On Wednesday the Summit County Council will learn more about three alternatives proposed by the Leash Law Task Force to help solve “the dog problem” in Summit County. Unfortunately, the real problem is that the most reasonable alternative isn’t even on the table.
A little over a year ago, Council Member Roger Armstrong spoke passionately to the Council about the need to reform Summit County’s leash laws. He spoke about people, that during his campaign, were concerned with the number of off-leash dogs they encountered on our trails. He also cited an editorial in the paper written by a woman who was very scared each time she met an unleashed dog, due to previous bad experiences. He implored the Council to look into alternatives to help those members of our community who are fearful of unleashed dogs. The Council formed a task force, led by Council Member Kim Carson, to look at the issue. Over the course of the next year the task force met and eventually came up with three alternatives:
- Change ordinances so that the current dog parks we have are actually legal. Yes, it is actually illegal to have your dog off-leash in one the existing dog parks.
- Create an “Off-Leash Tag” that would enable owners to visit the very same dog parks they use today. In addition, some day a larger swath of land may be purchased for off-leash dogs and the tag could be used there (if that happens).
- Require that any off-leash dog pass the AKC “Good Citizen” test (or equivalent) in order to use the current off-leash dog parks.
Regardless of the option, they also recommend reinstating a full-time Animal Control director at a $140,000 per year.
It’s the perfect example of a process gone awry that no longer addresses the original issue. The original concern was about inconsiderate people on our trails, with off-leash dogs, that make other people uncomfortable. How requiring people to have an extra “off-leash” license, in order to use our dog parks, even addresses this is a complete mystery. It’s unlikely that the people Roger spoke with during his campaign had accidentally wondered into one of our 200 sq ft X 200 sq ft dog parks and became scared.
Instead we are left with alternatives that increase license fees and costs but provide little benefit (options 2 and 3 are expected to cost an additional $250,000 – $375,000 per year). And If having an Animal Control Director will improve the lives of Summit County residents to the tune of $140,000 per year, the County Manager, Bob Jasper, should hire one. But please don’t put it under the guise of solving a problem that isn’t actually being addressed.
Originally there seemed to be good ideas bantered about that actually addressed the concerns presented. Some of those included making some trails off-leash on odd/even days (similar to how Milll Creek Canyon in SLC allows dogs on certain days), allowing for electronic leashes, and making certain trails dog-only. Each of those, while not perfect, at least addressed the issue. Unfortunately those concepts are nowhere to be found. Yet, there may be an answer — one that has already been mentioned by a member of Council.
During many discussions regarding off-leash dogs, Council Member Claudia McMullin has stated that it would be a win if dog owners would at least always carry a leash for their dog when hiking. This idea is very simple, but it’s the only idea “proposed” so far that has a chance of impacting Roger Armstrong’s concerns. Using McMullin’s idea as a springboard, The County could start a “Bring Your Leash and Move to the Side” campaign. The campaign would use radio spots, trail-head bulletin boards, and social media to tell people that they need to always have a leash with their dogs and that the polite thing to do is move to the side of the trail when you come upon someone. Off-leash dogs would still be technically illegal but fines would double or triple if you didn’t have a leash in your possession. Most people wouldn’t want to risk a $600 fine and would be more than willing to take the easy step of carrying a leash. If many people carry a leash and some of those people move to the side when walking our trails, the number of bad human-dog interactions would decrease.
If the County proceeds forward and chooses an option requiring licensing for existing dog parks, they won’t improve human-dog interactions on the trails, but they will upset a large number of residents in this dog-friendly mountain community. It will be amusing to hear those people’s reactions, the ones who faithfully use the dog parks today, when they hear that they need a new license to do what they used to do for free.
Most likely they’ll just head out with their unleashed dogs to the trails, with the rest of us.