Summit County Government Needs to Beware of Blowback on Recent Dog Actions
Blowback (n.): an unforeseen and unwanted effect, result, or set of repercussions
Dogs. Who would have thought the topic would become so controversial. We can’t go a week without multiple letters to the editor appearing in the Park Record about dogs. Some people love them. Some people don’t. But I’m afraid it’s soon going to become everyone’s issue.
For the past few years the Summit County Council has been trying to figure out what to do about off-leash dogs in our community. There had been a few complaints about off-leash dogs and a handful of dogs bites (although statistically fewer than normal for a population of our size). Therefore certain council members have driven the council to look at the issue.
The County Council matters most here because the county oversees Animal Control and both the city and county use the county’s Animal Control group. The County Council has talked about it endlessly. They formed a year long task force to receive recommendations. They changed ordinances. They built a wonderfully-large dog park called Run-A-Muck.
From an outside viewpoint, those action have improved things from a few years ago. More people are carrying leashes with them. Some people move to the side of the trail with their off-leash dogs when approaching leashed dogs or people without dogs. There is just more courtesy. It’s what you like to see from your small town.
Yet, as Rick Springfield said, “lately something’s changed and it ain’t hard to define.” In this case, Animal Control has stepped up enforcement of leash laws. Newly hired Administrator Clay Coleman was on the radio this week and made two things abundantly clear. 1) there would be no more warnings for off leash dogs and 2) they had a staff member hiking trails handing out tickets.
I can see where they are coming from. It appears they feel massive enforcement will get “everyone on leash.” Conceptually it makes sense. You hand out hundreds of tickets and the word gets around that you better have your dog on leash or you’ll get a ticket. I’m not sure if they are expecting 100% compliance or what, but from what I am hearing they are going to get something else entirely.
Blowback is a term that was coined by the CIA to talk about the repercussions of some of its covert actions. The term has been used more recently when talking about drone strikes by the US government against civilians in the Middle East and the fear that those actions only serve to create more enemies.
My fear in Summit County, with dogs, is that recent actions of Animal Control may have some bad and unintended consequences. I’ve heard from multiple people who are now LOOKING for confrontations with Animal Control officers now, so they can “give them a piece of their minds.” I’m not exactly sure why you would risk a $200 fine when you could just write a letter, but some people seem very upset. It’s not a leap to say that soon some Animal Control officers may feel very intimidated, which if it happens, will undoubtedly lead to Animal Control officers being escorted by Sheriff’s Deputies. Now that would be a complete waste of resources.
At a higher level, you look to next year’s election. Four County Council positions are going to be up for grabs. Two of those seats are held by Kim Carson and Roger Armstrong. Both have strongly supported curbing off-leash behavior. If either choose to run again, it doesn’t take James Carville to recognize that their opponents are going to hit them hard on their position on dogs. Ms Carson and Mr Armstrong will own whatever Animal Control does between now and then. I would guess both would tell you that they supported positions that they felt were just, and if they were to do it all again, they wouldn’t do much differently. However, I respect the work they have done on other issues too much to not say, “please be careful” to both of them on this issue.
Finally, if you wanted to take it even a step further, you would look at County Manager Tom Fisher. In the past year since Mr Fisher joined us from Colorado, he has done a nice job. He seems to have a very balanced view and is dedicated to the position. However, as they say, he serves at the will and pleasure of the council. Should dogs rule the day in the November 2016 elections, and three or four positions are won on the dog ticket, you never know if Mr Fisher would be invited back. While this line of speculation is a little far fetched, depending on Animal Control’s actions over the next few months, it may seem less far fetched by the end of summer.
I guess the way I see it, is that Animal Control and ultimately Summit County escalated this issue. They took an issue that was getting better and then stepped on its throat with an iron boot. In a best case world, the escalation is temporary and they will achieve the desired result. However, from where I stand, looking at the undercurrents of the Park City area, I’m not sure they are going to get off that easily.
Solutions looking for problems. There’s not a wave of dog problems. The best course would be to do… nothing.
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