Mediators joke about “the barking dog” because it is used so often as an example of the sort of neighbor-relations conflict that lends itself to alternative dispute resolution. Therefore I was quite surprised to read about a barking dog case in the police record as printed in the Gettysburg Times a week or so ago. Someone apparently turned first to the police to deal with a situation between neighbors that could easily be solved with the help of a third party. When police are called, a power structure is invoked, resulting in a win-lose situation that has the potential to poison future relations.
Of course, some situations demand the intervention of a powerful civil authority. But many disputes, particularly the sort of low-grade, ongoing frustrations that arise between neighbors, can be solved in more peaceful ways. Unfortunately, the times in which we live do not encourage harmony and civility. Instead, we are treated to political supporters who use vile language about their opponents, video games which emphasize violence and death, and media personalities who teach us how to hate. No wonder the gut response is to call the police and press charges!
If you read the police record regularly, you’ve probably noticed that it’s getting longer
and longer. More people are involved in physical fights, even at local high schools. More domestic abuse is occurring, despite efforts to take back the night and teach anger control. Drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise as individuals respond to the economy, heightened political tension, and resurging racism. In such an atmosphere, it takes real courage to seek alternatives to power-based conflict resolution.
Yet one borough in Adams County provides an opportunity to do just that. Confronted with numerous barking dog problems, Carroll Valley has written into its local laws a provision for bringing dog-owners and their neighbors to mediation after initial reports of an annoying dog situation. Of course, a neighbor anywhere in Adams County always has the option of calling Mediation Services of Adams County to request third party facilitation to deal with a barking dog, a trash violation, a sagging fence, or any of the numerous problems that afflict property owners.
The big advantage of alternative dispute resolution is that it usually results in a win-win situation, a recommended outcome if you want to get along with your neighbors. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Mediation is also on the radar screen of law enforcement officers. If you’re fortunate, calling the police or filing a charge with the district magistrate can also produce a referral to mediation, particularly if the situation is one that lends itself to joint problem-solving.
If a police officer hands you a mediation card, you can seek the courageous route to solving your dispute by calling the MSAC Help Line at 334-7312 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at our website: www.mediateadams.org
Janet M. Powers is Presiding Officer of MSAC and Professor Emerita at Gettysburg College.