City, county are planning to hound careless dog owners
Dog owners who break leash laws in Pitkin County and litter laws in Aspen this spring and summer can expect to be – what else – hounded.
Pitkin County will employ an environmental ranger for the first time starting in April. The new position is required, in large part, because of problems with dogs and their owners, according to Dale Will, director of the Pitkin County Parks and Open Space Program.
While the county initiates enforcement, Aspen will beef its up. Nearly all employees of the parks department have been given power to write tickets for dog infractions. It’s necessary because of the ongoing problems with people allowing their dogs to dump in parks, said Brian Flynn, city parks and open space coordinator.
Dog owners who let their dogs dump in the city will never know if a city worker clearing snow, putting up Christmas lights or weeding flower gardens might pop them for poop.
The city will also rehire a seasonal environmental ranger, who will work to educate people on issues like proper trail etiquette and dog behavior, and write tickets when necessary. The city has employed a ranger since 1998.
Flynn said Aspen has a relaxed leash law: Dog owners can keep their pets off leash as long as the canines are well behaved and aren’t disturbing other people, pets or wildlife. Violators are usually given a verbal or written warning for a first offense.
“There are no warnings when it comes to dog poop,” said Flynn. A first offense costs the owner $75. A second infraction costs $140.
While the issue of pet waste is still irritating, city officials believe compliance is improving. People are proving to be more willing to pick up after their animals. In 1998, the city provided 24 boxes of plastic bags at parks and other places for dog owners to use to pick up waste. Last year the number increased to 84 boxes.
All told, the parks department provided 178,500 dog-waste bags last year at a cost of 7 cents per bag or $12,495, according to Flynn’s figures.
The county aims to gain compliance on dog behavior issues on its trails and open spaces through the threat of having a ranger roam around.
Will said leash laws and pet waste laws are viewed about the same way that tougher drunk driving rules were treated by society 20 or so years ago.
“I think there’s such a culture of indifference to dog irresponsibility,” he said. “It’s our worst enforcement problem.”
He said it “pains” him to spend significant amounts of money to preserve wild lands, then have wildlife harassed on those lands by dogs.
The open space board adopted a leash law for all its properties in 1992. A dog ban is in effect in a few places. For example, dog owners ignored the leash law on the Emma trail, between the old Emma school and the Basalt High School. Dogs were chasing rancher Billy Grange’s cattle, so they were banned, said Will. That ban may be reconsidered once a ranger is in place, he said.
The county budgeted $32,000 for the salary, benefits and equipment for the seasonal ranger. The position will exist from April through October.
The emphasis will be “positive” contacts with people – sharing information about the environment and urging people to comply with rules, said Will. The ranger won’t carry a gun but will be able to write tickets.
There were 106 applicants for the position. Open space officials will interview a handful and try to have someone in place next month.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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