SIDE STREETS: Deaf neighbors oblivious to barking dogs

September 24, 2010
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Judith Litchfield and her family love dogs and have four: Spooky, Comment, Spotty and Pepper. They’ve even been known to take in strays. Their dogs live in the house, play in the backyard and bark at strangers, squirrels and rabbits.

The Litchfields had lived blissfully on Plumstead Drive from 1992 until August 2006 when the Humane Society left a complaint about excessive barking at their Briargate home. Another warning came last March.

Each time the family was shocked. They had no idea their dogs were bothering anyone. How would they? The Litchfields and their three children are deaf.

And no neighbor had ever said there was a problem.

“We’ve never had a problem with our neighbors before,” Judith told me, talking in scribbled notes handed back-and-forth on her front porch and later in a phone interview through a sign language translator.

“We thought we had a great relationship with our neighbors,” she said.

And they do, says next-door neighbor Tony Holden.

They aren’t the problem, he said. The issue is the person who complained about their dogs: Rainer Steinbauer.

“He complains about a lot of things,” Holden said.

In fact, Stacey Candella of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region said Steinbauer “likes to call and complain about dogs in the neighborhood.”

Scanning his complaint history, she said: “he’s made a ton of calls on various neighbors.”

He contacted Side Streets after filing his second complaint against the Litchfields in March. He told me the dogs “constantly bark when they let them out.” When I asked if he’d told them of his concerns, Steinbauer told me he had not.

“I am ashamed to say that I do not know their names,” he said in an e-mail.

Last week, Steinbauer, an Army Special Forces retiree, defended his complaints.

“I did not buy my house to listen to barking all the time,” he said. “If the dogs bark for a reason, they are startled or whatever, that’s OK. But if dogs bark for no reason, I have a problem.”

Judith wishes he had come to her and tried to talk, as Holden occasionally does, with a paper and pen.

Instead, Steinbauer scared the family by looking over the fence, shining a flashlight over at night and even erecting a mysterious black box facing their house. It was an ultrasonic bark control device that emits a high-pitch sound in response to barking.

But there’s good news. In the weeks since Steinbauer contacted me, things have improved. The Litchfields are aggressively watching their pets when outdoors and working to control their barking.

And Steinbauer said he reached out, giving them tar paper for the roof of a shed they were building.

“Now it’s perfect,” he said. “They really have done a wonderful job.

“I don’t have any complaints.”

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