Who (Didn’t) Let the Dogs Out? Complaints About Barking Dogs Jump in September

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August 21, 2018

After the dog days of summer, come the dog complaints of September.

The month typically sees the sharpest spike in complaints about barking dogs, according to an analysis of 311 data by Localize.city, a website that provides insights about every address in New York City.

Localize.city’s data science team identified 431 buildings across the city where barking has sparked complaints. The analysis looked at 311 data over 12 months (from July 31, 2017, to July 30, 2018) to find the addresses where dog barking has caused problems. The data scientists created a predictive algorithm based on the recency and frequency of complaints, identifying addresses where noise might continue to be a problem. The algorithm also matched complaints to buildings. Only buildings that had complaints on at least two distinct days, with the last complaint filed within the last three months of the year-long period, were included.

New Yorkers filed about 7,200 annual complaints about barking dogs, on average, over the past five years, Localize.city found.

“The numbers of complaints rise and fall during the months, typically dipping in July and August and then jumping in September by 25 percent. This has been a consistent pattern for several years,” said Localize.city data scientist Daniel Slutsky.

“The dip in July and August may not be surprising since people are away more often in the summer. Not only are the dogs away and playing outside more, but the people complaining about them might be out of town as well,” Slutsky continued. “September is also a popular month for moving into new homes, so there may be some new circumstances for both the dogs and their neighbors.”

For families, who stay in the city during the summer, they often have extra time to go to the park with their dogs and find other ways to keep dogs busier, noted Shelby Semel, founder and senior trainer of Shelby Semel Dog Training.

“The dogs are happy, tired and quiet,” Semel said. “That all changes abruptly when kids return to school, summer Fridays end, [the dogs’] playtime decreases. So that may be a contributing factor to the increase in complaints in the fall.”

Complaints see a similar 25 percent jump in March, Localize.city found. Perhaps dogs yearn to be outside more when the spring comes, and so do their families. Their humans may be staying out later and leaving the dogs alone for longer.

What can the data tell us?

“Barking dogs might indicate a larger problem, like distress, danger or an emergency. It could also indicate a dog is lonely or experiencing separation anxiety when their human is out of the house,” Slutsky said. “Complaints about quality-of-life issues like noise, of course, can be indications of other issues in a building or between neighbors.”

Besides revealing that there may be tensions or in-fighting among residents, sometimes when there are a lot of complaints, it’s because there is a particularly prolific complainer in a building.   (Then again, many residents might have gripes about barking dogs but not complain about the noise to the city’s 311 hotline for a variety of reasons.)

Also, an increasing number of 311 “quality of life” complaints can signal larger community conflicts involving issues of race and class. Research has shown, for example, that areas with “fuzzy” boundaries between two different racial enclaves have higher 311 complaints because neighbors tend to go to 311 rather than straight to their neighbors.

The addresses Localize.city uncovered with the most complaints varied by neighborhood and type of housing.

They included a four-unit brownstone in Central Harlem; a 34-unit, 12-story condo on the Upper West Side with a doggy daycare on the ground floor; and a one-story house in Floral Park. Rounding out the top five were a 14-unit walkup on the south side of Williamsburg and a 240-unit, 13-story building on Shore Front Parkway in the Seaside section of the Rockaways.

In the case of Localize.city’s No. 1 spot for dog complaints, at Central Harlem’s 130 W. 111th St., the situation is complicated.

Neighbors complained about dog barking noises on 37 days over the past 12 months at this four-unit brownstone.

Localize.city visited the building to see what was going on. A postal worker said that, yes, indeed there was a very loud dog in the building and that at least on one occasion, she refused to deliver the mail there because a dog sitting on the steps was barking too loud. (The postal worker has had issues with other dogs, she admitted.)

A tenant in the building, however, said that noise from barking dogs was not a problem in the building.

We learned that three dogs live there. A mutt and two English bulldogs. Yvette Harrington, owner of the bulldogs — named Yesterday and Tomorrow — said her dogs were the focus of the complaints. She believed it was her downstairs neighbors had filed them.

No one, however, had ever directly approached her about her dogs, she added, which upset her.

“Talk to me before you talk about me,” she said. “If my dogs are barking during the day, when you should be at work, go to school then. Find something to do. If my dogs are barking at 8 or 9 at night, are you sure that I’m safe? Because sometimes when your owner is sick, your dog will stand over you and whimper.”

Localize.city found that the vast majority of complaints were made in the late afternoon/early evening, with the earliest complaint logged about 2 p.m. and the latest complaint made about 10:30 p.m.

Harrington — whose family owns the building — believed her neighbors were trying to cause her problems because she is attempting to kick them out. She wants to move her elderly mother from the third floor into their apartment.

Harrington acknowledged that one of her dogs barks, but didn’t think it was out-of-control.

“Yesterday barks because she’s very protective. She has this instinct. She’ll bark if something doesn’t seem right. She’ll notify you through sound,” Harrington said. “But I don’t like noise. So, I myself would not allow the dog to be barking uncontrollably without trying to find out what the problem is.”

In the case of Localize.city’s No. 2 spot for barking dog complaints, 105 W. 72nd St., neighbors were furious over the barks coming from SPOT Canine Club, a doggy day care on the building’s ground floor. Neighbors said the problem had been ongoing for years but the noise worsened in May when the day care was under renovation, according to the West Side Rag. The facility admitted that only about a dozen dogs were usually in the center’s courtyard at a time, but during the renovation, there were up to 40 dogs out there. The center wrote an apologetic letter in the publication in June, after the renovation completed, saying they did not expect noise disturbances in the future.

“After being in the neighborhood for over seven years, this is the first time we’ve heard these types of complaints,” the letter stated. “We have a long-standing reputation for exceptional care and know that this was an unusual circumstance which added stress to the dogs and our associates.”

Indeed, the last noise complaint filed was on May 31, which meant there were no complaints in the weeks following the renovation. However, there had been several complaints filed well before the renovation, Localize.city found. Though there were multiple complaints per day during the during the May renovation, several complaints had been filed months before the renovations began. Overall, complaints were filed on 22 days, and more than half of these days were before the renovation, Localize.city found.

How Localize.city can help buyers and renters concerned about noisy dogs

When you’re looking to buy or rent a new home you might not learn there’s a noisy dog next door during your brief visit.

That’s where Localize.city comes in. The website will let you know if complaints about barking dogs have been a problem at a particular building. It also highlights the spots where the problem might continue.

“By knowing what’s happening at every home and being able to predict whether certain issues might recur —  like noise from barking dogs or fights between neighbors over dogs — we are helping New Yorkers ask better questions before they move and make more informed decisions,” said Localize.city president Steve Kalifowitz.

When to file a complaint

The first line of defense is to talk neighbor-to-neighbor about the problem. Some pet owners, who leave their pups behind when they go to work, might not even be aware of the problem. But if the nuisance persists, neighbors sometimes take further action and contact the city’s 311 hotline.

The city’s noise code defines persistent barking if it occurs after 7 a.m. and before 10 p.m. for at least 10 minutes at a time; or if it occurs after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. if it continues for at least 5 minutes.

If you report a problem, you must include the address of the barking dog and your contact information. City officials may then send a letter to the dog owner, but the complaint will remain anonymous. Your information will not be shared with the dog’s owner.

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