Nearly two years ago, we packed up everything we owned, including 17 goats and their 2 livestock guardian dogs, and moved to our new home, a beautiful paradise you see in all the photos on this website. It’s the place of dreams, a place I wake up every day and thank God for allowing us to buy. Here, at last, we could fulfill our dream of becoming a sustainable farm, able to withstand life’s financial and social storms. We were so eager to begin that we worked until midnight the day of closing to get our beds moved and sleep in our new home.
We’d lived in the house we moved from for our entire marriage and our entire goat owning career. Nothing prepared me for the enormity of a move that involved both livestock and small children. I’d say it took almost a full year to finally begin to feel settled in. We were very blessed to have a fully fenced and cross fenced property to move to, but miniature goats and determined livestock guardian dogs will find ways to get out.
We fumbled, stumbled, lost sleep and spent hundreds of dollars to finally get everyone safely contained that first summer. I felt like every day I woke up to a new crisis. One of the worst was Blaze, our Pyrenees, who refused to stay inside the field fence. She seemed to take personal offense to the cars driving by our place and would get out to stand in front of them, stopping 50MPH traffic right in front of the house until we got up there to drag her off. I was so stressed out that summer. Rob was gone all the time, his job takes him away for 14 hours a day, so the burden was on me to try to make things work. It. Was. Rough.
One bright spot was our neighbors. Friendly, garden growing California transplants, they were keen to share their produce and visit when they drove through our property on the easement they had. I thanked God for such great neighbors and envisioned years of neighborly relations. It was going to be great!
Then one night, three weeks after we’d moved in, Rob was gone overnights for an out of town(er) job. I was sound asleep at 2 a.m. when I heard someone yelling through my open window. It was hot, so all of the windows were open. A man’s angry voice boomed in my upstairs bedroom, “Hey! Silence those damned dogs!”
I’m a fairly timid sort to begin with, but being home alone in a new place with some unknown man standing outside my window yelling really unnerved me. On one hand, I knew I needed to go out and do something about the dogs (I guess?), but on the other, it meant going out where someone was waiting angrily, and also leaving my four sleeping kids unprotected in the house.
Finally, leaving one in to protect the kids, I took one of the big house dogs by the collar and led her out with me, making the trip to the barn to collect two LGDs, one by one, and bring them to the basement for the night. I didn’t have any better ideas, but a dog who has never been in the house in his life does not do well inside, I can say that from experience now.
I spent the rest of the night sleepless, waiting for something, I wasn’t sure what, to happen. I was terrified, flinching when the roosters started crowing at 4 a.m., wondering if someone was going to get me for that sound, too. I’d never even heard the dogs barking, but obviously someone had.
That day dawned a new way of living for me, one of fear. I no longer felt safe at home. In fact, as time progressed, I felt more and more like a target in my own home, like someone might come bursting through the door to get me at any moment. I developed severe anxiety about leaving the house, afraid of what I’d come home to.
That night was just the beginning of what turned into a year long battle with harassing neighbors. I was sure it was the neighbors across the road. We’ve never met them, even now, and since the neighbors with the easement were so friendly, I knew it couldn’t be them. Turns out, I was really wrong; it was the “nice” neighbors the entire time.
I’ll spare you all of the details, but in the course of a year, we endured:
- cars, including the neighbor’s friends, driving by honking at all hours
- someone driving by shooting a gun in the middle of the night
- a slashing injury to one of our LGDs that cost $300 to stitch up
- hangup calls in the middle of the night
- engines revving, peeling out in the easement the neighbor has through our place
- the neighbor yelling at, taunting and chasing our dogs at the fence line
- shooting in response to our own legal target practice on our property
After a year of harassment, we took our case to court to file an anti-harassment order. I’ve never been to court so it was another Big Scary Thing, but we had a victim advocate to hand hold us through the process. We each had an opportunity to go to the stand and tell our sides.
I had a long list of events in my event log, along with a couple police reports. He admitted to most of it and seemed completely unapologetic. The judge sided with us and wrote us a one-year anti-harassment order. That was about nine months ago.
At first, it didn’t feel any different. I told my husband, “A piece of paper doesn’t make us any safer.” As time went on, though, I realized that it had changed things. It was a gradual thing, but I began to feel more secure. There had been a stretch of time where I didn’t even want to go outside and would only go do chores and come back in. I don’t feel that way anymore.
The order stopped the harassment. I still want to have cameras up for every angle of our property, but I no longer feel a sense of imminent danger.
I’m writing this to help others know that there can be legal relief from this sort of behavior, though the answers depend entirely on the laws within your state and county.
Know Your Laws
There are two critical laws to look for: noise ordinances and Right to Farm laws. If your county has a noise ordinance, you may need to seek the help of an attorney to help you with a Right to Farm case. In our case, our county has no noise ordinance so barking dogs are not breaking any laws. You need to know the legality of barking dogs before you proceed, because if you are legally in the wrong, you may find yourself in a battle to save your dogs. I suggest anyone considering LGDs look into this first, because no matter what you might hear, LGDs are going to bark, it’s part of their job.
If your county does have a noise ordinance, it is time to see if you can get help under the state Right to Farm laws. Your local animal control officer may be able to help you, but in some cases those officers are not friendly to LGDs, so you might need to seek help elsewhere. In this case, try contacting your Farm Bureau or an attorney to see how you can stay legal and let your dogs do their jobs.
Set up Surveillance
The day before court, we were walking with my mother in law in the upper pasture. Out in the woods on the neighbor’s property, we saw a lawn chair pointing toward our pasture, about 30 feet away from our fence. There was a trail leading from the chair to our fence.
There was an incident one night, the one that finally prompted us to go to court. We heard the dog barking and looked out to see a flashlight shining at the fence line. When the dogs started barking, the neighbor started screaming and we watched as he got in his pickup and came flying down the driveway, honking his horn the whole way, then turning around and honking his way back home. I believe he intended to do them harm that night and that he’d been watching/taunting them from that chair.
A combination of visible and invisible surveillance is the best way to protect your home and your animals. We use a wireless camera setup with a hard drive to record around our property. It allows you to rewind and watch all videos, then transfer anything relevant to a flash drive to be saved for later. These also come in handy for kidding, by the way.
In addition to video cameras, hidden trail cams and audio recorders are valuable assets. Audio can help you record things like barking, to prove the existence or lack thereof, and to record specific events that can trigger barking. I’ve read many, many accounts on Facebook groups about neighbors taunting dogs to get them to bark in order to make a claim to police or animal control about nuisance barking.
Trail cams will help you get pictures without being obvious that you’re taking them. They can blend in with surroundings and round out surveillance to get eyes on all angles of your property. Legally, you cannot intentionally surveil your neighbor’s property, so be sure to keep these cameras pointing at your own.
Involve the Police
Bullies bully because they can. Sometimes, all it takes is a visit from the local sheriff’s office to settle things down. Over the course of this experience, we learned that you can file what is called an “informational report,” where no officer comes out but a record is made of what’s going on. I called and made one of these. Those are kept on file and you can request a copy of the reports.
Later, we had a more urgent concern and a deputy came out. He was very sympathetic and told us they take harassment cases very seriously. It was a relief to know we had the law on our side through all of this. Make sure to involve your local police. At the very least, they can provide more evidence in the form of police reports, and at best, they can go talk to them, maybe stopping the harassment right then and there.
I feared for the safety of my family. In addition to keeping my house dogs nearby every time we went outside, I began carrying a gun. This was important to my overall feeling of well being. Knowing that if he did finally snap in a drunken rage I’d be able to protect my family made it easier to step outside the door and do what needed to be done. It’s not a bad idea to carry anyway, so I have the neighbor to thank for finally spurring me to make a habit of it.
Keep a Detailed Journal
Journals with dates and descriptions are admissible in court for many things. We were able to use detailed logs to make our court case. Every time there was an incident, I immediately wrote down the date, time and description while it was fresh in my mind. Our victim advocate (more on that later) told us that in anti-harassment cases, feelings are important, so I wrote down my fear responses as well. Harassment can be defined as actions that make you feel afraid, so write down all the details about the events, including your feelings and the feelings of anyone else involved.
An entry in mine looks something like this:
9/7/17, 10:17 p.m. – A phone call was received from ____________’s number. There was no message.
9/18/17, 11:38 p.m. – We awoke to the sound of honking and saw ____________’s vehicle drive down the driveway, then turn around and drive back to ___________’s house, honking the whole way. I was afraid that he was going to break in or try to harm us. I couldn’t stop shaking for 30 minutes.
Those aren’t actual entries, but close enough to give you an idea of how they were written. Our advocate told us more detail is better, so write down everything even if you think it won’t be relevant. You can always remove information as you prepare for court, but it’s hard to remember it to add it in later.
Use a Victim Advocate
Our victim advocate was a lifesaver. It was incredibly reassuring to have someone there with us who was familiar not only with harassment issues, but also court cases. She was there with us from the moment we began filling out the court forms to the moment we heard the judge’s verdict and walked out of court. In eastern Washington, Rural Resources provides victim services. Look for a similar organization where you are. Ours helps mostly in domestic abuse cases, I think, so your local domestic abuse hotline might be a good place to start if you’re not having luck finding help.
Don’t Back Down
I can’t tell you how hard it was to stand firm. I’m not a fighter. I just want everyone to be happy and I don’t like to stand up for myself. If it had just been about me, I probably would have given in. In fact, I listed my dogs for sale more than once, but even then, I knew this issue wasn’t about dogs.
The first thing that neighbor ever said to me was, “I sure hope you’re going to do more about the weeds than the people who were living here before. I was constantly fighting them over it.”
People who will harass you don’t do it because of one issue or another, it’s all about control.
One day, I was really feeling discouraged and I laid down on my bed to pray. I prayed and asked God for clarity, because I just wanted to give in and be done with it, even if it meant my livestock would be at risk. It was so hard living in fear all the time. I came away from that prayer with a certainty that no matter what, I wasn’t supposed to sell the dogs.
If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.
I figured up a total cost basis value on all of my livestock at the time we went to court. It was about $18,000. Feelings and security aside, was I willing to let a man with a local history of controlling and bullying harass me into getting rid of my dogs and putting all of my investment at risk? This same man refused to allow a cougar hunt after the people we bought the house from lost lambs to a cougar who then stashed the lamb carcasses on his property. He was contributing to their danger, whether he saw it that way or not, and he was contributing to the dogs’ barking by harassing them and yelling at them every time he went outside.
What I’d Have Done Differently
First off, I’ll never buy a place with an easement again, that’s for sure! Second of all, as I sat in court listening to his wife testify that we were out to get them, I felt a great sadness that things had devolved to this. Not once through all of this did we take a single action that would have intentionally caused them distress. We vowed from the beginning to always take the high road, to know at the end of our ordeal that we had done the right thing, as far as it was easy to discern, and that we’d treated them with dignity and respect.
To hear her speak that and see how she believed it filled my heart with sadness. I liked her and thought we could have been friendly neighbors in another life. How could she have not known the fear her husband was creating? Our dogs were barking, her husband was threatening our very safety.
I tried to think of how it could have gone differently, and I wished I could have talked to them in the beginning. It took three months before we even knew they were the ones responsible for all of this (we didn’t see, but heard those first incidents at night), but if we could have worked with them and the dogs from the beginning, most of the barking issues would have been resolved. More communication might have saved the relationship and good neighbors are important to cultivate.
On the other hand, I’ve heard numerous stories of how he’s mistreated people around him and it could be that no amount of communication would have changed the outcome. However, if I were already in a place and getting ready to get dogs, I wouldn’t even consider it without talking to my neighbors first.
Throughout our ordeal, we heard a lot of opinions. Many were harsh, “Screw them, it’s your property, not theirs,” but several were on the other end, sympathizing with their sleeplessness. I, too, sympathize. While their barking is not loud or disruptive to us, I understand that the neighbors do take issue with it. It really isn’t an easy situation for anyone, but courtesy on both sides can go a long way to smoothing things over.
I hope sharing our experience can help you learn how to handle your own if you’re struggling with a neighbor who doesn’t like your dogs. While I can’t offer legal advice, I’d be happy to talk to you if you need help or support to get through a similar situation.