Steamboat Springs Several weeks ago, I started to get signatures on a petition to appear before the City Council to ask them to find an alternative to the current leash law enforcement, one that would make Steamboat friendlier to dog owners.
I thought I was looking for signatures. What I found was something else. First, I found a whole set of friends, both dog owners and not. Almost all of them shared stories about their dogs, past and present. However, there was a persistent and pernicious thread that came out of these encounters.
With its existing leash laws, Steamboat is squandering its tax dollars and generating fear of its animal control officers on a daily basis. Instead of creating a "safer environment," we are creating a hostile environment for most dog owners.
As of this moment, few in the community are well served by the overzealous enforcement of the existing restrictive leash laws than perhaps those enforcing them.
How is this happening? The intent of a leash law should be to protect citizens from aggressive dogs or stray dogs where there is no owner present or not in control of the animal. This makes sense. The Animal Control Department gets perhaps 15 to 20 calls a month for aggressive dogs off-leash or on the prowl. That's their job. We call them, they come. So far, so good.
However, in addition to the above activities that are needed by every community, we have two full-time animal control officers in vehicles lurking in our neighborhoods and open areas looking for dogs off-leash, even when the owner is present, so they can issue tickets. We are not talking about aggressive, vicious or even stray dogs. So then, the owner gets a citation that is merely for "dog off-leash." These are not the aggressive or unsocial dogs nor the ones knocking over or chasing our children. Nor are they leaving treasures on your lawn - that's a different issue.
What's wrong with this picture? It's a good revenue stream for the city, but the payout isn't worth it. Since when is the animal control office a profit center?
This leaves dog owners constantly on guard looking for animal control officers patrolling their neighborhoods. And Steamboat earns the reputation of being unfriendly to dogs. Steamboat is not the suburbs. Having two areas in town where dogs can be off-leash does not make Steamboat a dog-friendly place.
On the bright side, there is a way out of this dangerous cul-de-sac. Steamboat can regain its image of being dog-friendly, and receive non-tax-dollar revenue, and protect its citizens from aggressive and non-social dogs, and the citizens do not have to fear law enforcement officers, and dogs get to be dogs.
I was asked by the folks who signed my petition, "What can we do?" My suggestion was this:
Dog owners would agree to have their dogs tested (perhaps by Humane Society personnel). The test would have the owner command their dog to "come" even with other dogs around, and the dog would not be aggressive to people or other dogs on- or off-leash. This passes the intent of the leash laws. The owners would be willing to pay $35 to $50 for the test and a special "good conduct" tag readily visible to all.
Everyone I spoke with (even those whose dogs would not pass the test) liked it. It makes sense, as opposed to what exists now.
These measures can take as little as 30 days to get under way. By doing so, perhaps Steamboat can consider not reducing snow removal with its new added revenues.