Responsible dog owners shouldn’t tolerate reckless ones
May 1, 2015
One silver lining of our mild winter is that Park City is experiencing an actual spring, rather than a typical "mud season." But as everyone eagerly heads outdoors, an annual controversy is rearing its head, and tail, a little earlier than usual.
Off-leash dogs are being reported to the police repeatedly. A recent instance, involving a man fleeing up a tree from a dog near the Park City Library, didn’t result in any injuries, so it may be a tempting incident to disregard. But others aren’t so lucky.
In March, a cyclist, on the Rail Trail near Promontory, was bitten by an off-leash dog. The 73-year-old Parkite needed 23 stitches to close his wounds. The dog’s owner fled and was never identified.
Park City and Summit County’s laws require all dogs to be leashed in public places, outside of fenced-in dog parks. But, as anyone who’s hit any trails knows, many dog owners make no effort to comply with the law. And quite often, it’s not an issue.
People we would consider "law abiding" break laws every day. Speed limits, as one example, are violated on a regular basis, even right in front of the police station — just because you drive a few miles over a speed limit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an irresponsible driver. But egregiousness matters. If you’re driving twice the speed limit, irresponsible might be a fair way to describe your actions.
In the same vein, dog owners who walk with their dogs off-leash ought to consider the egregiousness of their own actions. If you have a friendly little shih tzu, you can probably get away with leaving your dog off leash all the time, and be confident that it’s not going to harm anyone and that you won’t be cited for a violation. If you have a larger dog, though, you’re taking a risk when you leave your dog off-leash. If you have a larger dog that you’ve seen be aggressive with other people or other dogs, you’re taking an even bigger risk.
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Leash laws are an issue that seem to raise people’s emotions. Empathy, from all sides, is an absolute necessity if any progress is going to be made. Those who insist on absolute enforcement of the leash laws need to understand why dog owners let their dogs off-leash. Many owners love their dogs like their own children and they get great enjoyment from being outdoors with their dogs, running around a park or along a trail with them. And leashes can often get in the way of that.
The flip side of that is that dog owners need to understand that not everyone feels the same way about dogs as they do. Many people are downright scared of dogs. Maybe they were attacked when they were younger or maybe they’re just cat people. The reason doesn’t really matter, though — what matters is that many people in our community have real fear of unleashed dogs. Telling those people "deal with it," isn’t an acceptable response. Surely, we can all agree that we all have the right to not be jumped on by any dog that we happen to run into.
If you do leave your dog off-leash, and especially if you’re not keeping close tabs on it, you’re putting both yourself and your dog at risk.
What it boils down to is personal responsibility. There’s no way for the authorities to enforce the leash laws all over, nor is there a wave of support to crack down harder on those dog owners that the authorities can catch in the act. Dog owners who let their dogs off-leash are taking a chance, but if they know their dogs and have trained them well, nobody is going to give them much trouble. It’s the bad owners, like the ones who flee from the scene after their dog attacks someone, who are the problem. Responsible dog owners, who certainly are in the majority, shouldn’t close ranks with the irresponsible ones. Responsible dog owners should be speaking up. It needs to be socially unacceptable — for dog lovers and haters alike — to be a reckless dog owner.
Park City is, in many ways, a dog owner’s paradise. We have access to miles of trails and acres of open lands. But if we act like our dogs have more of a right to run free than people have the right to not be jumped on or bitten by dogs, things could change.