Dog owners raise concerns about leash law enforcement as city considers upping fines
Steamboat Springs — Some dog owners in Steamboat Springs are feeling choked by the increased level of leash law enforcement they are seeing in the city.
The concerns about the enforcement come as the city is preparing to propose new changes to its dog ordinances, including steeper fines for owners who allow their dogs to run at large or who don’t pick up their pet’s poop.
The developments are poised to spark a public debate between community members who have been seeking more leash law compliance and those who feel more enforcement isn’t needed.
“People are really upset with how they are being treated by animal control,” resident Deborah Black told the City Council on Tuesday night. “They feel like the laws are being over applied, and they feel they are being a little bit unreasonable in terms of (letting) folks get out and exercise their dogs properly.”
Black said the increased leash law enforcement was preventing dog owners from doing such things as playing Frisbee and playing ball with their pets.
She asked the council if there were any plans to increase the number of places in town dogs could legally run off leash beyond the existing two off-leash areas.
Dave McIrvin was critical of the enforcement after he received a formal warning for having his dog off leash at a neighbor’s house in the Sanctuary subdivision while he was picking up the animal’s excrement.
He said although it is important for the city to enforce leash laws in “problem areas,” the enforcement should be more lax in more rural areas, such as where he lives, because he doesn’t think there are many problems there.
Police Chief Cory Christensen defended the work of the city’s two animal control officers, and he sought to counter statements made by some residents that suggested animal control officers were acting in a way that intimidated them.
Christensen said he has watched dozens of body camera videos showing the interactions the officers are having with dog owners.
“I’ve been watching them talking to folks, and they are acting with a lot of professionalism,” Christensen said.
The animal control officers have reported some residents have reacted negatively to their presence.
In one instance, the officers reported an individual wrote a vulgar word on the dust of the animal control vehicle.
A partnership the city now has with the Routt County Humane Society for operations at the animal shelter has granted the city’s animal control officers much more time to be out on patrol and be proactive about enforcement.
Some residents have called for this increase in enforcement after bad experiences they’ve had with off-leash dogs.
Other dog owners believe the leash laws are oppressive, and they see the ramped-up enforcement as an overreach.
The leash law has been on the books for several years.
Residents will soon have a chance to weigh in on the city’s enforcement of dog rules at a public meeting.
City Manager Gary Suiter recently told the council a city prosecutor and an animal control officer are suggesting a number of changes to the rules in an attempt to increase compliance and efficiency.
The proposed changes include increasing fines for dog-at-large and dog poop tickets and providing the city’s municipal judge with more authority for cruelty-to-animal cases and nuisances.
Some outdated provisions in the city’s adoption procedures would also be updated.
Suiter said the proposed rule changes will go to City Council on July 19.
Council President Walter Magill said a public meeting to discuss the city’s ordinance will likely be scheduled sometime later this month.
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