Summit County's current dog leash law prohibits dog exercise areas, but officials know that's contrary to the facts on the ground, with several dog parks already in use around the county. The Leash Law Task Force, which has been operational for the past year, is looking to possibly change the leash ordinance to allow for certain off-leash areas.
Headed up by Animal Control Director Brian Bellamy and Deputy County Attorney Helen Strachan, the task force is comprised of various members of the community, many of whom have differing opinions on creating off-leash areas. They have considered three options for an off-leash licensing program:
- Keep the status quo -- each dog is required to have a county dog license and is eligible for all approved off-leash areas, but must be under sight and voice control at all times. Owner also assumes all liability.
- Create an "off-leash tag" -- owners would purchase an "off-leash tag" for their dogs which would be received in conjunction with a dog license. Certain trails and areas would be designated off-leash and any dogs without the tag could be cited.
- Owner must prove that their dog can follow certain commands in order to get an off-leash tag. Dog trainers in the community may be enlisted to assist with the certification and education efforts would be taken.
A change to the leash ordinance, Bellamy said, would "legitimize" current dog exercise areas, such as Basin Recreation's Willow Creek Dog Park, and would allow for the creation of additional off-leash areas.
Bellamy said the task force may decide to stay with option 1 first and go to option 2 if that does not work. Option 3 would follow if option 2 did not work as well. County Council member Kim Carson said option 3 may be somewhat expensive and that compliance with proper dog training would be difficult to monitor.
Carson added that the task force hasn't really begun its education efforts regarding the potential leash ordinance change, and Council member Claudia McMullin urged education to begin immediately.
"I wouldn't mind some education about what the rules are now and what the task force has been looking at and where we might be headed," McMullin said. "We don't have to amend the ordinance to let people know what the [current] rules are."
Carson said Charlie Sturgis of the Mountain Trails Foundation has been involved in education efforts regarding off-leash dogs on the trails.
"It's really about mutual respect and basic etiquette when you're out on the trail," Carson said.
Another prospective change would be moving to a three-year dog licensing program to coincide with the three-year rabies vaccination requirement. McMullin suggested further partnering with local veterinarians in this effort. Fees for licensing and fines may also be increased as well.
Council member Dave Ure stressed that there could be an issue in the National Forest where sheep herders have Pyrenean mountain dogs off-leash to protect their sheep. Any potential conflict between those dogs and other dogs that are off-leash could present a problem, he said. Council member Roger Armstrong questioned whether hikers with dogs would even know about that potential dilemma.
"Are those livestock [areas] easy to find so hikers know that sheep herding is going on there?" Armstrong asked, though the question was not fully answered.
Carson said the Council will discuss the three possible leash law changes and propose a change to the ordinance at an upcoming meeting.