Berenson: Unleash happiness in 2023
In the beautiful community of EagleVail, home to more than 3,000 residents, there are six neighborhood parks, a baseball field, a soccer field, a small pond and beach, and a rolling 18-hole golf course, which, seven months of the year, is a snow-covered wonderland of open space. In other words, there are ample walk-to options for each resident who wants to recreate outside.
Unless that resident is a dog, that is. Because in EagleVail, there’s also a 30-year-old rule that all dogs must be on a leash at all times, in all public spaces. So, if you live in EagleVail and have a dog, and you want to exercise your dog freely and joyfully — play catch with a frisbee, or go for a hike or run, for example — you have to get in your car, drive to Edwards or Vail, and do it there.
Even if you live steps away from a park that is otherwise empty, and that no one else will be using for hours. This situation is not only unsustainable (in the true definition of the word “sustainable”), it hurts both our human and canine populations. Most of all, it makes no sense.
It’s important to clarify that advocating for the right for dogs to run and play off-leash does not mean advocating that dogs run wild. All responsible dog owners believe that being off-lead is a privilege, not a right. Dogs should be under control at all times, for their own safety and the safety of others. People have the right to walk, run, ride, ski and hike without being unexpectedly approached by a dog, no matter how “friendly” that dog is.
In the 10 years that my husband and I have lived in EagleVail, we’ve respected the spirit, if not the letter, of the EagleVail leash rule. Like our dog-loving neighbors, we’ve played catch with our dogs in our pocket park in early mornings or late afternoons, often meeting up with other neighbors doing the same thing with their dogs, always leashing up when necessary. This created a wonderful connection between neighbors, and was a significant quality-of-life benefit of living here.
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Then last summer, BOLD (the property management company our POA board pays to oversee enforcement of our rules) asked Eagle County Animal Control to start patrolling our neighborhood regularly, and ticketing every dog owner with a dog off-lead. It didn’t matter if they were playing catch in an otherwise empty park, training on an otherwise empty soccer field, or hiking together on an otherwise empty golf course. Tickets were issued.
Many of us were upset by the abrupt enforcement of this rule, and the challenge it created to responsibly, adequately and legally exercise our pets.
So a petition was started, proposing that our rule aligns with Eagle County Law, which allows for either leash or voice control. In less than two weeks it had over 400 signatures. But when the petition was presented to the POA board, along with a request to bring the issue to a property owners’ vote, the board declined to address it, and the topic was dismissed.
Cities much larger than EagleVail have found ways to safely and responsibly provide dog owners walk-to opportunities to exercise their dogs off lead, under control and at minimal expense. Certainly, if we work together, we can come up with a reasonable and sustainable solution here in our little mountain community, one that suits responsible dog owners as well as it suits people who don’t want to be approached by unleashed dogs.
In Boulder, for example, there are parks designated OK for dogs who have green tags to be off-lead. To get the green tags, the city requires owners to pay a fee and undergo a short training, during which the definition of “voice control” is made clear (dogs come to owners the first time they’re called, and obey them when there). Dog owners who complete this program are held accountable; a ranger can approach any owner and say, “Call your dog.” If the dog doesn’t come, the green tag is confiscated, and the owner is issued a citation. The program is funded by the fees the owners pay.
And in San Jose, California, certain schoolyards and parks are designated off-lead friendly for certain hours of the day — for example, before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. This allows people to access the open space within walking distance of their homes and creates the opportunity for neighbors to meet and talk while their dogs play together. It also makes clear to everyone when and where off-lead dogs will be playing and running, eliminating unexpected encounters.
Either of these options is much preferable to creating a designated dog park in EagleVail, which has been proposed by some but is not a good solution. Running a dog in a circle in a crowded, fenced-in area doesn’t afford the opportunity to exercise along with them, and aside from this, getting to that dog park would require car trips for most residents, as well as the community-funded expense of creating a parking lot and enclosing and maintaining the area.
And again, not only is that unsustainable, it doesn’t make sense.
The bottom line is this: EagleVail is not a privately-owned business, run by a CEO who makes the rules. We are an active, creative community of hikers, runners, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and cyclists, and lots and lots of dog owners. Sharing our mountain activities with our off-leash, voice-controlled dogs is one of the joys of living here. And we all have voices that matter. So maybe it’s time we made those voices heard.
Madeleine Berenson is a ski instructor and writer whose pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wine Spectator, and The MOTH podcast, among others. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.