Life just got a little bit easier for Steamboat dog owners cited for having an animal off-leash
A policy change means pet owners will be able to pay fines without a day in the courtroom.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Delinquent dog owners will no longer have to go to court to pay fines levied for pets at large.
Steamboat Springs City Council has adopted a change that will allow pet owners to pay fines for an animal at large and unlicensed pet citations. This includes citations given to pet owners who have a dog off-leash in an area where leashes are required.
“Persons who are cited for dog at large will be able to plead guilty and pay a fine with the court clerk and will not be required to appear in court,” said City Attorney Dan Foote. “That also applies to animals that are unlicensed.”
City code places graduated fines on these offenses, levying a $50 fine for a first offense, $75 for a second offense and $100 for each citation after the second for animals at large.
But in the field, Steamboat Springs Police Department officers can’t see a person’s prior municipal court convictions. When an officer can’t see prior convictions, they can’t write the appropriate fine on these citations.
In an effort to enforce these rules and discourage repeat offenses, the city adopted a policy earlier this year that required pet owners appear in court if they received a citation. That change clogged up the municipal court docket with frustrated pet owners.
“I think a number of people who just wanted to pay their fine and move on were being forced into municipal court, which takes up the prosecutor’s time and the court’s time,” Foote said. “By making the change, we’re getting those people out of the courtroom and making the court operate more efficiently.”
Leashes are required in all areas of the city except the Yampa River and designated off-leash areas, which currently includes Rita Valentine Park and Sailors Way, the trail formally called the Lower Spring Creek trail.
Dogs are allowed off-leash in Whistler Park and on the Butcherknife trail with seasonal and time-of-day restrictions in some areas.
Dogs are also allowed to be off-leash at the Lower Pond along the Spring Creek trail, though late this summer, the off-leash area is expected to be closed for construction.
In these areas, off-leash dogs are required to be under their owner’s voice and sight control. For more information about off-leash areas, visit the city’s website at steamboatsprings.net/614/off-leash.
In the short term, an ordinance approved in July will allow the municipal court clerk to look up a person’s prior convictions and levy the appropriate fine without a court date.
In the long term, City Council directed staff to impose a flat fine for violations, though discussion about that fee is not on any posted council meeting agendas for upcoming meetings in August or September.
Under city code, a repeat offense occurs when a person has more than one animal at large violation in the previous two years. In 2017 and 2018, there were three repeat offenses, Municipal Court Clerk Theresa Lichtenfels told council in June.
To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.
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