Saturday, October 2, 2004
Before Sarah Katherman brushes her teeth, before she eats breakfast or thinks about herself at all, she takes care of her dogs -- Echo, Cosme and Pasu.
Katherman owns a Chesapeake Bay retriever and two English Pointers who need "a lot" of exercise.
Katherman isn't a particularly political person, but last spring when the Steamboat Springs Police Department started cracking down on enforcement of leash laws, she decided it was time to get involved.
Katherman was playing with her dog on the Yampa River Core Trail. She unclipped his leash and let him jump into the river for a swim. Before she knew it, she was receiving a ticket.
"That's what got me to the meeting," she said. In April, Katherman walked into the Steamboat Springs Community Center, where dog owners had been invited by the city's Public Safety and Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services departments to discuss the city's leash laws.
Almost 70 people came to the meeting, Katherman said. "Most of the people there were dog owners who were outraged."
Katherman feels that much of the community's worry about dogs being off-leash is based in frustration with dog owners who don't pick up after their pets.
"A lot of people are actually upset about people not picking up their pets' waste," she said. "If we could get owners to pick up after their dogs, that would be a first step. But I don't think the two issues are the same."
From conversations at the April meeting, a group was formed called Responsible Dog Ownership Group of Steamboat, or RDOGS, which assigned itself the task of finding an off-leash dog area in Steamboat Springs.
The group is in the beginning phases of planning. They sat down with staff at the Parks and Recreation Department to look at pieces of city-owned property that possibly could be set aside as off-leash areas.
Although the group has yet to choose a specific location to pursue, three places are on the table for serious consideration: a fenced-off area behind Lithia Springs, an off-leash trail on the south side of Fish Creek starting at Steamboat Boulevard or an off-leash area around the Spring Creek reservoir.
The idea of an off-leash dog area has taken root in communities across the country, from large cities such as San Francisco and Seattle to smaller towns such as nearby Casper, Wyo.
Katherman grew up in Casper, and her 79-year-old mother still lives there with a golden retriever. It is an almost impossible task for an elderly woman to give an active dog such as a retriever as much exercise as it needs, but the town's off-leash dog area, set up near a bike path, is ideal for Katherman's mother. The off-leash park was also a perfect place for Katherman to exercise her dogs when she had knee surgery earlier this year.
To gauge public interest in Steamboat, RDOGS set up a table for two days at Art in the Park this summer and collected 250 signatures in support of its project, Katherman said. The group also has raised $1,300 in contributions collected in jars placed across town.
RDOGS met twice a month during the summer and also started an e-mail list to keep those interested informed. For more information about RDOGS or to join the list, call 879-4939 or e-mail email@example.com.
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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