Snowmass Village leaders look to loosen leash laws as concerns linger

Public hearing to continue through Sept. 18

People walk through the Snowmass Mall with leashed dogs on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Snowmass Village.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Snowmass Village leaders are looking into loosening leash laws to fit the style of the dog-loving community, where off-leash dogs are well-behaved and owners are rarely cited for not using leashes.

The first reading of the ordinance took place Aug. 7 and was presented by Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson and Parks, Recreation, and Trails Director Andy Worline. Council voted 4-1 to amend the law to allow off-leash dogs to be under their owners’ voice, electrical, or sight control after the reading.

“I think the premise of this mimics the reality of our dogs in the village. They come and go with owners on a daily basis, on- and off-leash. Every day that happens, generally without incident. The incidents are very far and few between,” Olson said at the Aug. 21 meeting. “The majority of (incidents) are handled amongst the citizens, which probably speaks to the level of problem they cause, and they don’t always result in a call to the police department.”

He said historically the tickets written for the running at-large ordinance, also known as the leash-law ordinance, are given to homeowners whose dogs go off property, take off, and roam.

“We’re not really losing any control; we’re just allowing those people who take their dogs seriously and maintain good control the freedom to maintain that style. I think it works really well, currently,” he said.

The ordinance proposes “mandatory leash zones” to be created by the town council or through the town manager on a temporary basis.

“The latter authority will allow for the town to be more nimble in requiring dogs to be on-leash at certain areas at certain times, such as during JAS. Any temporary areas must be posted with adequate signs identifying the mandatory leash zone,” the agenda memo states.

According to Worline, the mandatory leash zones will actually help the leash enforcement on trails because it can be pinpointed to a certain trail. Mandatory leash zones have to be a physical leash and not an electronic collar.

“If this does pass, we will then look at and see where (the mandatory leash zone) areas need to be, and we will come back to you and will have an ordinance that will show a designated area as a zone. It will have to be done by ordinance to create the mandatory leash area,” said Olson.

Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk voiced her approval for using electronic collars over leashes, noting she uses electronic collars on both her dogs.

“For one dog, I have been using it on him since we got him 10 years ago, and I beep him, and he’ll stop or move over. I have an easier time getting him to move if I do that versus if I try to yank it, and there’s a biker coming,” she said.

During the second reading of the ordinance at the Aug. 21 meeting, council chose to continue with the public hearing on Sept. 18 after getting a lot of negative feedback from the community.

Council received more public comment about the dog-leash laws issue than any other recent issue, Snowmass Mayor Bill Madsen said.

“I think the theme that we’re hearing throughout the comments we received are people are afraid. They’re afraid that they’re going to be attacked; their dog is going to be attacked; if their dog is on a leash, there are other dogs aren’t going to be restrained; dogs and cats are going to be living together — it’s going to be utter chaos in Snowmass Village,” he said.

Noting he has no stats to back up this opinion, Olson said he feels there’s a very small percentage of the community who leash their dogs because it’s the law and believes most people leash their dogs for their own control or because the dog is uncontrollable.

“People aren’t going to suddenly find the freedom and start unhooking their dogs left and right. The dog still needs to stay put right there, and if the dog’s not capable of doing that — if you’re not capable of controlling your dog in that manner — you can’t unleash it. I don’t think this is going to turn into mass chaos and dog attacks … I don’t think there’s going to be a change across our community,” he said.

He added that the ordinance is going to take community input. People need to report instances where they think there are uncontrollable dogs off-leash, so the police can deal with the dog and its owner.

Shenk suggested looking at other towns with no-leash laws, such as Ridgway, to see how they handle the no-leash laws. Ridgway put out an informational pamphlet that talks about the behavior of the dogs, the mandatory-leash areas, and states that all owners must be carrying a leash and dog bags with them at all times.

“I’ve also read about a lot of places that have a mandatory requirement that your dog is only so many feet from you,” Shenk said.

Council agreed they were not comfortable passing the ordinance until they had at least a preliminary list of mandatory-leash zones throughout the village and looked at other cities no-leash regulations. The continued second reading of the ordinance is slated for the Sept. 18 regular town council meeting.


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