– But there’s no winners in rural dog fight

DOGS barking in the town is one thing but 15 kilometres out of Leongatha, on a farming property in the rural splendor of Mt Eccles, is an entirely different thing.
Or so you would think.
But that’s certainly not the case where warring parties along Old Canavans Road are concerned.
And last Thursday, October 25, the latest dispute between sheep farmers Danny and Barbara Horton, and rural lifestyle property owners Steve and Jeanette Berryman, had to be sorted out in the Wonthaggi Magistrates’ Court.
It’s the second time in six months that the Berrymans have forced the issue with the South Gippsland Shire Council’s local laws department who’ve twice brought charges against the Hortons over their dogs.
And after a two-day hearing, it didn’t end well for the Hortons… or the Berrymans.
Not only were Barbara and Danny Hortons each charged with failing to comply with an undertaking in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court on April 16 this year, that they keep the dogs quiet, after pleading guilty to allowing their dogs to create a nuisance with excessive and prolonged barking, back then.
But they were also brought up on a new set of nuisance charges involving constant barking by their dogs.
It resulted in costs and fines for each of them of $1657.87.
But there was certainly no sense of triumph from the other side, the victims if you like, Steve and Jeanette Berryman, a professional couple, who only bought the seven-acre lifestyle property 12 months ago.
“I would rather the dogs not be there because they (the Hortons) have already demonstrated an inability to keep them quiet,” Mrs Berryman said.
“These dogs are often barking all day and into the night, from the moment you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed at night, and beyond that.
“And there’s no way of it being reduced while those dogs are there.
“They’ve said we’re city folk coming to the country, but we’ve had small acreage farms before with alpacas and the like on them and my family has always been farming in New Zealand, so we’re well in tune with normal farm noises.
“But there’s no way this is normal. No one should have to put up with that,” she said.
“We’ve been welcomed by the community here, so there’s no problem with that. It’s just the dogs,” Mr Berryman said.
There are elements of ‘Right to Farm’ in this dispute, certainly – the owners of a small lifestyle block, plonked in the middle of commercial farm holdings, complaining about the neighbours’ farm dogs.
And it’s one of the reasons why the shire and the indeed the state’s planning scheme discourages small-lot subdivisions in rural areas and the proliferation of houses, especially those not associated with farming, in rural areas.
When considering an application for a house in the Farming Zone, the council looks at “whether the dwelling will be adversely affected by agricultural activities on adjacent and nearby land due to dust, noise, odour, use of chemicals and farm machinery, traffic and hours of operation”, among other things.
But where does the shire draw the line with noise associated with agricultural activities for example?
According to what transpired in the Wonthaggi Court last week, it’s with the Hortons and their 19 dogs, most of them border collies, some used on farm to round up the sheep, but most of them involved in the activities of the South Gippsland Working Dog Group of which Barbara Horton is the secretary.
Another neighbour and witness in the case, Len Price, said he has a 300-acre farm in the area and only needed three to four dogs to round up his stock. Nineteen, he said, was clearly excessive.
In handing down the penalties, Magistrate Goldberg found that two unregistered cats on the property were owned by Mrs Horton, despite claims they were owned by someone else.
He also said that while farm dogs would reasonably bark when they are rounding up stock or responding to other barking dogs and similar disturbances, “I am satisfied that the barking is at such a degree or extent that it interferes with the personal comfort” of the neighbours.
He acknowledged that the Hortons had taken steps to keep the dogs quiet by using dog whistles, a silencing device and shade mesh but despite Mrs Horton staying awake well into the morning to attend to the dogs, the barking continued.
But he dismissed a submission by the shire’s legal representative, Richard Davis, that an order be made to reduce the number from 19 down to a more manageable three or four.
“Which ones, how could I make such an order on a numerical basis. Is the right number three, four or 14 dogs?” the magistrate said.
“Having 19 dogs is going to make more noise than fewer dogs,” Mr Davis said.
“Obviously 19 dogs are allowed. There has to be a basis in law. It’s unidentifiable which dogs are barking.”
“How does a fine lead to the abatement of noise?” Mr Davis responded.
The magistrate said there was an obligation on the Hortons to keep the dogs quiet because he had found that there was a nuisance.