Dog poop in Eagle County a problem? Or just much ‘apoop’ about nothing
'People are required to pick up after their dogs'
EAGLE COUNTY — A dog’s gonna do what a dog’s gotta do, and that means a mounting poo problem countywide.
The presence of dog poo along hiking trails, in public parks or on neighborhood sidewalks is a hot topic as temperatures warm up and local mammals find themselves spending more time outside. But regardless of where they choose to trek with Fido — and regardless of whether the animal is on a leash or off exploring — humans are responsible for removing their dogs’ poop.
“Anywhere people go in the county, even on their own property, people are required to pick up after their dogs,” said Eagle County Animal Field Services Manager Nathan Lehnert.
That’s right, as a dog parent you are required to pick up the poop even in your own yard. Failure to do so is a failure to control your animal and you can be issued a ticket if dog poop piles up to the point it becomes aromatically or visually offensive to the general public.
But Lehnert noted the more common poop problems are tied to people who venture out with their dogs and fail to deal with their defecation.
“People go hiking all the time and they think because they are out in the wilderness, they don’t have to pick up after themselves,” Lehnert said. “That is not the case. Wherever you go, you are required to pick up after your dog.”
The No. 1 reason why owners are charged with not picking up dog poop is public health.
“Fecal matter can contain bacteria and spread disease,” Lehnert said.
Lehnert added that dogs are often attracted to carrion and an animal that feeds on carrion can then develop parasites that are present in their poop.
“Then there is the nuisance of it,” he added.
But picking up poop is only the first part of a dog owner’s responsibility. Little, knotted plastic bags are often left behind by walkers or hikers who don’t want to tote feces along on a trek. But leaving those bags by the side of the trail — even if you plan to pick it up later — is littering and it can also draw a fine.
“That’s not allowed. You can’t just leave trash laying around,” Lehnert said.
Having dog poop bag dispensers available to the public does cut back on the amount of animal waste in an area, Lehnert continued. What’s more, there is usually a trash receptacle anywhere a bag dispenser is located.
“If they are available (bag dispensers), people are usually aware of them and use them properly,” he said.
While county animal control officers, and anyone with working vision, can spot the evidence of a dog poo problem it’s more difficult to identify offenders. It’s a matter of catching an animal in the act and spotting an owner who is willfully ignoring it.
As with other animal violations, officers have some discretion about writing a dog poo ticket.
“But it is not unusual to receive a citation for that, if we witness it,” Lehnert said.
Animal violation tickets can be costly. In most parts of Eagle County, a first offense carries a $40 fine. A second offense costs $100 and a third offense costs $250. Those fines are even heftier in Gypsum, which charges $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $375 for a third offense.
“Usually, with a fourth offense, we issue a court summons so the person has to appear before a judge,” Lehnert said.
But if an officer doesn’t actually witness a dog doing the business, he or she can’t write up charges. There are DNA tests available to trace dog poo samples back to the animal who deposited it, but those systems are only really practical for smaller, controlled environments such as individual buildings. In Eagle County, it would require a massive, expensive undertaking to generate a dog poo DNA database and, as Lehnert noted, it is tough enough to get people to license their dogs. It only costs $10 to obtain Eagle County’s required dog license and all an owner has to do is provide proof of rabies vaccination.
“Our license is required and still we only bring about 10 to 15 percent compliance,” Lehnert said. “DNA waste testing has never been brought up seriously here.”
Lehnert said it also is impractical to expect members of the public to police dog issues.
“That’s a tough situation. People don’t want to offend others,” he noted.
With few enforcement options at their disposal, Lehnert said county animal control officers work hard to educate pet owners about their responsibilities. He noted social media can be an effective tool to get out the message.
For instance, the county and the town of Eagle recently stepped up leash law enforcement in the community. People who were cited turned to local Facebook groups to tell their stories and warn other pet owners.
“People did that in a way that was very educational, and I appreciated that,” Lehnert said.
Of course, social media discussions aren’t always respectful in tone and sometimes the facts get muddied. He suggested anyone who wants to learn more about local animal regulations visit the county’s website.
Finally, he urged pet owners to apply Golden Rule thinking to their dogs.
“If people were willing to think of others first, instead of just themselves or their animals, it would solve so many of these issues,” Lehnert said. “You just have to make sure you are preventing your animal from causing problems.”
EAGLE COUNTY — Dog leash laws aren’t uniform across Eagle County so here are some guidelines.
The Eagle County regulations, which are enforced in all unincorporated areas, require dog owners to demonstrate “immediate control” over their animals. That basically means a dog is at heel and under voice control. There is some leeway for these rules in areas such as dog parks where animals can wander further away from owners.
The communities of Eagle and Avon have strict leash requirements. “When dogs are out in public they have to be attached to a leash that is attached to a person,” explained Eagle County Animal Field Services Manager Nathan Lehnert. “Tethering animals in public is not allowed.”
Vail and Gypsum both apply the county rules unless animals are in neighborhoods with other regulations in place. There are many of those areas in both communities. In Vail, for instance, dogs must be leashed in Vail Village, Lionshead and along various trails in the community. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service requires dogs to be leashed on its trails.
To learn more about leash laws in the valley, visithttp://www.eaglecounty.us/Animal/.