Years ago, Anchorage officials altered special licensing rules to allow dogs to bark up to 20 straight minutes per hour before their owners would get into trouble for noise.
The idea came from mushers, who wanted some leeway to the city's existing five-minute limit on nonstop barking to feed, load and transport sled dogs. Anchorage has been the venue for two major sled-dog events — the sprint races at Fur Rendezvous and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
But today, nearly 300 non-mushing entities — doggie day cares, rescue groups, even people who own four or more dogs — are entitled to the exemption. Officials said noise enforcement has become unmanageable.
Hoping to curb complaints, a new ordinance set to be introduced to the Anchorage Assembly in May would limit the 20-minute allowance only to mushers. A "musher" is currently defined as a person or business that owns or manages four or more dogs, over the age of four months, that have been trained to pull sleds, carts or vehicles with people or cargo.
In a March 23 resolution from the Animal Control Advisory Board, board members say the exemption from the five-minute rule was written with mushers in mind.
"It was not intended to provide homeowners or commercial facilities with a mechanism to inflict unwarranted chronic animal noise upon their neighbors," the resolution says.
DeeAnn Fetko, deputy director of the city health department, said people have complained to the Animal Control Advisory Board about commercial and "multi-animal" license-holders that seem to be abusing the 20-minute rule.
Mushers were seldom the target of those complaints, Fetko said. Of the 333 active multianimal facility licenses in the city, 37 are held by mushers.
Most of the wording in the ordinance, which would create a specific mushing license, came from the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association, a nonprofit mushing advocacy group.
President Val Jokela recalled testifying to the Assembly in the early 2000s about creating a special license for mushers. She got a license that said "mushing facility," but at some point, it changed to be a more general "multi-animal" license.
"We're actually just going back and revisiting history," Jokela said.
Jokela said mushers try to load and unload dogs as quickly as possible, but it's good to have an extra time buffer if something goes wrong.
In city law, the phrase "chronic animal noise" refers to animal sounds, like barking, that last more than five consecutive minutes. The exception has some limitations: A 20-minute barking period can't occur within an hour of another 20-minute barking period.
She said people who complain typically have time and date-specific evidence, such as audio or video recordings.
Cydney Clark, who works at A Happy Dog Day Camp and Boarding off Tudor Road, said she wasn't aware of the time restrictions on dog barking.
But she said the business backs up to a residential area, and people who live nearby have complained to the staff about barking dogs. She said she and her fellow employees try their best to keep dogs quiet.
"But obviously it's hard because they're their own little beings," Clark said. "We do definitely try our best to keep them from barking, but it doesn't always work out as well as we hoped."
Methods of quieting noisy dogs include spray bottles and "cool-down time," Clark said.
Fetko said the five-minute rule is based on the expectation that it shouldn't take longer than that for someone to quiet the dog, whether it's bringing the dog inside or giving it a toy.
Fines range from $50 for the first violation to $400 for the third and subsequent violations, Fetko said. The city could also deny or revoke a license.
After being introduced to the Assembly next month, the proposal will get a public hearing.
Assemblyman Dick Traini, whose wife serves on the Animal Control Advisory Board, said that ordinances involving pets usually draw a big debate.
"That'll light up the Assembly chambers," Traini said.