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.