A group of stakeholders will be formed to propose options for the Summit County leash law. The leash law has been the center of controversy as county residents debate whether the current law is suitable for the county.
"My dogs have to run," resident Kim Klopp told the Summit County Council on Wednesday, April 17. "Taking them out when I'm on my bike is a joy for both them and me. To take this privilege away is really difficult."
Klopp acknowledged that many dog owners she sees on county trails are not responsible, but she said she would like options for people like her who train their dogs.
Resident and Planning Commissioner Chuck Klingenstein said it's not a matter of time until an attack occurs; it already has.
"If you check through the records, there's been enough severe attacks and litigations at this point that we know there is an issue," he said.
Resident Bob Berube made headlines in 2008 when he began pepper spraying off-leash dogs after he had reportedly suffered through several dog attacks.
"I was walking with my wife who was terminally ill when a dog came running at her," he explained. "I sprayed it with Halt [pepper spray], and then the woman assaulted me. She punched me in the chest."
Last year, he added, he slowed down while biking as two off-leash dogs approached him on Mother's Day.
"The dogs were not aggressive," he said. "There was a dog to my right in a ditch, and just as I approached it, he crashed into the front wheel. I went over the handlebars. So it doesn't have to be an aggressive dog. It can be a perfectly friendly dog."
The leash law stipulates that dogs be kept on-leash at all times, unless they are in a recognized dog park or on the owner's property.
"What we have done for the past couple years is to try to educate owners and talk about being a responsible dog owner and keeping dogs on-leash," Personnel Director Brian Bellamy said. "Very few have been cited, but we're seeing an upswing in off-leash dogs being involved with other animals or people."
Bellamy added that another problem they are seeing is people leaving dog droppings in bags on the trail for someone else to pick up.
Sheriff Edmunds said deputies occasionally enforced the leash laws when the Animal Control department was under his jurisdiction, though not routinely. The department continues to assist the Animal Control department to enforce the leash laws to the extent they have been able.
"But I think we have to be realistic as to what our capacity is to enforce these kinds of regulations," he said. "Because honestly, right now I'm almost overwhelmed, and I've lost personnel over the last few years as well."
Edmunds added that he is willing to enforce the law.
"And it's not to say that we can't enforce it. It's just that our ability to realistically engage those types of enforcement has been greatly diminished over the last few years," he said.
The council agreed that regardless of enforcement issues, the law should remain in place.
"We have a leash law," Council Chair Claudia McMullin told Edmunds and Animal Control staff. "We're going to keep the leash law and we're going to enforce the leash law. The manner in which you enforce the leash law is up to you."
Staff said they have been working on some potential changes to the law, which they will bring to the council in a few weeks.
McMullin said the council needs to have a broader discussion about the leash law when staff brings the changes back to them, adding that the council should form a group of stakeholders, including a dog expert, to also propose leash law options.
"I do think there's a broader conversation we need to have and it sounds like it will be connected to potential amendments to the animal control ordinance," she said. "And because there is such a broad spectrum of opinions out there, I wonder if it makes sense to get a group of stakeholders together to propose options."