Debating the rights of dogs and their owners |

Debating the rights of dogs and their owners

Kathy Heicher

EAGLE ” Eagle’s leash law is still in effect, but the Town Board is willing to consider some compromising.

Dog owners packed the chambers of the Eagle Town Board meeting Tuesday evening, offering pro and con arguments about whether dogs should be leashed when they are off private property.

After listening to more than two hours of testimony, the board instructed town staff to examine the dog control policy and suggest changes. The resulting policy proposal will be presented to the public at an open house Nov. 21 and posted on the town Web site.

The board will likely vote on the policy at its Dec. 13 meeting.

Tuesday’s public hearing was the fallout of a decision by the board last spring to step-up enforcement of the town leash law. Some dog owners, accustomed to allowing their dogs to run free on the town’s network of neighborhood paths, have been receiving warnings from animal control officers.

Many of the citizens said freedom for their pets was a part of the small-town living they value. Most advocated some sort of compromise on the leash law, such as creating designated areas or times where a dog can be off-leash; or the creation of a dog park.

Ernesto Ochoa said the accommodating nature of the community prompted him to get a dog for the first time in his life, after moving from Atlanta to Eagle Ranch. Playing fetch with his dog is an experience he enjoys.

“I have lots of feelings for this animal. I like to see it free,” he said. Ochoa suggested that the town consider designating sections of the Eagle Ranch bike path as leash-free areas, where dogs would be allowed access to the creek.

Anne McKibben, a resident of the Terrace subdivision, walks her dog on a leash but has had problems with other dogs running at large.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of leash laws,” she said. “There’s nothing more annoying than trying to deal with a dog that is not under the control of it’s owner.” Still, she supported designated areas where dogs could be taken off leash.

Clear rules needed

Joe Keegan, also a resident of the Terrace, said he was taken aback when an animal control officer advised his wife to put their 120-pound dog on a leash while she was walking it. He indicated the dog was under control at the time.

“That’s not why we live here,” he said. Keegan said the law should punish irresponsible dog owners, while allowing some leeway for owners who keep their animals under control. He also urged that the rules be clearly defined.

Marshall Ringler of Eagle Ranch suggested that the county dog control law, which allows dogs to be unleashed if they are within 10 feet of their owners and under voice control, was more appropriate.

“This isn’t Denver. We don’t want or need rules like Denver has,” he said.

Another Eagle Ranch resident, Susan Narduzzi, also supported a compromise, suggesting that designated areas where dogs can be off leash, or the development of a dog park, would be appropriate.

“I feel threatened when walking my dog on a leash, and other dogs are not leashed,” she said. “The owners say, ‘my dog is very sweet,’ or ‘my dog won’t bite’ … I feel my rights are affected.”

Donna Spinelli, also of Eagle Ranch, spoke up in favor of clearly defined areas for leashed and unleashed pets. She voiced concerns that elderly people could be injured by loose-running dogs.

“People think their dogs are responsible ” but when the dog jumps on me, they say, ‘oh, he’s friendly,'” she said. Spinelli advocated keeping unleashed dogs away from high-density areas.

Craig Capan said the leash law punishes all Eagle families, rather than the few irresponsible dog owners. He urged a multi-faceted solution.

“Does playing fetch really need to be illegal in Eagle?” he asked.

Andrew Murano said he can’t exercise his dog thoroughly enough when it is on a leash. He suggested the town pursue a dog park, a tactic that has been successfully employed by the town of Vail.

The town leash law does allow for dogs to be off leash when they are being trained.

Town staff member Bill Heicher suggested a policy that would require dogs to be leashed while on hard surfaces, such as sidewalks or paved paths, but allow dogs to be off-leash if they are 15 feet off the hard surface (such as near the creek in Brush Creek Park).

For exercise purposes, Heicher suggested that the animals be allowed to exercise, such as playing fetch, if they are not more than 150 feet from the owner, and the dog handler can demonstrate immediate control (dog obedience to a whistle, voice command or electric collar).

Although the current leash law remains in effect, the town will present its proposed policy to the public by Nov. 21, and will vote on the dog control issue in December.

Vail, Colorado

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