Three years after the case of Charlie and Mugsy came to the attention of Santa Ana City Hall, the tale of the alleged boisterous barkers has yet to be resolved.
At issue is whether the two English springer spaniels have disrupted life in the stately Floral Park neighborhood.
The owners said the dogs were no more disruptive than the average pet, but city officials considered the alleged canine clamor, dating to February 2002, a violation of Municipal Code Section 5-59, which prohibits "maintaining a noisy dog."
The city cited the owner -- an action that officials said they take a handful of times a year in Santa Ana.
Most people who receive complaints figure out a way to pacify their pets by bringing them inside, training them or using collars with electrical devices that emit mild shocks when the wearer barks, said City Atty. Joseph Fletcher.
"In this case, the owners refused to do that and the dogs continued to bother the neighbors," Fletcher said. "If you had a neighbor with an obnoxious dog, you would look to the city to do something about it."
So the city attorney's office on June 20, 2003, filed a criminal misdemeanor charge against the dogs' registered owner, Leanne Kieffer, on four counts -- for each day the dogs allegedly barked. Each offense is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and a six-month jail sentence.
It was the first time in five years that the city had taken a dog owner to court over barking, Fletcher said.
Before trial, the court asked both sides to mediate their differences at the office of the Orange County Human Relations Commission. With attorneys waiting outside, Kieffer, her husband and the two complaining neighbors talked for three hours, discussing such things as the pros and cons of "no-bark" dog collars.
But it was to no avail, and the matter went to trial in Orange County Superior Court on July 1, 2003. Attorneys readied their cases; a jury was selected. The complaining neighbors reviewed their barking-dog logs. The Kieffers' veterinarian referred to records indicating that the dogs had no ailments that would cause them to bark. In trial, alleged victims solemnly answered Deputy City Atty. Lorenza Penaloza's queries about the loss of neighborhood peace and tranquillity and, as one man testified, that the quality of his life had deteriorated.
Kieffer attorney Michael Glover brought forward neighbors sympathetic to his client, as well as the veterinarian, Bill Grant.
And nothing was left to chance.
"Doctor, these are various pictures that we would like to see if you can identify," Glover said, having won permission to approach the witness. "Do these pictures that we represented to you ... appear to be pictures of the two dogs in question?"
"Yes," Grant replied.
After 10 afternoons of testimony, jurors in the trial found Leanne Kieffer guilty.
But the judge reversed the jury's decision and said the ordinance was "unconstitutional as applied" because city officials did not collect complaints from two parties detailing the same occasions of barking and didn't give Kieffer the opportunity to respond in writing to the complaint.
Fletcher said the judge "was acting beyond his jurisdiction" and that after taking the case this far, he felt an obligation to appeal his ruling.
Kieffer's husband, Howard, finds the city's decision preposterous. Opponents "like to say we won on a technicality," he said. "The technicality happens to be the U.S. Constitution."
The case shows "the lack of supervision and accountability in the city attorney's office," Kieffer said. "They got sucked into a neighborhood dispute."
Meanwhile, neighbors say they still hear the canines calling.
The dogs "are still a problem," said Ray Smith, one of two neighbors who filed complaints. Although the Kieffer dogs quieted somewhat while the trial was underway, they "are back in action," he contended.
Howard Kieffer "feels his dogs have the right to bark and those rights are more important than his neighbors' feelings," said Dave Karos, who also filed a complaint.
Kieffer said he had spent $30,000 in attorney fees fighting the city, including hiring a former city prosecutor who defends insurance companies, as well as a specialized appellate attorney.
Fletcher said he could not estimate how much the city had spent.
"In the grand scheme of things, [the city] hasn't used a grand amount of resources," Fletcher said. The duration of the disputes reflects lag times in the court system, he said.
Kieffer attorney Karen Landau wrote in response to the city's appeal that the whole case led to "an astonishing waste of resources."
Opponents do not disagree.
"It baffles me why no one can resolve this. It's a small problem in the scheme of things," said Karos.
While the neighbors and the Kieffers await the date of the appeal hearing, Mugsy, a perky brown-and-white pooch, now lives in Anaheim with Howard Kieffer's brother because she wasn't getting along with Charlie. It wasn't that the protracted case had created tension between the canine couple, Kieffer said, but that Charlie was recently neutered.