Pet owners responsible for upholding leash requirements
Throughout Eagle County, leash requirements differ from area to area, which may be confusing for some pet owners. However, with pets and wildlife in the same arena, owners must be alert and proactive in adhering to leash laws and best practices to prevent interactions that could stress or harm wildlife.
While the differing leash laws from area to area can be difficult to manage, Eagle County Animal Services Field Services Manager Nathan Lehnert said people can access all the applicable rules on the animal service website. Additionally, Lehnert said calling animal services to confirm the leash requirements in an area can also be a good idea for pet owners to ensure they’re adhering to local leash laws.
Eagle County Open Space Manager Peter Suneson said that on open space properties, signs clearly distinguish whether or not leashes are required. For example, certain areas of the Eagle River Preserve in Edwards require pets to be leashed, however half of the property is an off-leash dog run area, he said.
“I would love to say we’ve made it simple on folks, but we haven’t necessarily,” Suneson said.
Suneson said that leash requirements on open space land is based on whether the property has been conserved or if it’s in a critical wildlife habitat. In those areas, he said leash restrictions would be more common.
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However, Suneson said that even on Open Spaces that don’t require leashes, pets still need to be under demonstrable control by their owners.
“If you tell your dog to come, it needs to come,” Suneson said. “So, we do require control at all of our open spaces whether that’s via leash or via voice and sight control.”
Whether it’s on open space or elsewhere within the county, though, some pet owners disregard leash restrictions. Stephanie Braga is an Administrative Services Officer at the Avon Police Department and sits on the Advisory Committee for the Eagle County Animal Shelter. Braga said that much of what non-compliance with leash requirements boils down to is people not being respectful of wildlife.
“It’s frustrating to a lot of people to see other people not being responsible or respectful of animals in those kinds of incidents,” Braga said. “People who visit our area don’t understand that.”
Without understanding wildlife migration patterns or ways in which wildlife may be stressed, pet owners may think it’s fine to let their animals run free, Braga said. So, most of the time law enforcement, animal services or parks and wildlife enforce leash laws, they begin with an educational approach in hopes that freshly informed pet owners will change those harmful behaviors.
“People are going to see animal control and think they’re just trying to make money and write tickets,” Braga said. “That’s not at all the intention. The intention is to make sure that our wildlife population is not stressed and that our people and pet populations are not adding to their stressors.”
“It’s kind of on the dog owners and also on the community to hold each other accountable for allowing the wildlife to be left alone,” Braga said.
Eagle County Animal Services Field Services Manager Nathan Lehnert said that it is rare that community members will call to simply report leash law violations. Instead, he said enforcement comes when animal services witnesses a dog off leash in an area they aren’t supposed to be, or if they notice the owner does not have control of their pet.
“If there are people who don’t have that concern or don’t share that concern for the wildlife, the community at large has put in rules and regulations to prevent issues and it can cost them money,” Lehnert said. “You know, we may issue tickets, they may have to go to court and talk to a judge about any violations of those town codes. So eventually (leashing pets) is a benefit to them, they’ll save money, time, all of that to comply with the rule.”
Additionally, Lehnert said Colorado Parks and Wildlife has reached out for assistance from animal services for leash enforcement. So, he said enforcers can’t be everywhere at once and it’s up to owners to understand why keeping pets under control is so crucial.
Several things can go wrong when a pet is running loose and not under its owner’s control. Lehnert said that without being under control, a pet is more susceptible to nearby dangers. Without being leashed, pets may explore things that are dangerous to them, like predatory animals, toxic mushrooms, littered items, et cetera. Additionally, if there are roads nearby, Lehnert said keeping one’s pet close can lessen the likelihood of the pet getting hit by traffic.
Without a leash or other means of control, one’s pet may also be a threat to other pets or people. Lehnert said leashing pets is the best way to prevent unwanted contact such as bites and injuries.
“(Leashes) can also prevent animals from running after and chasing wildlife, which is a natural reaction for most animals,” Lehnert said.
With so much wildlife within Eagle County, Lehnert said much of what leash requirements aim to prevent is a circumstance that would stress or harm deer and elk. In the circumstance that a pet is chasing or otherwise stressing elk, Lehnert said “the big difficulty with it is one dog that is in the area can cause major issues for an entire herd of elk.”
Suneson said that when pets chase or otherwise stress wildlife, they “expend lots of energy that they really need to be saving, especially if they’re pregnant or especially during this time of year when there’s not a lot of food available.”
“(They’re) aborting their young or just not being able to produce young,” Suneson said. “Some of those impacts we’re just not going to see, but we’re well aware that the potential is out there.”
If there is an instance of a pet chasing in which the owner or responders cannot get the animal under control, Lehnert said animal services don’t carry firearms, but parks and wildlife and local law enforcement may be called to handle the situation that way.
“I’ve had deputies come out to those scenes and be prepared to put those animals down,” Lehnert said. “With livestock, we’ve had several animals that were put down by property owners because they were interfering with livestock.”
“Probably 10 years ago, I remember having the sheriff’s department come out to a scene where several elk were being really harassed and kind of pinned down by a dog,” Lehnert said. “That happened in Edwards, where there’s no leash requirement. That dog, they didn’t put it down, we were eventually able to get it under control, but they were getting ready to put the dog down and it’s not what any of us want.”
Owners, even in areas that don’t require leashes, can choose to leash pets to prevent things from going wrong. Additionally, Lehnert said that in areas where it is unclear whether pets should be leashed or not, keeping pets on leash can be a good idea. Additionally, whenever wildlife is present, even in an off-leash area, staying away is best.
“It’s really up to the owners to be alert and aware of what the surroundings are,” Lehnert said.
In the future, Lehnert said leash regulations across the county may become easier for owners to understand should a unified code be adopted.
“There’s definitely an odd patchwork of different rules and we are aware of that issue,” Lehnert said.
Lehnert said that in 2017, animal services spoke with the various town councils and county commissioners to attempt to establish a unified leash code that would be valid throughout the whole county. Unable to find a consensus among towns in 2018, Lehnert said the project hit the back burner—where it remained, as the pandemic introduced even more challenges.
“We’ve prioritized some other projects and as much as we’d like to (have uniform leash laws), my desire as the manager of the department is to make sure that we’re doing what the towns want, not pushing something out that I think is good for everybody but it’s not really what’s desired,” Lehnert said.
While pet owners are still navigating inconsistent leash regulations, Lehnert said animal services is happy to answer any questions about requirements in particular areas, best practices, et cetera. Additionally, he said animal services is looking to start outreach events that would bring information about the rules and regulations as well as provide an opportunity for community members to ask questions and interact with those working in the field.
“We’re always looking for positive ways to interact with the community, to continue to provide education, try and talk about some of the issues going on and identify things that maybe are concerns for the community members,” Lehnert said.