Aspenite pushes hard to get well-behaved dogs off-leash
Shae Singer is convinced that Aspen dogs don’t need no stinkin’ leashes, at least not all the time.Singer is leading an effort to get Aspen to consider adopting a dog policy like the one in Boulder. There, dogs can be off-leash on certain parts of the open space and mountain parks network if their “guardians” have them under voice and sight control. Boulder makes dog owners watch a video about appropriate handling of dogs and purchase a tag signifying they are responsible for their pets’ behavior.Singer said it would be nice to be legally able to walk some trails and visit some parks in Aspen without having a dog on a leash. “Dogs have rights, too,” she said.Technically, dogs on Aspen’s trails and open space are supposed to be on-leash but the City Council hasn’t been aggressive about enforcement. Todd Hancock, the parks and open space ranger, said he concentrates on education. Heron Park, where lots of small kids wade in the Roaring Fork River, is one of the places where the leash law is strictly enforced.But Singer prefers a program where a well-behaved dog can be off-leash without violating the city’s rules. Aspen has a well-deserved reputation as a “dog town” but she senses the mood toward dogs has changed a bit in recent years.About five years ago the city cracked down on its requirement that owners pick up after their dogs, Singer said. “That started to create kind of a anti-dog-type atmosphere,” she said.Last year she felt that more people were “yelling” at dog owners to get their pets on leashes in the city. She fears that enforcement eventually could get stricter and conflicts greater, so she is pressing for a policy that rewards well-behaved pooches.Singer is helping Hancock and city parks officials form a committee that will investigate the leash law issue and potentially make a recommendation to the City Council.”We are definitely only in exploratory stages,” Hancock said. Nevertheless, he believes studying the approach of Boulder and other cities in Colorado and throughout the country is a good idea.Boulder sets the standard high for allowing a dog off-leash, Hancock noted. A dog must come to its owner’s side the first time it is called, despite the disruption. If a chipmunk darts out along the trail and a dog chases it, that’s a violation. If a dog jumps on passing pedestrians or attacks another dog, those are violations.”The idea is, when in doubt leave your dog on leash,” Hancock said.Dogs in Boulder must also be in sight at all times so the owner knows what they are doing. Dog owners who join the “voice and sight program” sign a document that indicates they watched the video on appropriate behavior and pay a $15 fee for a visible tag the dog must wear.Anyone walking a dog off-leash that doesn’t have a tag for the voice and sight program can receive a ticket. And dogs that violate the rules can get their tags yanked – essentially sentencing them to a leash.Boulder has had its voice and sight rules in place for years, Hancock said. It started requiring the tags as part of the program last month to make dog owners more accountable.A well-crafted, 10-minute video explaining Boulder’s program is available online at http://www.osmp.org.Hancock said voice control isn’t something every dog and owner can master, as he can attest from his time on Aspen’s trails: “It is going to be tough,” he said.On the other hand, the requirement could encourage more training for dogs and their handlers, he said. And some dog lovers contend that more training builds a closer bond between dogs and their owners.If such a voice and sight program was adopted in Aspen, it would require more patrols of trails and parks to make sure people don’t ignore the rules and just use it as an excuse to keep dogs off-leash, Hancock said.”There has to be enforcement to back it up,” he said.The committee looking into the program will likely convene this fall and spend months debating the issue. Any recommendation to the council is months away.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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