"They have to be on a leash at all times unless they are in a recognized dog park," said Brian Bellamy, Summit County personnel director and head of the Animal Control department. "Basically, if they are in your yard, they don't have to be on a leash. But if they go outside your yard, they do."
The Mountain Trails Foundation has been seeking input on whether dogs should be allowed on certain days, called Dog Days, during the winter, such as odd days.
Bellamy said the proposal concerns him.
"I still remember the lady a year ago who was on a trail, got bitten and required reconstructive surgery," he said. "A dog is an animal. It's a dog. It's going to react a certain way, and I think we'll see incidents go up."
Animal Control responds to dog bites every year, and Bellamy believes it happens even more than is being reported, especially after reading about a dog bite incident on the Mountain Trails Foundation Facebook page, where someone recounted being bitten by someone's dog on a trail.
"We never heard about it, but she was reporting it on the website," he said. "I hear that nobody's dog bites, barks or does anything. It's like people's kids. People believe that others have kids that are bad, but not theirs. That's how we view our dogs. 'I'm a responsible dog owner. My dog is a responsible pet. But everybody else has dogs that aren't responsible.
Bellamy said that while it's fun to have dogs run off-leash, and people insist their dogs are under voice command, people still get bitten. Moreover, the law says the dogs have to be under physical control, not voice command.
"The purpose of the law is so that you can enjoy your animal but it's not infringing upon everybody else either. We're not saying it has to be a six-foot leash, but you've got to have physical control of that animal," he said.
Unfortunately, because of cut backs in the county's Animal Control staff, they have not had the manpower to proactively enforce the leash laws. Bellamy estimates the Animal Control department has about 60 percent of the staff they did 10 years ago.
"And we just reduced staff again by two in 2012," he said. "The County Council is trying to be responsible. And there are some areas they have cut back, and animal control is one of those areas. So the staff is doing the same work with fewer people. People are adding work and working longer hours."
Consequently, Bellamy said they don't have the people to walk all the trails anymore.
"We basically just respond to calls," he said. "But we do still have them walk some of the trails. We walked three trails this past year, and as soon as we come, people scatter, because they know their dogs should be on a leash."
But Bellamy said their purpose is not to cite them. Instead, the Animal Control officers carry leashes and ask those with dogs off-leash to leash their dogs.
"What we're doing now in the winter is starting to station people at the trail heads with leashes," he said. "We give them a verbal warning, but if they get fairly belligerent, we will cite them. Our purpose is to educate them."
However, during the summer, Animal Control officers don't have time to patrol, as they spend their time running from call to call, he said.
"So hopefully, we can just educate the public enough to say, your animal should be on a leash for even its own protection. We need to be responsible pet owners, pet parents, and take care of these animals. But there are some people who just don't believe that," he said.
The Mountain Trails Foundation is taking public input on a preferred dog days proposal at www.facebook.com/mountaintrailsfoundation.