County digs into animal control rules
GSPI News Editor
Garfield County is looking into putting a lot more bite into its pet animal control rules.
At the request of the Sheriff’s Department, the county is considering passing rules requiring licensing of all dogs, and vaccination of dogs and cats for rabies.
As currently proposed, the measure also seeks to rein in barking by dogs, ban vicious ones, and prohibit owners from letting dogs harass livestock or wildlife, failing to control them in general, and failing to clean up after them if they defecate on public or private property.
Because of the comprehensive and potentially controversial nature of the measure, the Garfield County Commissioners on Monday postponed further consideration of it until June 14. That will give County Attorney Don DeFord a chance to issue a public notice about it.
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“So many people are potentially affected by this that I think the public should know what you are considering,” DeFord told commissioners at their meeting Monday.
DeFord described the measure as a “complete rewrite” of the county’s current rules regarding pets.
The Sheriff’s Office proposed most of the rules. Last year, Sheriff Lou Vallario hired Aimee Chappelle to fill a new animal control officer position. He said it became apparent that the current pet rules were lacking in several regards, so Chappelle turned to Eagle County’s regulations as a model.
“She actually plagiarized the heck out of their resolution and tried to make it work for us,” Vallario said.
The new rules would apply only in unincorporated Garfield County, outside city and town limits.
All dogs, including working dogs, that are over 3 months old and are kept in the county for at least 30 days would require annual licenses, except for those kept at pet animal facilities or county-maintained shelters.
The resolution would let cat owners obtain identification tags on a voluntary basis.
The vaccination requirement would apply to all dogs, cats and other pet animals for which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a licensed rabies vaccine. Working dogs would not be exempted.
County Commissioner Tresi Houpt worried about the cost to the Sheriff’s Department of operating a license program. But Chappelle said the expense would be minimal. The tags would cost only 2 or 3 cents apiece, she said, and in-house and county jail inmate labor could be used to help with the program.
The tag sales could, in fact, create some revenue for animal-related programs, she said.
The Sheriff’s Office is proposing an annual license fee of $10 for those dogs that are spayed or neutered, and $20 for those that aren’t. Cat licenses would be $5.
Commissioner Larry McCown worried about whether residents living in western Garfield County would have to drive to county offices in Glenwood to buy tags. Chappelle said they could use a mail-in system.
Some other highlights of the proposal:
– It wouldn’t impose an outright leash requirement, except where other jurisdictions already require leashes. However, it would require keeping pets from running at large or becoming a danger to others.
– Animals couldn’t be tethered to public or private property without permission.
– Mistreatment of pets would be prohibited, including abandonment or intentional poisoning.
– Upon complaint of a private citizen, an owner could be found in violation if their animal barks or otherwise makes noise continuously for at least an hour and it can be heard beyond the owner’s property line.
The new rules also would create a new administrative process for vicious and potentially vicious animals.
Vicious animals would be defined as those that bite or attack people, livestock or wildlife. Exemptions would be made for guard animals and for attacks that take place during the protection of people or property.
Animals identified as vicious by a court or the Sheriff’s Office would have to be euthanized. Immediate destruction of the animal would be allowed if it is running at large and no other means of restraint are possible without endangering officers.
Medical personnel who treat people or animals attacked by a pet would be required to report the incident to the Sheriff’s Department.
The measure also would identify potentially vicious animals as those that without provocation threaten to attack or bite people or wildlife or chase or approach them in a menacing fashion; or are known to be disposed to attack or otherwise be a danger; or are owned for or are trained for fighting.
The rules would require these animals to be kept indoors or in a secured pen, and leashed while off-premises, and would require a warning sign to be posted at the owner’s home.
Such an animal also would require a special tag, at a cost of $200 per year. And the county would require that it be spayed or neutered.
A pet owner could request an administrative hearing to challenge a finding that an animal is vicious or potentially vicious.
The resolution could prompt discussion on some other dog-related issues as well. Currently, ranchers use dogs on private and federal land for guarding livestock, without requiring them to remain under verbal control. There are no U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management rules applying to these dogs, so if a guard dog attacks someone, it falls back to the state or its local jurisdictions to handle the matter, Chappelle said.
“There’s a lot of hikers, bikers and walkers, and these people do get attacked by those dogs. They get too close to the sheep and they don’t realize it,” she said.
Another issue that could come up is how many dogs the county allows per household. When the county approved the Aspen Glen subdivision in the early 1990s, it limited dog ownership there to one per household. It has since applied that restriction in other subdivision approvals, but only as subdivision covenants, DeFord said.
At the same time, other county residents are allowed to own more than one dog. Also, Chappelle said, the one-dog rule is contradicted by other county regulations saying that owners of more than one dog need a special use permit.
Houpt questioned the one-dog limit.
“There’s a lot of people who think that’s a lonely existence for a dog,” she said.
Chappelle can sympathize with those who think a dog benefits from having a second one for company.
“I have two,” she said.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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