Unleashed in Durango

I start this week's column with an apology. Last Saturday, at approximately seventeen hundred and forty-one hours, I committed an offense against the peace and dignity of the citizens of Durango and La Plata County, at least according to the summons I was served. I was cited for a flagrant violation of city code #4-41 otherwise known as "dog running at large." That's right. I got cold busted.


Of course the entire situation (aside from the fact that my dog can barely walk, let alone run at large) is uncanny given the recent flurry of letters concerning canine policing in these very pages. The last few weeks have seen valid arguments both for and against strict leash laws.

I guess this would put me in the inconsiderate, irresponsible, selfish, leash-shirking, twit camp. But before you pass judgment, allow me to plead my case. I did not so much make a conscious decision to leave my house leashless as it just happened. In the past, I may or may not have mentioned my battle with acute momzheimers. Basically, by the time I stuff the kid into head-to-toe fleece, brush the snow drift off the stroller, stoop over to pick up the discarded hat, load baby Shamu into the down blankie so only the whites of his eyes are showing, strap everything down with an intricate system of pullies and clips that would stymie Houdini, shovel a path and guide the three-wheeled contraption down the icy walkway, it's hard to remember where I was headed in the first place, let alone the dog leash.

Not that it would have mattered anyway. With sidewalks as treacherous as the Khumbu icefall, maneuvering a small child required both hands on the wheel. Adding a leashed dog into the fray only would have resulted in some sort of bizarre Three Stooges routine. Besides, by the time I got rolling, it was almost dark, and it's common knowledge that dogcatchers knock off at five to belly up at the Last Bite Bar to regale in stories of good Lassies gone bad.

Which would explain why, as we entered the nearby park, I failed to detect the sinister gold truck lurking in the shadows, circling like a shark at feeding time. By the time I did see it, it was too late the troller was coming in for the kill.

One need not watch a lot of "Law and Order" to know this was entrapment. Nevertheless, escape with a baby buggy would have been futile, so I trudged toward my demise.

"I don't have a leash," I confessed up front, hoping that honesty would win me points. But I could see by the officer's earnest swagger that he had a quota to fill. I decided to gamble on the hardship card. "I can't walk my kid in the snow with my dog on a leash," I pleaded as he reached for his ticket pad and inquired if it ever occurred to me to leave the child at home. I admitted it had, but I was pretty sure leaving an infant home unattended was even more illegal than walking an unleashed dog.

Unfazed, he pulled out his pen and started taking names. I briefly entertained thoughts of becoming Barbara Stanwick but chickened out. In a last ditch effort for mercy, I made an attempt at idle chit chat, which was sternly rebuffed. After that, I exercised my Miranda rights.

But, when it came time to ascertain my hair color, I had to speak up. And that's when it went south. See, those of you out there in newspaper land may not know this, but I am as bald as a 1967 Chevy Impala at a used car lot. It makes for endless Halloween costume ideas but when it comes to renewing driver's licenses and passport photos, things can get weird.

"I don't have hair," I said, amazed at how a simple altercation had deteriorated into a discussion with a humorless stranger about my medical history.

He scoffed. Perhaps I should have told him I was a blond, seeing as how I had always wanted hair like Jennifer Aniston's (hell, I would even settle for Brad Pitt's).

"You don't have hair," he chided, eyes rolling as if I was being a smart ass, which at that moment I happened not to be. He tried to break me with a stare down, but I stood tough. Perturbed, he turned to the dog in search of current tags. Sensing impending doom, the dog promptly burrowed his head into the snow.

Good dog. Bad timing. By now Officer Shark had had enough. He threw the book at us, including an additional #4-56 and #4-57, and amounting to a $60 kick in the back pocket. And then he bid us good night.

Alas, it is at this point that I must digress. As much as I would like to use this forum to take pot shots at a power-tripping android who preys on poor, folicularly challenged mothers and their shivering babes in the cold, dark night, that is not the point. Besides, he was kind when it came to the blank on the ticket for weight. And as trite as it may be, he was just doing his job, for which, as a mother of a small child who some day could end up on the wrong end of a frothing pit bull, I am thankful.

But, as the responsible, poop-scooping, mostly law-abiding guardian of a docile mutt with a gimp leg and more missing teeth than a hillbilly hoedown, I can't help but feel a little persecuted. Is it assumed that all dogs are guilty until proven innocent? And in the end, how much bite do leash laws really have? Is a piece of nylon going to deter an aggressive beast from breaking the grasp of its owner and attacking anyway?

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating a society where all creatures, great and small, frolic freely together happily ever after that would be too much like one of those creepy Disney movies. But, perhaps what is needed is more space where those who wish to cavort with their creatures can do so unfettered. Now before you call me a buffoon because this place already exists on a tailings pile west of town, hear me out. The Smelter Dog Park has thus far proven to be quite popular, as evidenced by the frequently overflowing parking and overflowing poop barrel. But what about another venue, perhaps one in town that requires no driving (thus no parking problems) and is already widely used by dogs and their humans and just so happens to already have a fence? And for neighbors who would rather not have the entire dog population of La Plata County squatting on their lawn, gates could be installed use my $60 as a deposit.

Sure, the dog catchers may get a little lonely. But look at it as freeing up time for them to go after the real threats in the community, which is what we pay them for after all.

Even a twit knows that.

Missy Votel




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