Leash law opinions unleashed
May 24, 2013
The Summit County Council unleashed public opinions on Wednesday in the debate about the leash law. A hearing packed the auditorium of the Sheldon Richins Building. County residents—almost all self-identified as dog owners—walked fresh issues and solutions across the debate’s worn route.
Several people reminded the crowd of Park City’s collaborative spirit and free attitude toward recreation. Charlie Sturgis, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, said, "it is very easy to enforce your way out of having fun." Sue Ann Kern added, "legislating the fun out of Park City is a very real possibility."
The crowd was enthused, clapping and whistling at controversy and innovative proposals. After two hours, County Councilor Claudia McMullin reminded the long line of speakers to limit remarks.
Some people noted the impact of loose dogs on wildlife. Trevor Adrian said unleashed dogs have killed two foxes in the area. Others injured an elk as it leaped over a ditch trying to escape, he said, adding that dogs drove wildlife out of a water feature in his backyard. Roger Osguthorpe said unleashed dogs have harassed his livestock.
Both on- and off-leash advocates said the county needs to improve or expand area dog parks.
"The two dog parks we have are completely inadequate," said Jill Adler.
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She said the parks lack shade and places to sit. Owners of large breeds said their dogs need more space.
Other proposed solutions included designating trails that do not permit dogs, or dividing weekdays in an alternating schedule with designated days when dogs are allowed off leashes.
Some people raised concern about excluding various types of trail users from popular trails. Others suggested alternate days might become confusing or too difficult to enforce.
Dog owners revived the issue of conflict between canine and human freedom. Samantha Bedner, a professional dog trainer, acknowledged, "even my guys, who are very well-behaved, have their off days," but said, "dogs need some off-leash time." She added that freedom is "very necessary for most dogs." Lisa Wilson said people should "let dogs have a choice."
"I just want to make sure dog owners realize the fear they put in some people," said Brian Hanton, the parks and recreation manager for the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District.
He added that people avoid certain trails because they want to make sure they don’t encounter dogs. Bob Gross called being trailed by a dog while running "a very disconcerting situation."
"Most people hold their dogs, but not all people are that nice," said Wendy Peterson, who said she is afraid of dogs. "I’d like to have a choice."
Although some dog owners recalled frightening encounters with off-leash dogs, others said people could be overreacting to isolated incidents. Mitch Cohen said it might be an instance where "the many are suffering from the misbehavior of a few."
Helen Strachan, deputy county attorney, defined the current law at the beginning of the discussion. She said a dog is "considered under control with a leash or electronic collar," and that the law applies to common areas and public parks.
McMullin and County Councilor Roger Armstrong suggested some lands around Park City, including Round Valley trails, might not be subject to current law. McMullin noted private landowners could send written notice to exempt themselves.
At the meeting’s conclusion, McMullin urged people to form a task force. Several volunteered. The task force will examine the issue in greater detail.
Sturgis said "trail users need to be at the highest level of education possible." He appealed to Park City’s community spirit, reminding the crowd, "we are all out there with the same purpose, to have a good time."