If you had to describe our country in one word right now, "divided" might be the most fitting. It doesn’t matter where you fall on any of the issues: terrorism, climate change, gun control, women’s rights, gay marriage, education or the economy. Regardless of what you believe, here’s the reality: about 50 percent of the country is going to agree with you, the other 50 percent will think you’re reckless and wrong.
While our country seems almost irreparably split, our county is facing its own difficult, line-in-the-sand division, with off-leash dogs becoming a bitter dispute. Granted, this might be why the hashtag #firstworldproblems was created — it’s nowhere near as important as stopping jihadists — but it’s a divisive and hot-button issue for us locally. And while everyone seems to have an opinion, neither side seems interested in compromising.
This paper alone devotes a lot of ink to the issue. Guest editorials, letters to the editor, police reports, news articles, meeting notices and more, cover the pages of each edition. Until now I have avoided the issue, because, I guess you could say, I have a dog in both fights.
For starters, I have a very energetic dog, and much of my joy (not to mention my sanity) comes when I’m up on a hillside with him, watching him run free, romping with his friends, delighted to be discovering new scents, breathing in fresh air and just generally being a goofy dog on a hike.
That said, I have also encountered a number of people whose dogs very likely flunked obedience school. Many of these owners seem to have no concept of reality, often hollering from 50 yards away about how friendly their dog is as it’s running at me top speed, teeth bared. And when you say something about it, they’re offended and tell you to move back to New York.
In short, from what I can tell, off-leash dogs aren’t nearly as much of a problem as their a**hole owners.
The thing is, people have a right to be afraid of dogs — or simply not care for them, or even love them but not want to be jumped on — and still be on our trails. And dog owners have a need to exercise with their dogs without necessarily being tethered to them. And neither side has seemed all that willing to give.
But I think there’s a relatively easy solution. So easy, you could say, it’s shocking.
In talking to our county manager and a county council member about the issue, I asked them if an electronic collar was an acceptable alternative to a leash. Both said yes, absolutely, electronic collars (also called remote collars or shock collars) can be used in lieu of a leash. This was great news for me, because my "naughty dog collar" is on my dog almost every time we leave the house. If he doesn’t mind my commands when he’s off leash, he gets a little zap, and he becomes so instantly obedient, you’d think he just graduated from a military academy.
These collars aren’t necessarily cheap; I paid about $200 for mine. (Well, really about $1,000 considering Stanley ate the first four collars in his newly adopted years.) But I have often said it’s a lot cheaper than an emergency vet bill if he were to run off and get hit by a car. And, with animal control giving more and more tickets, it’s cheaper than accumulating a few citations for having an off-leash dog, too. It also gives both me and others we encounter on the trail peace of mind. Stanley is a much better dog when he has that collar on.
So while dropping a couple hundred dollars on a collar for your dog might not be your favorite way to spend that Christmas bonus, it is a reasonable compromise. Owning a dog isn’t cheap:
there are vet bills, food, toys, boarding and, if you’re like me, replacement costs for when your newly adopted dog eats snow tires. I consider buying a shock collar the cost of being a law-abiding dog owner. And, it will help keep you out of the dog house with both animal control and those on the other side of this issue.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of a rescued Dalmatian named Stanley.