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Pagosa Springs Town Council member David Schanzenbaker recently became the first councilor to take advantage of a new policy instituted by Mayor Don Volger which allows more input for setting meeting agendas.
At the July 17 meeting, during the “council ideas and comments” section of the agenda, Schanzenbaker said, “I have heard several comments from the community about the newly enforced dog-running-at-large ordinance on Reservoir Hill this summer, so I talked to Jerry (Rohwer), the animal enforcement officer, a couple times. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Rock (Police Chief William Rockensock) yet, but I intend to see if there might be a way to tweak the wording of that ordinance to make it work for everyone.”
Volger, though he didn’t want to admit to violating any town ordinances, did concede it is hard to see the point in keeping a dog on a leash on Reservoir Hill, especially if the owner has it trained to respond to voice control.
As a result, Rockensock was on hand to present the agenda item at this week’s town council meeting.
“As you know,” Rockensock began Tuesday night, “Reservoir Hill has become quite the recreational area for our residents, so we have an increased population of people up there. We have received some complaints about the dogs running at large, and our lack of enforcement of the current ordinance.
“Our response to that was to have the parks department post the ordinance at the gate to the park so we could get voluntary compliance. That didn’t help, so I directed our animal control officer to go up there and contact people and give friendly warnings and just advise them that this is a public, open space. According to our current ordinance, we do have a leash law, and it’s mandatory they have their dogs on a leash.”
It was because of this new enforcement effort that Schanzenbaker began to hear complaints from his constituents.
“It’s a two-sided coin,” Rockensock continued. “Currently we have an ordinance that requires dogs to be on a leash or a lead anytime they are in a public place, including all of our parks. Having an open mind and open heart, of course, we wanted to see if there was a possibility we could change it to fit what the public wanted from their parks and open spaces.”
Rockensock included four documents in the council’s agenda packet: Resolution 2002-31 that codifies the leash law for Archuleta County, section 4.1.1 through section 4.1.12 of the town’s municipal code, and the leash laws from both Durango and Bayfield.
While the Bayfield ordinance, like Pagosa’s, requires the use of a leash at all times when a dog is in public, the Archuleta County ordinance allows for voice control and the Durango ordinance designates certain areas as off-leash dog parks.
Council member Tracy Bunning expressed concern that the town may be opening itself up to liability if it allowed Reservoir Hill to be designated as a dog park.
“There are dog parks in metropolitan areas,” Bunning explained, “but all of those I have looked at are fenced in such a manner that a dog can’t leave of its own accord, and the entrances to those areas are signed in such a way that it’s obvious it is a dog park, so if you go in there, you do so knowing that it’s the case.”
Rockensock explained the ordinance, if it were written properly, could shift the liability from the town to the dog owner if any incidents happen with his or her dog while it is off of a leash.
In the end, Volger asked Schanzenbaker and Bunning to form a subcommittee with Rockensock and one member from the Parks and Recreation Commission to research the issue and bring back to the full council any recommendations for changing the current ordinance.
The Parks and Rec Commission doesn’t meet until next week, so it will be sometime in September, at the earliest, before the matter comes back to town council.