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A leash is a connection of love – Aspen Daily News

We just call it “Friday” in New Aspen. I recently returned to the office from teaching mountain biking to a voicemail about a lost golden retriever on Buttermilk and whether I’d be interested in being paid to hike up the mountain and retrieve it. Being a 40-year local dog lover and active guy, I guess I’d make a great dog catcher for those who cannot seem to find their leashes or lack the desire to control their dogs. Also, many dogs are clearly not responsive to voice commands. 
I learned the dog had gone rogue before from “an irresponsible second homeowner.” I ended up passing on the opportunity to be someone’s personal golden retriever.
A few hours later I took my two on-leash dogs — including my girl Luna at 14 years old and recently having emergency medical care — for a walk on a public trail and was charged by an aggressive off-leash dog. I witnessed my dogs try and deal with the large dog, with a cowering Luna and Sammy (my athletic female Labrador) fending off the attacker while up on her back paws, as they faced off in front of a lawn party happening about 30 feet away. If Sammy wouldn’t have been able to push off the uninvited intruder on the public trail, where leashes are required, I would have used whatever means including my hiking boots to shoo the dog away. I calmly replied to the cocktailing dog owner after his aggressive dog jumped us, “A leash is a connection of love.”
I was proud that I contained my other thoughts and didn’t lash out. It wasn’t easy to hold back. My dogs are my kids. The situation helped fuel my writing as we seek solutions as a community to the growing off-leash dog issues.
With a well-publicized leash law, including all kinds of signage and free leashes at trailheads, why do locals and part-time residents feel entitled to ignore it? I’ve heard the arguments: Their dogs are “well-trained” and don’t require a leash. Like many of you reading this, I’ve heard all the classic excuses (and most recently, “He’s never done that before!”) along with a lack of any type of responsibility or apology, of course. An apology is considered an admission of a mistake after all. Heaven forbid we make mistakes and own up to them!
I also heard that classic line when my friend and I were bitten by two dogs while sledding down Smuggler several years ago. After the rude dog owner tried to turn the blame on us — “You shouldn’t be sledding up here” — we learned from the dog owner’s friend, who whispered to us, “Her dogs have done it before.”  Yet, still no leash.
Earlier this summer, a longtime neighbor — who feels entitled to daily off-leash dog walks on public sidewalks where leashes also are required — was on his phone while walking about 40 yards in front of his dog while his huge dog pooped big on our lawn. Since the dog owner continued along his carefree call and way, I exited my condo to speak with him, inquiring if he could please pick up after his dog. I mentioned that dogs dumping on neighbor’s lawns is another reason for our leash law. As a longtime local homeowner and dog owner, he chose to play dumb instead of taking responsibility.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife advises leashing our pets not only to protect them but to avoid conflicts and harm to our wildlife. A recent front-page article in the Aspen Daily News regarding updating the Maroon Bells Management Plan noted as the first recommendation, “Educating dog owners on proper etiquette and keeping their pets on leashes while on the trails.” Part of being a responsible pet owner is controlling our pets as regulations require. If for no one else, please consider it for your own dog’s safety and well-being. 
A recent letter to the editor from another longtime local told a scary story of his off-leash dogs running off while hiking to American Lake. He expressed his huge relief and gratitude someone found and returned his dogs. What if they hadn’t been found? What if they’d attacked or killed another dog or perhaps wildlife while out of his control?  Yet, he didn’t come to the conclusion that he’d be leashing his dogs as required from now on? This is common sense. 
A leash is truly a connection of love. Our dogs give us unconditional love. Let’s try to learn a few lessons from these off-leash dog situations and be more like our dogs, showing the love for them and others.
Erik Skarvan is an Aspen resident. 
If you’re interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.
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