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Pet rules offer much to chew on

Like a Pomeranian that has sunk its teeth into a pit bull, Garfield County’s new pet animal control proposal may overreach.

But it’s still a battle worth taking on, even if county officials fear being chewed up and spit out by angry animal owners.

The trick will be to end up with an ordinance that balances public interests and the desire of some county residents for minimum government interference.

Today that balance doesn’t exist. Current county pet rules are almost nonexistent. The proposed changes would put into place some important and reasonable requirements.

For example, requiring vaccinations of dogs and cats for rabies is a sensible public health policy. Requiring licenses makes it easier to return loose pets to their owners, reducing the chances of unfortunate outcomes such the recent situation in New Castle where a family pet without tags was shot by law enforcement officers.

A proposed two-tiered license fee ” $10 for spayed or neutered dogs and $20 for intact dogs ” offers an effective way to reduce the problem of unwanted dogs being bred.

The proposed regulations also take a reasonable approach to leashes, requiring them only for animals deemed potentially vicious, at the same time banning all owners from letting pets run at large or become a danger to others. The measure also allows owners to be cited when a dog barks continuously for an hour, bothering a neighbor.

But some animal issues aren’t easy to address, such as how the county plans to define vicious and potentially vicious animals. That’s crucial because the measure would require euthanizing a vicious animal, and penning, leashing and a $200-a-year license for potentially vicious ones.

Another big part of the debate is regulating working animals. The proposal extends some requirements to them, but not others.

On one hand, it could be argued that working dogs aren’t pets and should be excluded from a pet animal control proposal, sparing expense for ranchers. On the other, situations such as increasing attacks by guard dogs on recreationists on public lands may force new regulations.

One of the biggest concerns of all regarding the pet proposal may arise over something not specifically addressed at all by the proposal.

County subdivisions approved since the early 1990s are subjected to a one-dog-per-home rule; the rest of the unincorporated part of the county is not. The county may decide it wants more consistency on the matter, but making the one-dog rule countywide would go too far. After all, some people live in the rural parts of the county in part to get away from the kind of strict rules more commonly associated with city life.

The new proposal, adopted from Eagle County pet regulations, isn’t an exact fit for Garfield County. Garfield officials were right to recognize the level of impact and controversy inherent in the measure, and to delay further consideration of it until their June 14 meeting so the public can offer input.


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