Virus concerns could claim Pitkin County leashless dogs
Fears that dogs might somehow be involved in the transmission of COVID-19 will prompt Pitkin County commissioners to consider revoking off-leash rules on three popular Aspen-area trails Tuesday afternoon.
The emergency ordinance, which would prohibit off-leash dogs on Smuggler Mountain, the Hunter Creek Cutoff Trail and a portion of the Jaffee River Trail in Woody Creek starting immediately, came about as the result of a discussion last week by county board members, Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said Monday.
“My concern came from human-to-human connection (as the result) of misbehaving dogs,” she said. “That was the reason for my bringing the question to the board.”
However, one line in the proposed ordinance distributed to commissioners and the public prior to Tuesday’s meeting included misleading information, according to both a local veterinarian and Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.
“… (A) recent report indicates that animals, including dogs, may be able to pass the COVID-19 virus along,” the proposed ordinance read.
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Nearly all the advice so far — from the World Health Organization to the Centers for Disease Control to the American Veterinary Medical Association — says dogs, cats and other pets have not shown the ability to pass COVID-19 to humans or vice versa. Dr. Liz Kremzier of Aspen Animal Hospital confirmed that advice Monday, saying thousands of pets have been tested and none have been confirmed to have the virus.
The one positive COVID-19 animal test has come from a Malyan tiger named Nadia at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, who tested positive last week after showing symptoms of the disease.
McNicholas Kury said that was likely the prompt for the line in the proposed emergency ordinance because the tiger came up in the board’s discussion last week.
Peacock said the language for the ordinance came out of the county attorney’s office and likely will be amended before the board votes on it Tuesday.
“I think they were referencing the tiger,” he said. “It’s really not something to have public policy based on.”
A message left Monday for Pitkin County Attorney John Ely seeking comment was not returned.
The main reason for the ordinance appeared to be fears that human-to-human contact could occur as the result of unleashed dogs that become entangled.
“(Possible) human-to-human interaction is more important (to consider),” McNicholas Kury said.
Kremzier pointed out that knowledge of COVID-19 remains fluid and that animal-to-human transmission, or vice versa, has not been completely ruled out. For that reason, she said she and her colleagues in Aspen recommend that people with COVID-19 be cautious around pets and limit contact.
“But right now, there’s no evidence that dogs or cats can become sick (with COVID-19) or that they can (transmit) the disease to people,” she said.
Kremzier said she’s also heard concerns that someone with coronavirus might cough on their dog’s fur or collar or leash, which then could provide a transmission vehicle if the dog jumps up on someone on the trail. Such a scenario is unlikely, she said, because virus particles would likely be dispersed outside by other forces like wind.
“In my opinion … that’s low risk,” Kremzier said. “But we don’t really know.”
She and her colleagues have seen no pets locally with COVID-19-like symptoms, and that active surveillance of pets worldwide has led to thousands of tests and no positive results, with the exception of the tiger.
“My concern is humans having to interact when there’s dog altercations,” Kremzier said. “If someone else’s dog runs up to you at this point … is not a concern.”
Commissioner Patti Clapper said commissioners have received a few reports from people on Smuggler and the Rio Grande Trail concerned about dogs jumping up on people. Like her colleagues, she said she, too, is concerned more about humans interacting because of dog issues.
The board is scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday at 2 p.m. The meeting can be viewed live from the commissioners home page at pitkincounty.com or on Grassroots TV.
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