Tonawanda News

September 6, 2012

Dog owner avoids jail time

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The area's most infamous dog owner, Barbara Creighton, was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge after being found guilty of violating the town's dog-barking ordinance last month.

After years of neighbor complaints that Creighton's dogs bark all night, police said the calls have stopped after her most recent conviction following in a brief trial last month.

That led Town Justice Daniel T. Cavarello to defer judgment on the case.

"If nothing happens for one year, there will be no further punishment," Cavarello said. "But make no mistake about it, if something else does happen — and history suggests that it may — you will be back in court and we will have to punish you."

After years of convictions and fines for violating the town's dog-barking ordinance, Creighton, 77, was sentenced to a night in jail. After the case gained national media attention her sentence was never carried out. Jail officials turned her away, citing a "paperwork" problem from the court.

At Wednesday's hearing Cavarello asked Creighton if she wanted to say anything before he delivered her sentence, and Creighton showed Cavarello a BarkOff device that she's been using to keep her canines in check.

When a dog barks, the device makes a sharp noise only the animal can hear to train it not to bark. Creighton said she has been using them when the dogs are outside.

"They have been so good," she said.

Her grandson, David, who attended Creighton's sentencing, is married to a veterinarian and got Creighton the new device.

Cavarello said he took the use of the gadget and the dogs' improved behavior in recent weeks into consideration when deciding her sentence.

Creighton didn't have a lawyer in August's hearing that led to Wednesday's sentencing. Although she tried to defend herself, Town Prosector Mario Giaccobe's questioning of police Lt. Jesse Haug's who investigated the complaint made for convincing evidence.

Haug reported to Creighton's Zimmerman Boulevard home, where she's lived for more than two decades, after a neighbor complained about the dogs June 19. Haug arrived on the block at 10:50 p.m.

“I did what I always do on barking dog calls,” Haug said in court in August. “I stop before the house a few houses down, just to hear and validate the complaint. I hear loud, obnoxious barking. I determined it was a valid complaint.”

Haug said he tried to talk to Creighton that evening, but said she couldn't control her dogs and they couldn't even talk over the noise.

Although Creighton tried to defend herself, she wasn't able to question Haug effectively and Cavarello quickly became aggravated with Creighton's unfamiliarity with the court system.

Cavarello delivered a guilty verdict, but said he wanted to wait to sentence Creighton for a few weeks to see if more complaints came in. Before the sentencing Tuesday, Creighton said she didn't think there were any more calls. Cavarello had checked the records and agreed.

"I'm happy to see there is a change of behavior," the judge said.

The sentencing Wednesday comes after three-and-a-half years of problems in the neighborhood. Creighton has been in court 30 times and has paid $2,000 in fines.

With complaint after complaint coming in, Cavarello sentenced Creighton to a day in jail in June in hopes it would inspire her to fix the problem. When she reported to Alden Correctional Facility, officials declined to detain her.

Acting Superintendent of the Erie County Correctional Facility Thomas Diina said the documents received from the court's 24-hour sentence technically stretched over two days. That was enough for Diina to determine he couldn't legally hold Creighton and sent her home without spending the night in jail.

With the past stress of court and a jail sentence behind her, Creighton said she's relieved and hopes there will be no further problems.

"I hope they just behave themselves," she said of her dogs.