HomeNews Mt. Crested Butte council considers town leash law
Mt. Crested Butte council considers town leash law
Written by Seth Mensing
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
“When people say they have their dog under voice command, I don’t buy into that...”
The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is taking steps to require dogs in town be on a leash. Currently, the town code allows dog-owners to control their pets without a physical connection between them—like with a whistle or voice commands—but the concerns of one councilman revealed broad support for a leash law in town.
Councilman Tom Steuer first voiced his concerns about dogs roaming the yards and streets of town to the council several months ago after a friend was injured while trying to separate her dog, which was on a leash, and another dog that was not. In the melee, the woman sustained injuries that required her to wear a cast for a time and then walk with a cane, but the incident was never reported to police. Steuer said that while the majority of dog owners in town might act responsibly with their pets, requiring a physical connection between a dog and its owner, or their property, is a good way to avoid the problems that arise with the outliers that don’t control their pets. “I wouldn’t say it’s a real bad problem,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people are probably good, responsible dog owners. It’s just the 10 percent that makes you say, ‘maybe we ought to do something about that’.” The town held a work session on Tuesday, July 2 to discuss the possibility of tightening up the town code with the sentence, “Direct control means a dog must be on a leash.” It would also allow for dogs wearing a shock collar to be let off leash, as long as the dog stays within range of its owner. Currently, according to a town code last revised in 1989, a dog is considered to be “at-large” only if it’s “not under the direct control of the owner ….” That gave dog-owners more freedom to allow their pets to roam if they came when they were called, but it also allowed enough room for interpretation that enforcing the law was difficult for police. Requiring a physical connection, the council said, would change that. Mt. Crested Butte police chief Nate Stepanek wasn’t so sure the new leash law would solve the problem entirely, especially when it came to dogs running at large within the neighborhoods. “It won’t change how we enforce things, other than someone walking through base area with their dog off leash on town property. Then we’ll either tell them to leash the dog or issue a ticket,” Stepanek said. “But the enforcement of it will happen either way. The town already has a dog-at-large ordinance that we enforce. We just don’t have any statistics about whether or not a leash law will accomplish the goal council seems to want, which is to stop dogs from running around their neighborhoods.” Stepanek said four citations have been issued so far this year for dog-at-large, along with two citations for vicious dog, although neither was the result of a dog bite or fight. That part of the law doesn’t require any direct contact for a dog to be in violation of it. Instead, according to town code, a dog can be considered “vicious” if it approaches a person or domestic animal in what someone considers to be “a menacing fashion,” and doesn’t require any kind of corroborating witness to the aggressive act. Most dog-at-large citations issued by the Mt. Crested Butte police come after someone catches a loose dog in the Crested Butte Mountain Resort base area and holds it for police, Stepanek said. Then the citation is necessary to reimburse Paradise Animal Welfare League for taking care of the animal while it waits to be picked up. “It will take a lot more to enforce that part of it,” Stepanek said of the leash requirement. “We see it all the time along where the rec path is in Mt. Crested Butte—people walk their dogs through Pitchfork and that will have to stop. And I don’t think the year-round full-time residents are going to be supportive of it. But we’ll see.” If approved, the new rules would keep dogs on an 8-foot-long leash or shorter or under the control of “a collar and electric transmitter to which the dog is immediately obedient,” the ordinance says. The town of Crested Butte made that change almost 20 years ago and the county also requires dogs to be leashed on unincorporated lands. “We’re probably the last hold out,” Steuer said. “I know our police chief isn’t a big fan of this, because he’s got enough on his hands. But I wanted to bring it out and see how everybody else felt.” In its legal justification of the ordinance, the council says it has “determined that the safety, health and general welfare of the public is negatively impacted by dogs running at-large within the town.” At the work session, that determination got the majority of support among the councilmen in attendance, with councilman Chris Morgan absent and councilmen David Clayton and Gary Keiser on the fence, leaning toward tighter rules. “I’m torn,” Councilman Clayton said. “The goal would be to define it in terms of the dog must come on command, and command can be voice, it can be whistle … it’s just a matter of making sure they respond. But a dog that gets into an aggressive situation with another dog is not necessarily going to come back when called.” Councilman Gary Keiser wasn’t completely convinced the rule change was necessary either, saying he had a bad encounter with a dog when he was younger, but didn’t think the council should “burden residents with unnecessary rules.” However, he didn’t see a problem with moving the process forward. Councilman Danny D’Aquila was less conflicted and said, “I think we should move forward,” commenting on the dogs that seem to run loose around Marcellina Apartments. “It’s a field day for dogs down there. I see dogs fighting there and I don’t know if it’s scaring away business or that’s the kind of business they’re trying to attract—people with the dogs. But yeah, I think it needs to come under control.” “When people say they have their dog under voice command, I don’t buy into that,” Councilman David O’Reilly said, relating his own experience with dogs. “If something gets their attention, sometimes voice command doesn’t work. So I think we should move forward with this new law.” “I think we should further define ‘direct control,’” mayor William Buck said. The next step in the process will be a public hearing on the proposed ordinance, possibly in August, although none has been scheduled yet.