Trevor fishing

Trevor sits tall, awaiting the release of this brown trout. This is what good fishing dogs do.

Many of you know that I have a deep affection for black English Labrador retrievers, and have had one by my side since arriving here in 1984.

Love those big, blockheaded water dogs and can’t imagine life without having one around. Three of them have graced my time here, each a little different in temperament and skills.

For whatever reason, all three grew to be over 100 pounds with cornerback speed and affection for making new friends.

As a result of this, I choose to invest hours every day in training each of them to be good neighbors, since a large dog bounding or running toward you is often uncomfortable for other people.

My current lab Trevor has responded beautifully to the training, is a great companion and arguably the best fishing dog on the Ark.

From 8 weeks old, we’ve worked hard on obedience and special skills to make him a safe and valued partner on the water.

The one place I failed to get the results I’d aimed for is when he sees another canine, he goes south on me and has to take off to go say hello.

He’s never started or been in a fight with another dog, generally sniffs and loses interest quickly, returns to his job. Out of deference to others and their pets, he and I have learned to live with the leash where it’s required.

I’ve also learned to pay attention when he takes off, after being airlifted into the river a few times when he hits the end of the lead at a full gallop.

There are places and times on my back country or some river excursions where we shed the leash and rely on his training and voice command.

Usually, it goes just fine and others are happy to see him.

There have been a few instances, however, where civic-minded souls have seen fit to lecture or threaten over this perceived transgression

“I love my dog!” is a fairly common and normal assertion in every Colorado mountain town I’ve lived in these past 44 years, including this one.

It’s also been the same period of time I’ve watched the gentrification process take hold in most of them, following a common cycle of change.

Dogs and leash laws are often one of the first hot ticket items that mark those changes, now provoking passionate, somewhat pointless debates on social media on what to do or not do with unleashed or untrained dogs and their owners.

Comments ranging from “Use bear spray on both!” to “Mind your own business, he’s not bothering you!” often extend the conversation until it is peppered with much more colorful language.

Often, adjective-filled references to the various protagonist’s heritage, IQ or private habits seem aimed at antagonizing, rather than directly addressing the question of “What really is the law?”

This question, coupled with the fact that I spend much of my summer in the backcountry has caused me to explore the regulations at the various levels of government, raised a question or two and is the reason for me writing this.

So, for our personal edification, here’s a rundown on the various regs in place.

BUENA VISTA LEASH LAW

Sec. 7-136. Running at large.

(a) It is unlawful for a dog owner to permit his or her dog to run at large except as set forth in Subsections (b) and (c) below. A dog shall be deemed to be running at large when off or away from the property or premises of the dog owner and not under the direct control of the owner, a responsible member of the owner’s family or an employee or agent of the owner, either by leash, rope or chain not more than twenty (20) feet in length.

(b) Dogs shall be allowed off leash while actually working livestock, locating or retrieving wild game in season for a licensed hunter, assisting law enforcement officers or actually being trained for any of these pursuits.

(c) Dogs shall be allowed off leash at areas designated by the board of trustees by resolution.

(Ord. 2 §1, 2012)

Chaffee County has a similar resolution in place that can be viewed by googling Chaffee County CO leash laws- resolution 2001-04.

Colorado State Parks and Wildlife areas (including Arkansas Headwaters recreation area) Park Rules Concerning Dogs:

For the ‘letter of the law’ regarding dog rules on Colorado State Park lands please see the Land and Water Regulations brochure. Below is a quick summary.

• All dogs have to be on a leash 6 feet or shorter at all times. Dogs are allowed on all of our park trails and campgrounds. Please do not leave dogs unattended, including on campgrounds. 

• All dog waste must be bagged and disposed of in a dumpster or trash can.

Browns Canyon National Monument

• Pets are allowed on external areas

• Parking areas and along paved roads

• Campgrounds

• Picnic areas

• Must be restrained or kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.

• Dogs must wear a collar with current tags at all times

• Pick up after your dog at all times – Leave no trace

BLM lands

Dogs on a leash are allowed on most trails and campgrounds in areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In general, backcountry areas do not require dogs to be leashed.

San Isabel National Forest (USFS)

Pets are allowed in all national forests, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times while in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails. Most other areas within the National Forests do not require dogs to be on a leash, but they should be under control at all times.

Collegiate Peaks and Buffalo Peaks Wilderness areas

Dogs, except working stock dogs and hunting dogs, must be leashed at all times.

Based on this information and the law of the land (where federal regulations usually supercede local ordinances), some geographical and legal conclusions can be reached as to where your pets have to be on a leash, and when they can roam a bit, provided they can be proven to be controlled by voice.

State lands and municipalities require dogs be on a leash, unless on my own property or permission from the landowner.

If I take Trevor with me to Hartenstein Lake in the CP Wilderness or Browns Canyon, he has to be leashed. On the other hand, if we go up to Ptarmigan Lake, he has to be leashed at the trailhead but can be off leash once we are up the trail a ways or at the lake itself, because it is national forest.

The cornerstone of this is still “under control at all times,” a responsibility of all of us with the best pup ever. Keep your dog safe, your attorney less busy and fellow citizens at ease seems to be a good solution.

See you on the trails. Woof!

Andrews is head guide for ArkAnglers fly fishing guide service and an internationally recognized artist.

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