Survey: Dog owners disregard leash-laws
SEAN SPERRY/CHRONICLE Charlie, a terrier, stretches his legs while out with his owners on Peets Hill, Thursday.

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A local dog trainer, irked by the number of people and dogs who seemed to have little disregard for others using the city's trails and sidewalks, decided to survey dog owners and try to get a clearer picture of the situation.

Nancy Tanner, owner of Paws & People, Inc., mailed or e-mailed surveys to more than 1,000 family pet owners who were "actively" training their dogs in the Gallatin Valley. She got more than 350 responses.

The survey confirmed her worst suspicions:

+ 99 percent of area dog owners said they let their dogs walk or run off leash on trails and in public parks n not just dog parks;

+ 90 percent of people using trails through town admitted to disregarding "on-leash only" signs;

+ and 50 percent said they'd had a verbal argument at least once with another person while walking their dog and that in those arguments, "leash" and "poop" were the most commonly used words.

"We seem to have a fairly large number of dog owners [who] treat the city as a giant dog park with little to no regard for other people/dogs' space, and become arrogantly defiant if you ask them to call their dog," Tanner wrote in an e-mail to survey respondents.

Tanner said she conducted the survey after seeing and hearing about some badly behaved dog owners around town. People are afraid that they or their dogs are going to get hurt.

"It always, always, always comes up, 'I can't walk my dog anywhere because there's always off-leash dogs,'" Tanner said in a phone interview last week.

City ordinance requires dogs to be on a leash on all public property except for designated dog parks.

Connie Lien, Bozeman's animal control officer, said the city tickets an estimated 20 to 50 dog owners each month for leash violations.

"There's way more complaints than there used to be and most of the problems are resulting from off-leash dogs," Lien said.

Lien often parks her vehicle and walks the trails, she said. Police officers do it too, although they're not primarily looking for leash violations.

"We are actively stopping each and every person we can with a dog off leash that we see while patrolling," Lien said.

A ticket for a leash violation costs $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $200 for a third offense.

Failure to clean up after a dog is a $50 to $100 ticket.

And while a pet owner is stopped, Lien said she also is checking that the dog is licensed with the city and has had its vaccinations. If not, the owners face additional fines.

Prompted in part by resident concerns, the Bozeman City Commission is slated to review the city's off-leash policy during a meeting on March 5. The commission will look at ideas such as educating the public better about the policy and whether the fines are sufficient, said Ron Dingman, city parks director.

Gordon Elder, who responded to the survey and owns a border collie, said area dog owners just don't seem to care about city laws regarding dogs.

"My wife and I, we have thought for a long time that on some of the trails, if they just had a policeman on a bicycle in the summer riding around and ticketing a few people, word would get around," and people would start obeying the rules, Elder said.

As a result of what she has learned from dog owners, Tanner had some ideas for the city, too.

First, she suggested the city modify its policy to allow dogs trained to respond to voice commands to be off-leash on some trails. The owner of any dog that wasn't 100 percent under control could be ticketed.

"This way owners who have put a great deal of time into training are rewarded with off-leash privileges, it gives other folks a chance to step up and it keeps trails from turning into dog parks," Tanner wrote.

Tanner also suggested the city post better signs at dog parks outlining owner responsibilities.

"(People) could have a dog that maybe isn't the right temperament or breed to be at an off-leash area, but legally the way they have it set up now, they can," she said.

There are four areas of Bozeman where dogs can be off-leash: Burke Park off of South Church Avenue; the K-9 beach at the Bozeman Ponds; the Snowfill Recreation area off of McIlhattan Road; and the dog park adjacent to the softball complex off of Highland Boulevard.

SURVEY RESULTS

Results of dog trainer Nancy Tanner's of local dog owners also found that:

= 55 percent used dog parks regularly;

= people who have been actively training and have 100 percent voice control while hiking don't allow their dogs to meet and greet everyone or every dog and seem to be respectful of other people's space;

= people who have variable voice control will attempt to call their dog to them if they see a person approaching alone, but will allow their dog to run up to a person walking with a dog;

= 70 percent of people who've had a bad experience with another dog said it was on Peets Hill (the other 30 percent was split between the Christmas Stroll and area trails);

= men are seen as the most common culprits when it comes to not cleaning up a dog or dogs;

= "Don't worry my dog is friendly" is the most common phrase used and/or heard on trails, but half the time it is not received well by other people, who commonly respond, "I don't care, call your dog!"

= 35 percent of those surveyed said they usually see dogs long before an owner appears on Bozeman Creek, Sundance and Sourdough trails, and owners appear to be making no attempts to control those dogs.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at aricker@dailychronicle.com or 582-2628.

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