city government have called the one free bite rule. Right now, dogs that menace neighborhoods can be classified as dangerous dogs only after they bite someone. The new rules will create new classifications for problem animals nuisance dogs and aggressive dogs giving the city greater ability to crack down on their owners.
If you continue to allow your dog to continue to bark, it s going to be designated a nuisance, said Chris Newport with Houston s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department. And if you allow it to keep going on, you re going to get a citation each and every day.
Also, the new rules will allow the city to force dog owners to take precautions that will keep their pets from wandering the streets. For example, Newport said, the city can compel a homeowner to fix a hole in a fence that allows a dog to repeatedly escape from its yard.
The rules come as part of a comprehensive rewrite of the city s animal control rules. City officials have worked for months on the revisions, many of which deal with outdated or obsolete regulations.
Around east Houston, where dogs are about as common as household gardens, reactions varied. Some complained, but others hailed the proposed new rules as a relief and an appropriate crackdown on dog owners who don t silence their pets.
If they just totally defy you, yeah, said Arturo Fernandez, who said he s often kept awake by the sound of barking dogs. You know, people got to work. People got to get up.
But his grandmother, who keeps three dogs at the house where she s lived for more than forty years, is wary.
My dogs don t bother nobody! said Juanita Medina.
Houston City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter Wednesday.