She avoids having company over, limits the amount of time her three children play outside, and keeps her own dog, Molly, in the house. To do otherwise could set off a chain of barking that will keep them all up past their bedtime. She said her children have been bitten by dogs in the neighborhood.
“We are prisoners on our own property,” Waters said. “I cannot take out my trash. The kids can’t play on their quads or on the basketball court … I regret moving here every day.”
Waters’ neighbor, Victoria Carnahan, has about 80 dogs. As Mason County Animal Control Officer Cindy Brewer will attest, all of the dogs are healthy, happy and under control.
Carnahan and her husband moved to their home 20 years ago, long before Waters moved in and long before there was even a house next door.
Carnahan and her mother, Elizabeth Rose, who lives in another house on the same property, both note that their neighborhood is rarely quiet, even without dogs barking. Neighbors fire guns and run dirt bikes and quads.
“I think people move in from out of town and think they’re going to get a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, but that’s not what this is,” Carnahan said. “I can understand Megan’s frustration, but if she truly wanted the quiet country environment, she should’ve done her research.”
'We had no idea'
The Waters family previously lived in Kitsap County, but wanted to move somewhere with more land.
“Silverdale was getting busier and busier,” Waters said. “We wanted acres, a place for the kids to run."
The house they found on Sides Road in Belfair sat on 5 acres, had built-in trails for quads and space for the dog to roam. It seemed like a dream.
The sellers didn't mention the neighbors.
"We bought this house thinking they had just a few dogs next door,” Waters said.
The seller’s disclosure statement accompanying the sale of homes in Washington state does not require sellers to disclose facts about any adjacent or neighboring properties, said Alisha Harrison, a real estate broker for John L. Scott in Belfair who did not work on this sale.
“There isn’t anything there about neighbors. They have to disclose material facts about the home and the property itself,” she said. “You need to do your own research.”
The former owners of the Waters’ home, who lived there for a decade, eventually did warn Waters about the neighboring dogs, but not until after the sale had gone through.
“We had no idea,” Waters said.
Waters claimed that the previous owners told her they threatened Carnahan with a lawsuit if she didn’t hide her dogs when the Waters came to inspect the home before purchasing it.
Carnahan backed up the claim. She said she and her dogs have suffered greatly over the past two decades.
“I have felt harassed at times, because from the first time I moved here, people were reporting me to the police,” she said. “It’s been consistent harassment on a mild level. My yard is fenced, why do they think every dog in the neighborhood is my dog?”
Carnahan’s property was two-thirds fenced when she and her husband moved in, and over the years they’ve added additional fencing, in part to appease their neighbors and to protect their dogs from other dogs.
“I’ve had so much that I’ve dealt with over the years,” she said. “I’ve had dogs that were killed in this neighborhood”
'A certain amount of freedom'
In unincorporated Mason County, there is no limit to the number of pets allowed on a property, no licensing requirement and no leash law.
Other jurisdictions have varying rules.
In Shelton, pet owners can have up to three dogs, all of which must be licensed. In Kitsap County, pets must be licensed, but there are no limits on the number. In Seattle, up to four small animals are permitted on lots of at least 20,000 square feet, with one additional pet permitted for every extra 5,000 square feet.
The city of Lynnwood allows three cats or three dogs, or two miniature pot-bellied pigs. Wenatchee requires an excess pet license for anyone who has more than three dogs or more than three cats over 4-months-old on the premises.
Brewer, Mason County's only animal control officer, said Carnahan isn't doing anything wrong.
“We’ve tried to help Megan as much as possible,” Brewer said. “It would be helpful if we had a limit on the number of animals or even licensing requirements in Mason County, but there’s not much we can do.”
As for noise complaints, Mason County stopped enforcing its noise ordinance with barking dogs when a second animal control officer position was eliminated, Brewer said.
The county’s noise ordinance prohibits “frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds made by any animal which unreasonably disturbs or interferes with the peace, comfort, and repose of property owners or possessors.”
Carnahan’s dogs do not bark long enough to qualify as a nuisance, Brewer said. She's spent an eight-hour shift outside Carnahan’s home, listening.
“The dogs were not barking long enough to enforce the rule,” she said. “It needs to go on for a prolonged, habitual time. Five minutes here and there, that’s habitual, but it’s not prolonged. You have delivery trucks, you have garbage trucks in and out, and dogs are going to respond to that.”
Brewer added that all of Carnahan and her mother’s dogs are spayed or neutered and that when she last visited their home, the dogs quieted within a few minutes.
“The worst thing I saw was she has dogs that are overweight,” she said. “That’s it. They have a routine and everything. Their teeth are cleaned regularly, she feeds them a decent brand of dog food. I’ve been here since 2000 and I’ve been to the house several times.”
Waters isn’t the only neighbor to have complained about Carnahan over the years. Blaine Gunkel, who lives three-quarters of a mile down the road, said Carnahan’s dogs have woken his family up at 3 a.m. Yet Gunkel, a retired lieutenant with Washington State Patrol, conceded that there’s not much that can be done about the situation.
“I think the sheriff’s office is doing everything they can,” he said. “But there is a certain amount of freedom we have out here.”
'One second to ruin everything'
Multiple children in the neighborhood have been bitten by dogs, but it's unclear whose dogs.
Waters’ son was bitten in the leg in August when he was standing at the fence line between the two properties — Carnahan claims he poked and aggravated her dog.
Animal Control enforced a 10-day quarantine of the animal inside the home to ensure it didn’t have rabies, but Waters couldn’t believe there wasn’t more punishment.
“Eight kids live on this road,” Waters said. “No child walks to and from the bus stop in this neighborhood."
"All it takes is one second to ruin everything,” she said.
In the past two years, at least 19 calls to 911 have been lodged by neighborhood residents regarding dogs barking, dog bites and other dog-related disturbances.
"I just want to know why this is acceptable and at what point will authorities take this seriously?” Waters said.
She said that Carnahan’s dogs have sapped the joy from their new home.
“I sit here and cry,” she said.
Carnahan is unmoved by Waters' emotion.
“If this was a concern for Megan, she should have sat out in front of the property and listened,” Carnahan said. “She should have taken a look at the laws of the county she moved into. She wants to move into a new county and tell me how to live? I’ve been here 20 years.”
(Kitsap Sun - Dec 16, 2016)