Leashes? We don’t need no stinking leashes
April 26, 2013
Years ago, when I first moved to Park City, there were more dogs than people on Main Street. Everybody had a dog, and if you moved here without one, a dog would be provided for you.
Lots of things were provided for you. Somewhere in the process of signing up for utilities and getting a post-office box, you ended up with a purebred Swede Alley retriever, and then some guy you shot pool with at the Alamo would hook up the cable TV. The whole town was on cable, and I never knew anybody who paid for it.
The dogs were everywhere. On construction sites, there would be more dogs than nails. By five o’clock, there would be a pack of dogs in front of every bar on Main Street. If you were looking for somebody in those pre-cell-phone days, you just drove up Main looking for their dog.
Getting in and out of the Post Office was a challenge. While you were doing your business inside, 25 or 30 dogs would be doing their business outside on the sidewalk. The dogs were friendly — the town was still small enough that you knew everybody and their dog — but they covered the sidewalk. Out in Swede Alley, there was no sight as rare as an upright garbage can. The dogs ate very well in those days.
Then something happened. I’m not completely sure what tipped it over the edge. Maybe there were enough people in town who started wearing Italian shoes instead of construction work boots and thought that walking through the minefield on Main Street was just too much. At the same time, the city was towing the abandoned cars off the vacant lots and removing the rubble of collapsed houses. The whole place was getting pretty snooty all of a sudden, and having a herd of dogs crapping everywhere didn’t fit the new image.
A guy ran for mayor on a platform that said there’s nothing wrong with Park City that couldn’t be fixed by putting even more dogs on Main Street. He lost, but not by much. Now, years later, it is unusual to see a dog on Main Street at all, leashed or not. It was a huge cultural change forced by an increasing population and the Guccification of the town. I packed up and moved to Woodland.
So now we’re facing the same issue out in Round Valley. For a whole lot of the people who live here and use that recreational land their taxes paid for, running, hiking, biking or skiing with their dog is an essential part of the local culture. Letting the dog run free is an extension of letting your own spirit run free, having rescued it from some cubicle-dwelling life somewhere else. Leashes? Not.
It worked fine for a long time, but once again we have hit a kind of critical mass where the increasing number of free-range dogs is causing problems with the increasing number of free-range people. Dogs defend their owners when somebody else comes running at them in a way that looks, in the peanut brain of a dog, like a predator. There are too many people here for the dogs or people to know everybody. So we have conflicts ranging from dogs pooping on the ski track, causing panic stops or crashes on mountain bikes, or worse, people getting bitten.
Dogs are like kids. Your own are precious and wonderful, but there’s little use for anybody else’s noisy little brats. Years ago, the county adopted a sort of unworkable leash law. Among other things, it requires sheep dogs to be on leash while rounding up a herd on thousands of acres. It’s been enforced with zeal on Main Street to the point that dogs have been completely eradicated. Aside from the chewing gum on the sidewalk, it’s a sterile place. They haven’t made much effort in Round Valley or on other trails, partly because it’s difficult, and partly because there was an assumption that reasonable people would sort it out on their own. It isn’t working.
So the county is cracking down, and will begin issuing tickets to people who have unleashed dogs. I hope nobody is under any illusion that this will be easy.
Requiring dogs to be on leash on the local trails is a major cultural change. It goes right to the ethos of the community. The very hypothesis that dogs belong on leashes is rejected by lots of local dog owners, even if it does make sense. They might as well be asking women to hike in burqas.
Ultimately, it’s just a factor of too many people with too many dogs. The solution is pretty simple: A whole bunch of you simply need to move somewhere else so the dogs can run free. Is that too much to ask for our beloved pets?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.