Eagle County working on new animal control regulations
All the county's towns use Eagle County Animal Services for enforcement
- Create an overall map of the county and what's allowed where.
- Create a single definition of “voice control” for dogs.
- Establish a consistent fine structure.
VAIL — The Eagle County Animal Services department is outnumbered, at best. Only four officers and a supervisor work the entire county, including all its towns.
All those towns’ animal ordinances are different in some ways. To help make enforcement — and compliance — a little easier, the county department is working with local governments to create a single animal control ordinance, and an overall digital map outlining the regulations, for all of Eagle County. The work, while almost a year old now, won’t be reviewed until early 2020 by the Eagle County Commissioners.
Department field services manager Nathan Lehnert recently updated the Vail Town Council about the effort so far.
Lehnert told council members that education and compliance is the key to a county-wide ordinance. If people know what’s expected, they may be more likely to stay within the law.
For instance, Lehnert said between the towns and county, there are currently three definitions of “voice control” for pets. That can range from demonstrating control to an officer to more lax definitions.
Lehnert said the proposed county regulation would be strict regarding voice control.
Here’s how Lehnert said it would work: A dog owner must be able to get that animal under control if a third party requests it.
There are also different fine structures. Vail’s animal fines start at $40. In Gypsum, fines start at $100. The current proposal for a new county ordinance would start fines at $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $375 for a third offense.
Responding to a question from Vail Mayor Dave Chapin, Lehnert said the most common citations are for animals at large.
Lehnert said dogs getting loose is “usually a repetitive issue.” Officers talk to dog owners, and will issue citations for those who continue to violate regulations.
Chapin noted that education can work, citing a neighborhood effort to help clean up waste in the dog-friendly areas of Stephens Park.
While a consistent county ordinance could be helpful for both residents and officers, Lehnert said regulations change on public lands.
While Bureau of Land Management property is generally open to off-leash use, Lehnert said U.S. Forest Service property requires pets to be leashed. Vail is surrounded by national forests.
In Vail, regulations require dogs to be under voice control except where posted. But there are a lot of areas in town where signs are posted requiring dogs to be leashed.
Essentially, leashes are required just about everywhere except public streets and off-leash areas of a couple of town parks.
Councilmember Jen Mason asked about the road going up Davos trail to the radio tower above town.
“I’m on that trail every morning,” Mason said, adding there are a lot of off-leash dogs. That includes her own dog, she added.
The problem, Lehnert said, is that while the Davos road starts in town, it goes into the national forest.
In an interview after the meeting, Lehnert said the digital map should be able to answer those questions once it’s produced. The idea, he said, is that the county would require leashes unless off-leash use is allowed.
While Lehnert and a volunteer committee are working on a unified animal control ordinance, Lehnert said he wants the ordinance to be flexible enough to accommodate some town-specific variations.
Councilman Travis Coggin said he’s worried how enforcement would work.
Lehnert replied that the idea is for education first, with enforcement if needed.
In an interview after the meeting, Lehnert said he and his officers can do enforcement when needed. But, he added, “It makes a more comfortable community (if we’re) doing education first.”
The idea at this point is to get input from town officials, the volunteer committee and residents about the new regulations before taking an ordinance to the county commissioners in March or so of 2020.
Once passed, Lehnert said the remainder of 2020 will be spent on education and getting the digital map on as many residents’ and visitors’ phones as possible.
“By 2021 we’ll be on a new path,” he said.
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