Fear of deadly rage over yapping keeps dog owners awake at night
23rd January 2012
"I'm constantly worried about my neighbours'' ... Pippa Williams with her Maltese terrier, Gizmo, who is fitted with a citronella non-barking collar, at her apartment in North Sydney. Photo: Kate Geraghty"
Few Sydneysiders are unfamiliar with the incessant, high-pitched sound of a dog barking from a neighbouring yard.
While he has a face that could melt butter, Gizmo can make some serious noise.
''I'm constantly worried about my neighbours. They all have my phone number and I tell them to call me if he's ever bothering them,'' said Pippa Williams, who fits Gizmo with a citronella non-barking collar, walks him daily and gives him enrichment toys to minimise his barking.
Luckily Gizmo's neighbours in North Sydney are more understanding than those of another Maltese terrier, Lilly.
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She was kidnapped from her north shore home recently and found drowned near the marina in Roseville, an atrocity her owner, father-of-two Tom Quan, believes was committed by an irate neighbour fed up with Lilly's barking. But more frightening was the vitriol it stirred around his Gordon neighbourhood.
''There are few things that send otherwise genteel, peace-loving suburban folk into a murderous rage more than the endless yapping of a little fluff ball dog,'' read one comment in an article about Lilly's death in the local newspaper. ''No one minds the occasional woof-woof of a real dog because they at least know when to shut up.''
''Many a night I've been awake imagining ways to dispose of [our neighbour's yapping dog] and restore some peace to our lives. And I LOVE dogs,'' another said.
Lilly's death was just one of many incidents, from poisonings to stabbings, to hit dog owners in urban areas recently amid rising rage against yappy dogs.
Higher density living and the popularity of smaller breeds mean dog issues are the most frequent complaints to councils.
Kelpies and German shepherds were the most popular breeds in the '90s. City-friendly Maltese terriers are the most popular these days, a decade-long study by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found.
The percentage of people whose dog rarely or never shows bad behaviour has fallen from 84 per cent to 77 per cent.
Smaller dogs are not always louder but they are more reactive and owners tend to intervene later as they are deemed less frightening, said Sharon Birrell, a dog trainer with Bark Busters. They are also more likely to live in homes where neighbours are closer and more easily annoyed.
''We get a lot of calls out to townhouses,'' said Ms Birrell. ''I've had owners very scared that people will get violent or throw poison over the fence. It creates an enormous amount of anxiety.''
Mr Quan spent $500 on a dog whisperer, but it failed to quell the hatred. Ms Williams said she goes to great lengths to be considerate.
But there also needs to be more understanding, said Kersti Seksel, president of the Australian Companion Animal Council, who advocates better housing design to mitigate noise.
''We possibly have expectations of dogs that aren't realistic. They're animals and they're going to have emotions and feelings.''