Basalt bickers over ‘subtle’ approach to dogs, skaters | AspenTimes.com

Basalt bickers over ‘subtle’ approach to dogs, skaters

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

There’s nothing subtle about a big steaming pile of dog poop, especially after you’ve stepped in it.

But the town of Basalt is trying – as subtly and as nicely as possible – to convince its citizens to pick up after their pooch and, while they’re at it, put the ol’ dog on a leash.

Police Chief Keith Ikeda and Bob Gish, director of public services, tried to convince a skeptical Town Council that it takes time to change people’s attitudes about such sensitive subjects as leashing their pet, picking up poop and wearing a helmet while using the skatepark next to the post office.

“We’re trying to create an atmosphere of voluntary compliance,” Ikeda said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We do enforce complaints,” Gish added. “But we’ve been trying to do things very subtly – we don’t want to bring our own agenda to enforcement.”

And that means town employees and cops have been more inclined to talk with violators and educate them on the reasons behind the law in question, rather than write them up.

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Town Manager Tom Baker said educating people makes more sense than citing them. “We don’t want to overreact and create a citizen backlash,” he said.

Ikeda and Gish said that for the most part the teens and young adults using the skateboard park are complying with the helmet rule. Gish said he passed by the skatepark on a recent afternoon, ready to issue citations with ticket book in hand, only to find all the park users were wearing helmets.

“I was sure I would catch them, but 16-for-16 they had their helmets on,” he said.

Ikeda said the real problem with dogs isn’t a lack of leashes, or the fact that owners are reluctant to do away with their doggie’s dirty. The real problem is dogs running at large.

“The big problem is dogs running at large,” Ikeda said. “When you see people out walking with their dogs, they usually bring leashes with them.”

Ikeda said he supports the town having its own animal control officer, because that person can make positive contacts with the community and begin making changes at a grassroots level. In recent years, the town has been paying Eagle County to enforce its rules.

But from the sound of the majority on the board of trustees, a more aggressive agenda of enforcement is exactly what the town needs.

Mayor Rick Stevens said he has not had the same experience as Gish at the skateboard park and believes the town needs to be more aggressive about enforcing the helmet rule and animal control regulations.

“Education and enforcement can work together to increase compliance,” he said.

Stevens was particularly disturbed by reports that officers were letting people have their dog run without a leash, as long as the animal is under voice control. “We still have a leash law – we haven’t repealed it,” he said.

Ikeda replied that voice control really only applies to well-trained dogs, or those that are so old that they don’t ever leave their master’s side. But Trustee Anne Freedman, who lives next to a trail that is popular with dog walkers, said most dog owners don’t really understand what voice control means.

“The owner always seem to think their dogs are better behaved than they really are,” Freedman said.

Ikeda said that he plans to improve his department’s awareness of the trustees’ concerns and begin documenting all contacts with errant skaters, dog walkers and pooper scoopers.

“Then, on a monthly basis we will provide trustees with our contacts and actions,” Ikeda said.