Marolt: No dog days in Snowmass Village
Dogs are animals, too! You’d never know it the way we are forced to lock them up in our houses all day by edict of Snowmass Village. The village might be the least dog-friendly town on the planet. We go out of the way to make sure local canines lead sedentary, restricted lives not fit for a dough boy. It would be far more humane to simply ban them.
How we treat our best friends is cruel and unusual. Look at the beautiful country surrounding us. It’s paradise on Earth for all God’s creatures, yet dogs are exclusively singled out by us from enjoying it.
I live within spitting distance of three trailheads and the carrying distance of an elk mating call from dozens more, yet I can’t take my dog for a walk on any of them; not even if I leash, muzzle and hobble him. Heck, I bet I would earn a pricey citation if I strapped my pooch to a backpack and carried him up the Rim Trail.
Things are so ridiculous here that we can’t even let our dogs run around in our fenced yards. “What fenced yards?” you ask. “Who has a fenced yard?” Well, pretty much nobody has a fenced yard. Fences are against the law in order to protect wildlife! And, this highlights perhaps the most ridiculous paradox in the Snowmass Village policy on dogs. Our lovable mutts are prohibited by law from entering the sanctuary of their elk brethren, yet we aren’t allowed to keep dogs and wildlife separated with a fence. What’s a poor pup to do? It’s like we’ve put them all under house arrest. To a dog, Krabloonik looks like a vacation spa compared to living “freely” in Snowmass Village.
I’ve got nothing against elk and deer. They are majestic creatures worthy of efforts to protect them and educate us on how to cohabitate healthily with them. The thing is, though, there are many mountain communities that have accomplished this without punishing dogs. I’ll give you one example — Aspen. That’s the enlightened town about nine miles east of here that I have to drive to and from to hike with my dog. Yes, that daily trip leaves an appalling carbon footprint, but who cares about that? Neither you, I, nor the elk can see greenhouse gases.
Nobody has convinced me that dogs hiking with their owners would have any measurable negative effect on the local elk or deer populations. My dog is not as adept at killing these animals as are the local coyotes and mountain lions that rely on them for food. In addition, my dog, not surprisingly, is not in good enough shape to keep up with a wild animal anyway, so in the unlikely event of a leash malfunction I don’t think anything would be in imminent danger.
I’m not proposing that domestic animals be let loose to kill elk and deer, but if you think about the possibility of that happening, it wouldn’t be as tragic as some imagine.
Take a worst-case scenario of a dog on one of our trails getting off its leash and completely disregarding its owner’s voice commands. If that dog ends up killing a deer, the carcass most likely ends up being food for the deer’s natural predators. This means that there is one less deer they will have to kill for themselves. Now, that’s graphic and something we don’t necessarily want to think about, but it works to illustrate that what we believe would be terrible might actually not be so.
Similar analogies can be made for elk calving season. Yes elk could be inadvertently scared by humans walking their dog through their habitat while they are giving birth, but wild animals are even scarier than that to them. The natural predators do not take a break while this annual occurrence takes place. On top of that, the wild predators are scared of us, too. Ironically enough, our presence could make the elk habitat safer for the elk.
That sad state of affairs for dogs in the village actually has worked to set a baseline for how humans with their dogs on local trails affect wildlife population and health. Do a test now. Open all the trails to dogs for a year. I doubt elk herds will be decimated during that time period. If there are insignificant measurable negative effects compared to the restricted years, keep the trails open until there are. My bet is that they’ll be open for a long time to come.
Roger Marolt believes dogs have been imagined guilty before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves innocent. firstname.lastname@example.org
Written arguments between the town of Snowmass Village and the Krabloonik dog-sledding operation were filed last week in a ramp-up to a key hearing in the coming months.