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Thursday, February 3,2011

Why people growl about dogs on open space

By Pamela White



The dog — a mix of some kind — stepped out of the undergrowth, padded through the small stream that bisects the Mesa Trail just south of Chautauqua and caught up with its owner. Its face was full of porcupine quills.


The dog’s owner saw this and said, “Oh, what did you do?” But the answer was obvious. It had done what dogs, being dogs, often do. It had seen wildlife — in this case a porcupine — and, not being restrained by a leash, it had given chase.

I grew up in Boulder. My father, who during my childhood was an avid rock climber, mountaineering instructor and member of Colorado Mountain Club, helped construct some of the trails we hike on today. When I became an adult, it seemed right to give back to the mountains that had always meant so much to me and my family.

I spent some time volunteering for what was then Boulder Mountain Parks. This entailed hiking about 12 weekend hours a month to serve as the eyes and ears of the rangers, who can’t be everywhere at once. Of all the problems I encountered during those hikes, dogs were by far the most serious and numerous.

There was the dog with the porcupine quills in its face. There was the dog owner who wandered along the Gregory Canyon trail calling to her pet and crying because it had disappeared. There was the dog that spotted a coyote and — flash! — jumped a fence and vanished from view in a matter of seconds while its irresponsible owner called feebly from the trail. There was the dog that ran uphill growling and barking at a deer, which bolted and ran. There was the dog that knocked my then-6-year-old son flat on his back — but whose owner insisted it was “just being friendly.” There was the dog that bared its teeth, growled and charged my leashed puppy, biting my hand when I picked the puppy up to keep it from harm.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t take into account the stinking piles of dog excrement or the plastic bags of poop left beside the trail or the other environmental impacts dogs can have. Dogs aren’t wildlife, after all; like us, they are visitors to open space. They ceased being a part of the ecosystem when they were domesticated and allowed to become so numerous.

Some dog owners are upset because they now have access to a mere 95 percent of the trails in Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP). Some go so far as to claim that the Community Collaborative Group (CCG), which was set up to gather public input for the West Trail Study Area (West TSA), ignored the needs and desires of those who like to hike with off-leash dogs. But here’s what they’re missing:

There are a lot of us in Boulder — perhaps a majority — who wanted these restrictions. We want the city’s wildlife to be free of harassment from dogs. We want to be able to raise our eyes to the Flatirons, instead of watching our feet to make sure we don’t step in a pile of dog crap. We want to take our children and elders hiking without worrying that they’ll be frightened, knocked down, scratched or bitten.

At its heart, the conflict over dogs on trails is an issue of consideration, and there are still far too many irresponsible dog owners, people who do not have their animals under voice and sight control and yet who view hiking with an off-leash dog as their right.

Like parents who permit their kids to be noisy and disruptive in a restaurant, there are too many dog owners who don’t seem to understand that their “wards” are diminishing other people’s experience.

Just like kids, dogs can be annoying.

And in both cases, it’s the fault of the guardians.

Here’s a test for dog owners: Does your pet routinely run up to other hikers, nosing them in the crotch, jumping on them or rubbing against their clothes? Has your dog ever chased wildlife or run so far away that you couldn’t see it? Has your dog barked and charged at other hikers, growled at other dogs or exhibited what someone might interpret as aggressive behavior? Do other hikers have to ask you to call your dog away? Has your dog ever chased a mountain biker on county trails? Do equestrians have to ask you to restrain your barking dog?

If so, your dog should be kept on a leash.

And if you’re not responsible enough to keep it on a leash, or unwilling to clean up after it, then you shouldn’t be hiking with it in the first place.

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever have the level of enforcement we need to make certain that only well-trained dogs are allowed off-leash or that dog owners maintain 100 percent compliance when it comes to picking up excrement. And that’s why so many of us urged the CCG to provide us with more places we can hike without having to worry about encountering someone’s out-ofcontrol dog.

Dog owners are not the only trail users who have a voice. Far from ignoring public input, CCG actually listened.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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I've lived in Boulder for over ten years and I don't find significant problems with dogs on trails.  In that time I've probably run and hiked 2,000 miles on the trails.  I don't expect perfect behavior from dogs when I'm on the trails. I slow down if they approach while I'm running.  

I don't think I've ever stepped in dog poop on the trails.  I don't condone it, but I don't see a big problem if a dog chases a deer on open space.  I don't care if a dog tries to sniff me.  If a dog ever bites me on the trail the owner's gonna get more than an earful from me, but it's never happened.

I'm no fan of irresponsible dog owners, but are dogs on open space really a big problem?  Not in my opinion.   There is so much discussion on this topic but i've seen nothing more than anecdotal evidence that they are causing a problem.  



There was the dog that bared its teeth, growled and charged my leashed puppy, biting my hand when I picked the puppy up to keep it from harm.


Sounds like you thought this in the make your story have some teeth rather then a fluff peice. If you were really bitten by a dog the owner would have been in trouble and the dog considered a dangerous animal becuase it has bitten someone. If you are bitten by a dog you must report it to the police or both owner and the person bit are breaking the law if they do not report the bite to the police. Did you report your bite to the police? 



I agree with this article in all ways and I wish the city would go even further in disallowing dogs and bikes from more trails in the area. The other commenters seemed to miss the part about the author volunteering. You see a lot more bad behavior when you're hanging around then when you're passing through. Whiny kids and loud cellphone conversations in the parks are bad enough without the additional trouble that dogs cause.



It is just because of the neatness and the cleanliness. I think people need to understand that if they can help these dogs and help them live bnschevronservice among us they could also be a species that we can rely upon. Most people do not understand this.



Count among those who think it is a good thing when dogs chase wildlife on open space.  in case you haven't noticed, we have a serious probelm with mountin lions, deer and bear entering the city.  Elderly neighbors of mine are afraid to walk in their neighborhood for fear of a mountain lion attack.  I also have lived in Boulder for 40 some odd years, and the wildife in teh city problem has gotten much worse--primarily because we have made open space too inviting and too safe.  Back when more of what is now open space was still private ranch or farmland, or even before OSMP turned into the anti-dog, anti-access, anti-trail user organization it is now, there was much less of a problem with urban wildlife. 

Historically ranchers used dogs to keep the widlife away; hikers who hiked with multiple dogs unleashed on OSMP effectively accomplished the same thing.  OSMP policy changes have made the wild things too comfortable too close to the city.

It's time to stop this mismanagement of our public lands.  Please speak up at public meetings in oppostition to the unreasonable, unknowing, anti-dog attitudes such as that of this editorial writer.



Having dogs in open space is just another form of recreation for people, just like hiking, biking, camping, rock-climbing, etc, and all have different types of environmental impacts.

Pamela, did you ever think that the high country trails that your father helped construct are just as much of a determent to the environment than dog trails in open space Boulder?

It's not easy knowing which form of human recreation has more adverse affects than the other. Sure, dogs mess up the environment and take away from the peacefulness, but so do crowded summer 14er trails littered with garbage and sewage. If you think people shouldn't have dogs in some of the areas of open space Boulder, I am sure you can find just as many people that would say YOU shouldn't be in some natural habitats in the mountains.

If you live in Boulder and use the outdoors for your recreation in any way and are growling about dogs in open space, you might be a dog yourself or just a HUGE HIPOCRITE!!!!!