The barking is constant, and has been since Jackie Comstock moved in to the Anton Menlo apartment complex on Haven Avenue in April 2017, she says.
Gruff growls, forlorn howls and sharp yips can be heard around the clock from Tyson Kennels, which is located next door at 3735 Haven Ave. in eastern Menlo Park, nearby residents say.
Comstock and her neighbors have called code enforcement; they've filed complaints through the city's "SeeClickFix" app, and called the kennel owner, Tiffany Tyson.
Comstock has even made public records requests trying to get to the bottom of how and why the dog kennel is allowed to generate so much noise so close to her home, day after day.
And still, she said, she finds herself and her family kept up at night, subject to incessant barking that, according to sound measurements she and her neighbors have collected, reaches typical volumes of 45 to 60 decibels, with regular spikes of around 80 decibels, and one reading of 103 decibels. For reference, a vacuum cleaner typically registers 70 decibels, while 100 decibels is equal to the volume of an approaching subway train.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, noise above 85 decibels over a prolonged period of time may start to damage one's hearing. The agency reports that people typically start to feel annoyed by the noise level beginning at 70 decibels.
The city's municipal code sets noise limits at 50 decibels at night and 60 during the day.
Comstock and her neighbors, Karin Sargis, Judith Howson and Annika Mortensen, recently asked the City Council for relief. The noise is worst, they said, in the apartment building nearest to the dog kennel.
"I've never opened my windows at that apartment, and I've lived there a year and seven months. It's an insult that we can't do something about it," Howson said at the June 18 council meeting.
"It's extremely uncomfortable to function," Sargis told the council, adding that the barking takes place 24/7, and that she works for a school district and needs good sleep for work.
"It is not a live, work, play (environment)," Comstock insisted. "It it is a windows closed, don't go outside, can't-sleep environment, and it's not healthy."
On the other side of the tension is Tyson, who has been taking care of the dogs at the kennel since she was a kid and her grandparents, Randy Tyson-Witmer and David Witmer, owned it.
During this reporter's recent visit to the kennel, Tyson greeted the dogs by name as she walked down the narrow walkway separating a series of dog runs from the fence that serves as the barrier between the apartments and the kennel – which did, in fact, get them barking excitedly.
Tyson said the kennel typically has about 60 dogs on the premises on weekdays, and roughly 20 to 30 dogs there on weekends, though the number varies.
The family has a long legacy of training dogs in the community, and also runs Witmer-Tyson Imports, which imports, breeds and trains German shepherds, some of which work with local police departments.
The kennel has been at the same location since the city granted its owners a conditional use permit in June 1972, Tyson said. At the time the permit was approved, the nearest occupied building was more than 400 feet away from the proposed kennel.
In recent years, two developments Anton Menlo, completed in spring 2018, and Elan Menlo Park, completed in fall 2017 have added a combined 540 apartments to the block. Hardest hit by the barking are the residents of Anton Menlo's Building C, which is nearest to the kennel, according to the apartment dwellers who brought their concerns to the City Council.
So what happens when the industrial area where the kennel sits becomes a residential neighborhood and there are suddenly high-end apartments next door, where people are tearing their hair out from all the noise their canine neighbors make?
Records of submissions on the SeeClickFix app, which allows people to send in code complaints, show residents have been frustrated by the way the barking interferes with their daily lives.
One complaint stated: "The dogs at the kennel constantly bark with no reprieve. Can't have dinner without having to talk over it, can't put my toddler to bed without it waking her up, can't work from home because the noise is non stop."
The city's laws say that a conditional use permit, if approved by the Planning Commission, should ensure that a property's use isn't "detrimental to the health, safety, morals, comfort and general welfare of the persons residing or working in the neighborhood of such proposed use."
The residents have also called Tyson, who says that before the residents moved into the new apartments, the kennel never had problems with other nearby businesses in the industrial area, and many people who work nearby bring their dogs to the kennel.
"We totally get that the barking would be an annoyance (to the new residents). We're sympathetic to that," she said.
As the apartments were going up, she said, kennel operators met with the Anton Menlo owners, and they came up with a plan to try to be good neighbors. Tyson said she brought in a sound engineer to figure out what could be done. Sound-dampening material was installed above some of the dog kennels closest to the apartments, she said.
"We are still willing to do more if that's what they would like," she said, declining to comment on who would be expected to pay for additional soundproofing measures.
Important for her, she said, is to publicly challenge the assertion from nearby residents that the dogs are unhappy or in distress.
"The dogs are in no way in any harm or discomfort," she said. "We've been giving quality care for 50 years."
As an old-fashioned boarding facility, Tyson said, it's not an enclosed space, and noises from the apartment residents, especially at times when there are more residents out and about, can trigger further barking.
"We can't make everybody happy, but for a majority, we run a very happy, healthy dog kennel," she said.
She also commented that it's not feasible to train the dogs to be quiet, since the kennel has a different set of dogs pretty much every day. The number of dogs at the facility also fluctuates, which makes the noise levels unpredictable and understandably even more frustrating to the neighbors, Tyson said.
At night, Tyson said, she makes an effort to move as many dogs as possible to an area of the kennel nearer to the Bay, but sometimes that area fills up and some dogs must remain near the apartments.
So whose idea was it to put housing so close to a dog kennel? While he wasn't working with the city when properties on Haven Avenue were rezoned to permit housing, Community Development Director Mark Muenzer commented: "The city obviously continues to try to develop housing to address the situation we're in. ... The land along Haven (Avenue) was identified as a good location to try and address that situation."
Permitting the two uses side by side has created a unique situation in the city, he added.
Muenzer contrasted the problem of the dog kennel and the next-door apartments to another noise-related neighborhood tension playing out elsewhere in the city. In the Willows neighborhood, BootUp World a tech company incubator at 68 Willow Road that also hosts parties and events for tech founders to mingle with venture capitalists has attracted fierce opposition from neighbors, who say the business violates the city's noise ordinance with its late-night raucous parties.
Unlike BootUp World, which has not received permission to host such events and is in the process of applying for a new use permit, on Haven Avenue, both the apartment complex and the dog kennel are entitled to be there under city zoning laws, Muenzer said.
In an early staff report for the kennel's 1972 use permit, staff appeared to indicate some expectation that the dogs would stay indoors at night, but that was never a condition of the kennel's approval, Muenzer said. Tyson said it's not possible to keep the dogs indoors at night due to the sanitary problems that could be created by animal waste.
Figuring out how to enforce the noise ordinance when both parties are entitled to operate as they are under city zoning creates a challenge, Menlo Park Police Chief Dave Bertini told The Almanac.
He said the police department is handling the problem as it does with other neighborhood disputes: by supporting mediation with, rather than penalizing, the noise-making party. The police department does not typically get involved with issuing citations for noise complaints, he said.
"We don't cite people for having a barking dog," he said. "From our perspective, it doesn't do good."
It's also difficult for the police department to record a dog-barking-related noise violation, he added. A dog has to either be barking for 30 minutes straight, or has to be barking at a high volume for five minutes straight.
"It's a pretty high bar for that to happen," he said.
He also responded to a concern from one of the apartment residents that the kennel has received special treatment from the police department because some officers board their police dogs at the kennel, and because Wittmer-Tyson Imports breeds and trains German shepherds for the city of Menlo Park.
"I think that's ridiculous," he said. "Many law enforcement (departments) in the region buy dogs from them."
He said the department helped set up several meetings with both parties and mediation support from the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center to collaborate and come up with solutions for sound mitigation.
"I see both sides," he added, noting that he doesn't think the police officers are the "right people to be making these decisions."
"We basically have told both parties this is a civil matter ... and that (they) need to work it out," he continued. "(They) may have to go to civil court to come to a solution."
In the meantime, Anton Menlo resident Comstock is still waiting for an explanation for why the dog kennel is allowed to make so much noise, despite the city's noise ordinance. She and her neighbors have asked for the matter to be brought to the City Council for review.
According to Mayor Ray Mueller, city staff is investigating the problem and will be preparing a report for the council. Staff is aiming to have the matter on the council's August agenda, he said.