Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Several years ago I wrote a letter to the editor, detailing a failed attempt on my part to reward dog owners for complying with the leash law. I started out with $100 worth of five-dollar bills, intending to give five bucks to the “walker” of every leashed dog I saw. I was road biking the Rio Grande trail from Basalt to Aspen almost every day, and figured the money wouldn’t last long.

After a month, the stash still remained safely in my pocket, even though I saw four of five dogs a day, none of them leashed. I traded the $5s in for $20s. After a month or so, the twenties were burning a hole in my spandex, so I got a crisp, new hundred-dollar bill, which stayed with my bike tools until the end of the season. Literally, I saw hundreds of dogs, none of them on a leash. The only person who came close to collecting the money was the late Pete Luhn, who offered that even though he had no dog, he’d be happy to meet me at the Woody Creek Tavern for lunch, where we could discuss the matter. On my Benjamin, of course.

Since then, I’ve become the proud owner of a border collie, Topper, who was acquired for the sole purpose of helping me move cows through the mountains. He has unbounded energy, can jog all day behind or in front of a horse, and in an instant can turn on the juice to head a recalcitrant cow. I keep that dog busy from the middle of April until December, but then the paradigm changes. We can no longer ride the wide-open ranges; I go skiing every day, and still, Topper needs his exercise.

We don’t live in town, but we don’t live out on the ranch, either, so it’s walks for us in the winter, twice a day. Two miles in the morning, two miles at night. He has a dog door, which allows him to enter and exit the house at will, and the large back yard is fenced. He runs around out there, chasing magpies and ravens, beef bones and sticks, and sometimes his shadow, but it doesn’t put a dent in his aerobic needs. If left to his own devices, he’d sleep or linger most of the time, unless his best friend Rosie, a large golden, is visiting, in which case they wear each other out in the back yard. Taking Topper out on a leash is like telling a marathoner to run around the living room a couple of times to burn the energy off.

He’s a year-and-a-half old now, and some of his training is beginning to show. Off-leash, he no longer runs up and jumps on people, and if I manage him in a concerted manner, he will stay at my side in the “heel” position, disregarding the approach of people or dogs. He comes immediately to the correct whistle. By the same token, we walk in an area frequented by several dog owners, so we’re careful of our position. If we spy a dog on a leash, Topper becomes so himself, and likewise, if dogs he knows are running free, he is allowed to join them.

Dogs are different, and many breeds don’t have the same energy needs as Topper. Earl, my daughter’s “cow dog” Chihuahua, gets more exercise on a leash, simply because without direction, he is wont to stop and sniff every blade of grass along the path.

I’m not trying to start a campaign against leash laws, but trying to make the point that some dogs need to be off-leash to get the proper amount of exercise, and not because they need their “freedom.” However, there is a time and a place. The animal is your responsibility and if your dog chases wild game or domestic livestock, attacks other dogs or people, or is otherwise a nuisance in spite of your best intentions, be prepared to suffer the consequences, up to and including euthanasia of your pet.

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