Let's change focus from rights to respect

Individual rights are not absolute
Jan 14, 2014

There’s a fine line between individual rights and infringing on the rights of others.

A recent case in point involves dozens of barking dogs harbored by one person in Fines Creek that are preventing neighbors a quarter of a mile away from enjoying their home — and even from selling it.

The topic of rights versus responsibility is one that has been discussed extensively through the years. It includes many hot-button items we read about regularly — the right to privacy versus national security or the right to do as you please on your own property. That sub-discussion has ranged from accumulating so much junk it creates a health hazard to disciplining children in the family home.

It also includes noise, an issue that surfaces regularly in Haywood. Just last year, Maggie Valley aldermen spent hours and hours debating their noise ordinance as they strived to find a balance between the business owners in the valley who offered music at night and the residents who wanted some peace and quiet in their homes.

Even for those who live in remote rural areas where there’s quite a bit of distance between residents, disputes can arise. A dog owner may insist he doesn’t need to chain his dogs, even if they chase kids on bicycles or kill goats on a neighboring farm. Or, the owner may say neighbors who don’t like their barking dogs can just move.

If only it were so simple for Mike and Patty LaRossa. When the LaRossas built their home in Fines Creek a decade ago, it was a dream come true. When a neighbor moved closer, along with four dozen or more dogs, mostly hound dogs, the dream turned into a nightmare. They could no longer stand to be outside, and even inside their home, the doors and windows didn’t drown out the constant barking.

Maybe the dogs wouldn’t bother others, they reasoned, so the LaRossas attempted to sell their home. The barking dogs were cited as a reason that interest quickly waned. The couple can’t even find renters who will put up with the noise.

While there are no clear-cut answers, clearly a middle ground needs to be found.

Chuck Francis, Haywood County School Board chairman, found just such a path. The moment he learned his barking dog was preventing a neighbor’s baby from sleeping, he purchased a barking collar for his dog. Problem solved.

Both parties have rights, but along with rights come responsibilities. Perhaps what is most needed to resolve conflicts at all levels is to shift the conversation from rights to respect.