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.