Boulder County Parks and Open Space has decided to enforce dog rules up at Walker Ranch, issuing a “directed patrol” for the Meyers Homestead Trail. This means rangers will be patrolling the trail at all times of the day and will be issuing tickets on sight to people who let their dogs run off-leash.
“This concentrated effort is in response to numerous complaints made by the public concerning dogs off leash on this property,” reads an open space announcement on the subject. “While rangers prefer to give warnings first, off leash dogs have become a serious issue and are affecting wildlife as well as visitor experience.” So, management at county open space has decided to enforce its already existing rules about dogs. That’s like the state patrol enforcing laws about speeding, reckless or drunk drivers. It should be greeted as a sign that they take their job seriously. But some dog owners, who not only want lax ordinances but apparently want to break them with impunity, view it as an affront.
While many dog owners are responsible, taking time to clean up when their dogs shit on the trail, maintaining control of their dogs at all times, keeping their dogs from nosing people, jumping on them or tangling their legs in leashes, others are not. In fact, they seem to take pride in breaking our dog ordinances, telling us that it’s no big deal if a dog jumps on you or knocks your kid over or noses you in the crotch.
As a frequent hiker who grew up in Boulder, I’ve seen it all. Dogs chasing and attacking wildlife. Dogs chasing and attacking other dogs. Dogs with porcupine quills in their muzzles. Dogs knocking children over — my younger son was knocked down by an overly enthusiastic black lab when he was 6 and received scratches from the dog’s claws — not to mention elderly and even healthy adults.
I gained a new perspective on the danger that off-leash, uncontrolled dogs pose on trails over the past year as I’ve recovered from major spinal surgery on my neck. Last August, two vertebrae, damaged as the result of a broken neck I sustained many years ago, were removed entirely from my neck and replaced with gadgetry — implants, bone grafts, titanium plates and screws. The surgery decreased the severe pain I’d been suffering in my legs and improved my nonexistent balance. However, I still have no feeling from mid-shin down, and my balance is badly compromised.
As part of the recovery process, the surgeon wanted me to get out and walk as much as I could. I’ve progressed from walking slowly with my mom on one side and my dad on the other to hiking alone with hiking poles, which help me keep my balance. Obviously, walking on rocky trails with feet you can’t feel and weak balance is a risky thing, especially given the fact that falling down could have severe consequences for me, including the failure of that surgery or need for an additional operation.
But it isn’t just my own feet and the rocks on the trail that I have to worry about. Dogs are also a consideration. Having a big dog knock me over or tripping me with its leash could be disastrous. Because of that, I choose county trails over city trails because more county trails require that dogs be kept on leash at all times. Of course, that doesn’t mean dog owners comply.
Which brings me to the point: Dog owners create their own misery. Boulder is doggy paradise. Although some dog owners act like they’re being persecuted, the fact is they can take their pets on most trails in city and county open space systems. On most city trails, they can even let their dogs off-leash — provided they’ve trained their animal well enough so that it remains under voice and sight control.
But that’s the problem. Too many dog owners are lazy, neglecting to train their dogs. Those same owners are then too lazy to control their untrained dogs when they take their pets onto public lands. They’re even too lazy to pick up their dogs’ excrement, leaving it to stink in the sun until the Dog Shit Fairy comes to pick it up.
And they wonder why an increasing number of Boulder County residents object to dogs on trails.
The county’s efforts to enforce dog regulations are welcome by many county residents and long overdue. Let’s hope the city, too, starts ticketing irresponsible dog owners. The problem for both the county and city is having enough rangers on staff. But that’s a different column.
In the end, more effective and stricter enforcement will make our trails cleaner, safer for everyone — and more welcoming for dogs and dog owners in the long run.