For months, David Raffety could rarely go a few days without barking dogs waking him up at two or three in the morning. If he was lucky, the sound would only last a few minutes, though there were nights when the howls could go on for close to an hour.
Sometimes Raffety and his wife moved to a different part of the house to get away from the noise. Sometimes, they didn’t sleep at all.
While living in the Sonoran Desert brings with it some proximity to howling coyotes, the Raffetys—and many of their neighbors—were subject to the barking of a pack of dogs owned by Victor and Cecile Stanton, whose failure to control their dogs led the Oro Valley Town Council to pass a new ordinance to deal with the problem of loud pets that disturb the peace.
Raffety recalled the barking in his neighborhood became a problem back in early 2017. Morning, midday or night, Raffety said he could hear sometimes constant barking of the dogs coming from a home down the way from his Rancho Vistoso backyard.
Raffety said he first turned to his homeowner association, though he was skeptical that warning letters were likely to solve the problem. Since it seemed unlikely he would find any peace, Raffety decided to contact the Oro Valley Police Department.
According to OVPD reports, officers were at the Stanton residence more than 60 times between July 2017 and February 2018. Over that period, more than 20 different officers logged more than 19 hours either sitting in their patrol vehicle or standing near the home, listening for the sound of barking dogs.
While the police did not hear barking every time they were at the home, two neighbors (including Raffety) filled barking dog complaint logs that included more than 150 alleged incidents ranging from 10 minutes to three hours in a period just longer than a month in late 2017.
One neighbor wrote as a note in their log: “I can’t believe I live this nightmare.”
In August 2017, OVPD Chief Daniel Sharp wrote a letter to Stanton to notify him that the department was aware of an ongoing issue regarding barking dogs. Sharp warned that officers would cite any violations of excessive noise they witnessed within a two-week window, resulting in a $250 civil fine.
Despite Victor Stanton receiving four citations for excessive noise in under a month between September and October 2017, Raffety said the problem only got worse.
“He’s kind of a bully, and he used his dogs as weapons,” Raffety said. “He would feed them at night. He would feed them at 2 o’clock in the morning, or 3 o’clock, or 4 o’clock. All seven of them at once, and they would bark for 15, 20 minutes, or half an hour.”
Stanton declined to comment, though his attorney, Natasha Wrae, said it seemed like people’s emotions were getting the best of them by the time the police became involved—and that the local community stopped being “good neighbors.”
“The Stantons felt like they were being conspired against, even believing that the officers were somehow involved,” Wrae said.
While the neighbors may have thought their complaints were being ignored, Wrae said the Stantons were doing all they could to control the noise, including using anti-barking collars and bringing the dogs in at night.
“It wasn’t for lack of the Stantons trying to find some way to help resolve the problem,” she said. “The neighbors were absolutely against, I don’t know how else to say it, against any sort of solution that the Stantons could come to the table with to try and fix the problem. They didn’t want to hear it.”
Wrae added that while it may seem counterintuitive, Stanton believed his early morning feedings would help keep his dogs quiet if they were provoked by something in the night.
“He was trying to resolve the problem,” Wrae said. “He certainly wasn’t out there trying to instigate a bigger problem. He was trying to resolve it, and the only thing he could come up with to quiet the dogs was to feed them.”
On Oct. 13, 2017, town prosecutors filed a complaint against Stanton alleging four separate counts: two civil counts of excessive animal noise, as well as noise violation and public nuisance charges. Five days later, Stanton pleaded not guilty.
Assistant Town Prosecutor Troy A. Simon filed a request for release conditions Nov. 2, 2017, that no dogs be allowed on the property through the outcome of the trial.
Conditions weren’t set until Feb. 16, 2018. During those months, Raffety said he and his neighbors were subjected to more barking. As part of those conditions, the dogs could not be fed or groomed outside, and could not be let out between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Eventually, the dogs were also limited to going outside twice a day for 10 minutes at a time, and were to be supervised.
According to court documents, the Stantons—who are dog breeders—kept seven Samoyeds at their home. Three older dogs lived inside, while four adolescents lived outside in eight-by-ten-foot cages in the backyard. Records indicate that the younger dogs were the cause of the noise problem, and were boarded March 9, 2018 through the outcome of the trial.
On March 12, 2018, Judge Bobbi Berry found Victor Stanton liable for both civil counts of excess animal noise, and guilty of both noise violation and public nuisance—both misdemeanors.
“By any standard, the noise is unreasonable,” Judge Berry wrote in her trial ruling. “It is not the type of momentary and intermittent barking of a dog due to some stimulus which quickly passes. Rather, the noise is in lengthy segments of time involving multiple Stanton dogs at all hours of day and night.”
Sentencing came more than a week later, and Stanton was handed 180 days of jail time suspended for three years of unsupervised probation and a $538 fine. In the terms of his probation, Stanton cannot allow excessive barking, and the four juvenile dogs sent off to compete as show dogs are not allowed to return to the home during the term of probation.
Wrae appealed the decision in June 2018, stating that nowhere in the Oro Valley Town Code or Arizona Revised Statutes can animals be banned from a property due to a noise violation. According to Wrae’s filing, the sentence also restricted Cecile Stanton’s property rights over the dogs she owned with her husband.
“They could punish Victor any way they wanted to, but they couldn’t take Cecile’s dogs,” Wrae said. “That was her property.”
Wrae’s bid for appeal was denied by Arizona Superior Court Judge Javier Chon-Lopez, who wrote that it was “reasonable” to prohibit the adolescent dogs from returning to the Stanton residence because more than 20 neighbors were affected “by Stanton’s failure to control his dogs.” Chon-Lopez added that neighbors allegedly moved as a result of the noise, and that the probation condition allowed the neighborhood to be less affected by noise since the four dogs “more likely to bark” had been removed.
While he did ultimately find some peace through the justice system, Raffety said he believed more could be done to prevent other Oro Valley residents from experiencing the same kind of disruption he and his neighbors endured for months.
Last summer, Raffety said he approached Oro Valley Councilmember Bill Rodman to share his story and see what could change in the town’s code.
“It was very frustrating, and it seemed to me that there wasn’t a strong enough remedy in the law to address the situation,” Raffety said.
His request didn’t fall on deaf ears.
Rodman, who said he’s a friend of Raffety, assumed early on that with OVPD involved, the problem would soon be resolved. As the case progressed to court, Rodman was surprised to see the problem dragging on, so he spoke with OV Legal Services Director Tobin Sidles about the possibility of updating town code to address animal noise issues.
“It became something that can’t be allowed to happen—It can’t,” Rodman said. “Nothing like this should be able to go on for as many months as it did, involving and disturbing so many neighbors without at least looking at what our ordinances were. Was there something we should be doing to put some teeth into it to bring these things to a resolution sooner? Because the more I heard about it, the more I thought, ‘This just can’t be.’”
At the request of councilmembers Rodman and Rhonda Piña, Oro Valley legal services undertook a review of the town’s animal control code regarding excessive animal noise. That review ultimately led to a set of proposed changes presented to the town council on Feb. 20.
According to town documents, the Stanton case highlighted the town’s lack of codified provisions that would have allowed for “more stringent action” on the part of law enforcement and the magistrate to protect “the rights of area neighbors in the peaceful enjoyment of their property.”
To create a fix, language was added to the town code defining excessive noise as any noise which travels “over one or more property line” and “interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property” by a neighbor or the community. Factors used to determine whether or not a noise is excessive include the level, character, frequency and duration of the sound, the proximity to other inhabited structures, the character and zoning of the neighborhood and reasons as to why the animal is making noise.
The section regarding penalties for excessive noise was re-written to include specific language to address animals. The first two violations warrant a fine up to $250, while the third violation or those which occur after a criminal conviction or a similar offense by the same animal is now considered a class 1 misdemeanor. Along with the charge, violators could pick up a fine between $250 to $2,500 fine, up to six months in jail and between one and three years of probation.
The town’s code also allows town officials to impound an animal after a third offense or following a previous excessive noise offense or a prior criminal conviction for the same animal. The owner is responsible for the costs, and has 10 days to file a petition if they want their pet returned. There is also an option for putting the animal up for adoption.
Wrae said the penalty of removing the Stanton dogs from the property still hasn’t been tested as constitutional, though she’s happy the town made a move to codify some of the punitive actions listed in the ordinance.
In light of her interviews with the OVPD officers in preparation for the case, Wrae said she hopes a case of barking dogs will never have to make it to the courtroom again, though she added that it’s helpful as an attorney to possibly prevent people from creating a problem in their own communities.
“They don’t call us ‘counselor’ just because it feels good,” Wrae said. “We do a lot of counseling in our jobs with our clients, and I could have pointed out the law and counseled them.”
Speaking to council Feb. 20, Sidles said the provisions he put forth—which were unanimously approved—have been used in other jurisdiction, and are a combination of other codes thought to be of best practice for the town.
“Overall, criminalizing a repeat offender and being able to seize an animal when necessary for various public health, safety and welfare concerns are common,” Sidles said. “These provisions are also viewed as the best ways to address the behavior, and provide needed relief to the victims.”
Though his troubles were settled nearly a year earlier, Raffety said he’s pleased town staff and council recognized the nightmarish problem he and his neighbors faced.
“This was an incredible waste of resources to address a situation like this,” Rafferty said. “Part of the change in the statutes is to not waste as much resources on a problem like this so you can get to some relief for the neighbors quicker in the process.”