Eighteen years ago, the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society set up its no-kill animal shelter on Index Street in Washougal, a community about 20 miles east of Vancouver, Washington, and began the task of caring for the area’s homeless dogs and cats. The location made sense, as Index Street is in an industrial park and noise from barking dogs at the shelter would not be a problem.
Five months ago a company called Northwest Underwater Construction moved in next door and, upon hearing the shelter’s six resident dogs barking, installed a horn that blasts a high-pitched siren at the shelter every time a dog barks. The volunteer shelter workers claim the siren shrieks every time a truck drives past too, creating a nightmarish state of almost constant blaring noise from the horn aimed directly at them, and the new neighbors responsible for the horn refuse to even discuss its removal.
With noise from the horn blasting unmercifully throughout the day, shelter volunteers and staff are at their wits end. The horn is designed to train dogs not to bark by blasting its siren at every bark. Some people question its effectiveness, since the horn's blaring comes from an adjacent yard and not the shelter where the dogs live. Additionally, the shelter dogs are but transient guests, staying only until they can be adopted and then a new dog will take its place. Can the horn be effective under these cisrcumstances?
Mostly, the noise emanating from the horn behind the Northwest Underwater Construction Company is heaping stress on shelter volunteers who say the noise is more than they can take. Mark Fruechtel, a shelter board member and a volunteer with the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, said he and a few other volunteers went and spoke with staff at the Northwest Underwater Construction about the shrill horn noise that was making their work and lives harder with each passing day. Fruechtel said he thought they had reached a friendly understanding after he explained the impact the horn's noise was having on shelter staff to his new neighbors, but he must have been mistaken.
The horn blasts so frequently, shelter representatives have had to get the Washougal Police Department involved. They also hired an acoustical professional to conduct a sound measurement study, which found that passing trucks are registering higher decibel levels than the dogs’ barking. In the meantime, folks next door at Northwest Underwater Construction have hidden the horn from view and placed it on the ground aimed squarely at the shelter.
No one at Northwest Underwater Construction will talk to reporters who have been trying to get their side of the story, and apparently they’re not interested in the potential health effects of the horn’s constant blaring on the shelter staff.
Constant exposure to noise like the blaring from the Northwest Underwater Construction site’s dog obedience horn has been found to cause stress and elevated blood pressure in humans and animals. It is also blamed as a contributor to noise-induced sleep deprivation, which comes with a laundry list of health risks. These implications are in addition to the detrimental impact the horn’s blast can have on the shelter staff’s hearing. It can exacerbate existing conditions including depression, and studies are even showing that ongoing exposure to noise above 70 decibels can cause more serious health problems - including an increased risk of heart attacks.
Video recorded in the back of the shelter gives viewers a taste of the shrill, high-pitched blast that sometimes shrieks unabated for 30 minutes or more. Fruechtel says that the folks over at Northwest Underwater Construction explained that they installed the horn because they were fed up with the sounds of the dogs barking.
Moving in next door to an animal shelter that’s been functioning in the same spot for 18 years has Fruechtel and others wondering what the new neighbors expected upon their arrival, you know, five months ago.
Since September, the shelter has filed two noise complaints against Northwest Underwater Construction with the Washougal Police Department, as they were instructed to do by the Chief of Police, Ron Mitchell. Mitchell says that if the horn is found to be disturbing the peace or in violation of any city code, Northwest Underwater Construction could be facing a $250 fine.
In some estimations, that should be the least of the company’s worries, as they seem to have done their best to prove themselves to be inhospitable neighbors at best. Actions speak louder than words, and it seems Northwest Underwater Construction isn’t interested in being a good neighbor to the volunteers who care for the community’s abandoned and homeless animals day in and day out, as they have done for 18 years.
It’s understandable that constant dog barking can get on anyone’s nerves, and under different circumstances Northwest Underwater Construction may have had a lot of peoples’ sympathy. But I have to agree with shelter staff when they question Northwest Underwater Construction’s choice to move into an industrial park, right next door to an animal shelter
What I find particularly egregious is Northwest Underwater Construction’s complete lack of consideration for the well-being of the shelter volunteers who are subjected to this high pitched horn hour after hour, day after day. Noise pollution is a serious problem in the U.S. and worldwide, and it’s making people sick. It’s disheartening that this company feels it has the right to move into an industrial park next door to an animal shelter and proceed to blast a siren-like horn at the staff of volunteers, even after they've been told of the effect it's having on the shelter staff.
Chief Mitchell says he hopes to have some answers regarding the Northwest Underwater Construction horn’s future within a week or so. Hopefully, the company's leaders will come to its senses and remove the offending horn without the police chief having to persuade them to. Hopefully they’ll realize the harm their horn could be doing to shelter workers, and do the right thing.
Building or retrofitting a kennel can present some unique challenges for dog-loving entrepreneurs, but if engineered properly a kennel can and should be an affordable, quiet, and neighbor-friendly facility.
When Deb and Jon B. hired contractors to design and build their 28 x 60-foot dog kennel in rural Iowa back in 2003, their decades-long dream of housing and caring for their farm community’s canines quickly turned nightmarish when one neighbor complained that the noise from the barking was affecting his health.
The neighbor insisted that the noise of the dogs barking was loud enough to not only interfere with his sleep, but with his quality of life during the day as well, and indeed the noise level did exceed the county’s EPA sound level limits (as do most kennels.)
The couple learned about Acoustiblok only after a series of legal headaches and ill-advised fixes like custom built “sound-blocking” panels and custom-made “husher” acoustical curtains did nothing to appease the neighbor’s complaints. Despite each new fix, the police got involved, and soon the courts became involved.
By 2005, contractors hired by the couple had sealed windows and completely enclosed the dog run in order to address the noise problem.
“It took away the dogs’ visibility, and completely changed the look of the building,” Deb said. “It began to look like a jail, and still it did not significantly reduce the noise level.”
With legal and construction costs piling up, Deb came very close to closing shop and returning to her previous work as an insurance adjuster. In April 2009, the couple held a farm sale to raise money for their legal expenses;
The situation had become bleak until a local lumberyard operator suggested she look into Acoustiblok. Deb decided to give the Tampa, Florida-based company a call. That phone call changed everything.
“I had a significant business at stake,” she said. “I was beside myself when I made the call to Acoustiblok; this conflict had ripped our lives apart.
“How I wish I knew then what I know now,” she said.
Acoustiblok acoustical consultant Steve Hibbens spoke with Deb at length regarding her kennel and helped her formulate a game plan for addressing her architectural challenges and utilizing Acoustiblok
to her best advantage. Before installation began, Acoustiblok consultants held a conference call with the couple’s contractor to advise on the installation process for maximum benefit.
“It’s not just about using our material, but also applying sound abatement construction techniques that work together with Acoustiblok for maximum sound reduction,” Hibbens said.
Contractor Dave Hanson removed the kennel’s aluminum siding and took the kennel down to the metal studs. Installation took about 18 hours, as Hanson and one employee installed Acoustiblok one segment at a time so that the dogs did not have to be displaced in the process.
Hanson also replaced the existing windows with triple pane, low RE windows for a combined effect so impressive, he said he will recommend Acoustiblok in future construction and retrofitting projects.
Deb was impressed as well. In fact, she is so convinced that the guidance of Acoustiblok experts and the effectiveness of the product itself has made such a profound impact on the quality of her life, she has become something of an acoustical expert in her own right. Her next project includes adding Acoustiblok ceiling tiles in the kennel, and hanging strategically placed Acoustifence on the property for complete sound abatement.
As her business flourishes, she sees the improvements as an affordable and effective investment in the future.
“I have learned so much from your company,” Deb said. “The decision to install Acoustiblok has saved our lifestyle, saved our kennel, and allowed us to continue doing what we waited our whole lives to do.”