The city of Steamboat Springs doesn't need a dog park; it needs responsible, considerate dog owners.
Responding to resident complaints, the city recently stepped up enforcement of its leash law on the Spring Creek Trail, a popular dog-walking area. The crackdown created a backlash from residents who say the trail is an ideal place for dogs to run free and socialize.
But Spring Creek would be an ideal leash-free area only if dog owners could guarantee that there were no cross country skiers, bikers, worried pedestrians or wildlife on the trail ahead.
Even the best-trained dog, in the midst of wrestling with a newfound friend, can inadvertently dodge into the path of an oncoming biker or skier; even the friendliest dog can pass 99 people with a wagging tail but growl at the 100th.
Leash laws exist for a reason, and on trails such as Spring Creek or Blackmer Drive, the high volume of varied users -- not all of whom will feel as fondly about a loose dog running toward them as the owner might -- is chief among those reasons.
Dog owners who ignore the law generally defend their choice by citing their dog's impeccable training, great temperament and innate need to run free for his personal happiness. Some suggest that if the city is going to have the gall to enforce a long-standing law, it should, in turn, provide a safe, leash-free zone where dogs can enjoy the freedom that is fundamental to their mental well-being.
Even if the city wasn't in the throes of a budget crisis that is cutting funding to crucial community services, building and maintaining a dog park would be money spent poorly.
Almost 40 percent of Routt County is national forest land where, with the exception of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, dogs can play without leashes legally as long as they are under voice command.
Responsible dog owners can take advantage of their back yards, or the roughly 572,000 acres of forest land in their figurative back yard, to allow their well-trained dogs to play free.
Considerate dog owners realize that no matter how wonderful they think their pets are, they share public trails with people who have a right, by law, not to be jumped on or cut off by unrestrained animals. They closely supervise their pets' off-leash playtime, and make sure it doesn't happen in a place or manner that makes others uncomfortable.
If any money is to be dedicated to making pets happier, it shouldn't be in the form of a dog park. Instead, it should be in the form of funding for the animal shelter or animal assistance groups to provide education to new pet owners.