Neighborly Ties Gone to the Dogs

Linda Johnson was arrested for walking her two miniature poodles in the yard of a state trooper. Ollie is the Black poodle and Hershey is the brown poodle.
Linda Johnson was arrested for walking her two miniature poodles in the yard of a state trooper. Ollie is the Black poodle and Hershey is the brown poodle. (Courtesy Of Linda Johnson - Courtesy of Linda Johnson)
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 11, 2008

Linda Johnson admits that her two miniature poodles, Ollie and Hershey, sometimes trotted into her neighbor's yard during their morning and afternoon walks. It is possible that once or twice, the two brown and black fur balls even peed in the grass, she said.

But that, she said, was no reason to have her arrested, shackled and charged with trespassing, all based on accusations by her Calvert County neighbors, a Maryland State Police sergeant and his wife.

"What's even crazier is the state's attorney is actually going to prosecute me in court for this," said Johnson, 47, who is awaiting trial this month on the charges filed in May. "They're sniffing along the grass, walking on the grass, because that's where the dogs want to walk."

The case of Maryland v. Linda May Johnson is a classic tale of suburban strife, pitting dog walker against homeowner, neighbor against neighbor on a contentious issue that roils communities across the region. Compounding the squabble is Johnson's claim that her neighbors' German shepherd attacked her poodles and 8-year-old son.

The neighbors, James and Jennifer Barth, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. In court documents, Jennifer Barth accuses Johnson of repeatedly walking Ollie and Hershey into her yard, over her objections, and allowing them to pee and poop.

The state police commander present during Johnson's arrest defended his troopers' actions. He said Johnson herself frequently strolled on the Barths' yard and ignored one simple request: Walk on the other side of the street.

"I felt it was the appropriate thing to do," said 1st Sgt. Stewart Cumbo of the state police barrack in Prince Frederick. "If anything, I was more surprised with her conduct to continue to allow her dogs to trespass on this property after she had agreed to cease and desist."

Those involved say tension between the Barths and the Johnsons turned into an all-out dogfight several months ago, when Johnson called animal control to report a dog attacking her poodles and son.

In court documents, Jennifer Barth wrote that her dogs were inside during the "supposed incident," but she acknowledged that Johnson's call to animal control was the first of many problems between them.

"From this point forward, she began to constantly walk the dogs in our yard," Jennifer Barth wrote in an application for a protective order against Johnson. That temporary order, obtained after Johnson's arrest, was dismissed when Jennifer Barth, 35, did not attend a court hearing to finalize it.

"I would tell her to get the dogs out of the yard, always hearing the same responses -- It is not your yard, stating we are harassing her, Yelling obscenities, giving visual obscenities, etc.," Jennifer Barth wrote. "The dog walking was/is an almost every day event."

Johnson, who has since moved to New Hampshire for reasons unrelated to her arrest, acknowledged getting into heated arguments with Jennifer Barth and her 15-year-old daughter. But the arguments, she said, were initiated by Jennifer Barth, who would bellow at her every time the dogs walked onto her lawn.

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