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Pet owners: control your animals

Though affable members of many families, dogs throughout Archuleta County are keeping animal enforcement officers busy.

According to Archuleta County Combined Dispatch (ACCD) figures, 9.75 percent of the calls dispatched to an entity for service in 2009 involved animals (1,142 animal-related calls out of a total 11,711 calls, an average of 95.2 animal-related calls per month and over three calls per day).

In 2008, about 14.3 percent of calls dispatched out of ACCD involved animals (1,320 animal-related calls out of a total of 9,263 calls, an average of 110 animal-related calls per month).

“It appears from these statistics that we average about 100 calls per month for animal-related calls, and are holding true to that average so far this year,” wrote Jay English, ACCD manager, in an e-mail. As of April 6, 335 animal-related calls have been dispatched in 2010.

Animal-related calls include aggressive dogs, cruelty to animal reports, dogs at large, animal welfare checks, carcasses in the road, livestock, animal rescues and wildlife.

It should be noted that figures include those calls where an entity was dispatched; in some instances, multiple calls were received concerning the same incident.

To deal with animal calls (excluding those that fall under the umbrella of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and other entities), the county has two animal control officers. One of the officers, Gabriel Cersonsky, patrols predominately the PLPOA subdivisions, while Chris Crump predominately patrols the rest of the county. Both, however, can respond to any animal call, regardless of location.

The town employs one part-time animal control person, Jerry Rowher, who works three-and-a-half hours a day, four days a week.

“I’ve been doing this since 1995,” Rowher said, adding that he thinks the majority of people know how to keep their dogs in control. “There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.”

Of the calls dispatched to Archuleta County animal control officers as of April 13, 144 concerned dogs at large, 11 were for aggressive dogs, 18 concerned animal cruelty, 23 were animal welfare checks, five concerned wildlife, and six calls were requests to assist other agencies. Two of the dog-at-large calls have resulted in a summons being issued to the owner, while one summons for an aggressive dog at large has been issued.

Though alerted to a large number of dog calls through callers to ACCD, Cersonsky said just under half of all at-large dogs dealt with are found during regular patrols, and that numbers are higher in the winter months, when snow allows dogs to more easily escape fences.

Cersonsky said few of the dog owners he deals with are repeat offenders. “A lot of people do take us seriously,” he said, and if offenses are repeated, it’s usually after a good length of time.

Rowher added that he, too, deals with few repeat offenders.

Of the 16 calls dispatched to town animal control by April 2, 13 dealt with animals running at large, one concerned a barking dog and the remaining two dealt with animal bites. One citation for a vicious animal has been issued.

According to Archuleta County ordinances and the Town of Pagosa Springs municipal code, animals (specifically dogs in county documents) are prohibited from running at large.

The town municipal code expands on the matter by further defining and stating consequences for the violation. Section four defines running at large as “any animal off or away from the property of the owner and not under control, by fence, cage, leash, or lead, of the owner or possessor of such animal.”

The code also states that the town “may impound any animal found running at large, to be held and redeemed or disposed of according to the impoundment procedures set out in this Chapter. Such animal may be declared a nuisance and dealt with according to the Town’s nuisance provisions.”

If an animal is found roaming and has no identification, it is taken to the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs shelter. In 2009, a total of 215 animals were impounded.

Even if an animal has a microchip, it should also have a tag, Cersonsky advised. When a pet has no tag, the animal has to be taken to the Humane Society for the chip to be read, at which point a fine ($60 for the first night) has already been levied.

If a pet is missing, owners should call the Humane Society, Cersonsky said.

Cersonsky added that people should not wait to report an animal, namely dogs at large, since the county’s animal control response works on a warning system.

“Waiting equals frustration,” Cersonsky said. “Don’t wait until you’re about to pull your hair out ... especially dogs at large, we take that seriously.

“Something I feel that people need to know is that our main goal is voluntary compliance,” Cersonksy said, adding that the goal is not to give out citations. “Joggers don’t want to be chased; people need to feel safe.”

In addition to the need for people to be safe, pets can endanger local wildlife.

Wildlife is weaker through the winter and spring when food sources are not as plentiful, making them an easier target for dogs.

“All through winter, wildlife is at a real disadvantage and dogs can put a lot of pressure on animals,” said Mike Reid, Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) wildlife officer. Regardless of a dog’s intentions, wildlife has to react to the dog as it would a coyote or another threat, Reid added.

According to an earlier SUN article by the DOW, deer and elk expend large amounts of energy in effort to stay alive through the winter and can lose up to 30 percent or more of their body weight in the cold months. Also, many females are pregnant, with more need to conserve energy.

“Some people think their dog would never chase wildlife. But when dogs see deer or elk they may act on their natural instincts and give chase,” said Patt Dorsey, DOW area wildlife manager in Durango.

For allowing their animals to chase wildlife, pet owners can be fined up to $275.

Further, state law allows for landowners to shoot dogs seen harassing livestock or wildlife. Dogs chasing wildlife can also be shot by local enforcement officials. Several such incidents occured in the Four Corners area this past winter.

Dogs, however, are not the only threat to wildlife. According to Reid, studies have shown that house cats are a major predator on songbirds.