When we moved to the country, several dogs in the neighborhood visited in the first weeks and left, uh, deposits in the front yard - apparently the canine version of Welcome Wagon.
It was a sign of something different about life in the country. No, not that dogs pooped; they obviously do that everywhere. But in rural areas of El Paso County, unless a neighborhood has opted to be an animal control area under the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, there are no leash laws: Dogs are allowed to run free.
Joe Stafford, director of animal law enforcement for the Humane Society, grew up in the country and says that, generally speaking, he has found the majority of people in the country to be responsible pet owners. And if a dog is protecting someone's property or performing some other duty - guarding the cattle, watching the sheep - "my attitude is that is a great use and a great job for an animal," he says.
"What I do get concerned about," he adds, "is dogs that wander too far. They go to the neighbor's house, they attack their chickens or something of that nature." That endangers not just the neighbor's chickens but the dog itself, he notes, since if a dog comes over and "worries" your livestock, you have a right to shoot and kill the dog.
A second concern, Stafford says, is dogs that chase cars. That's dangerous to both the dog and to the motorist who might swerve to avoid it. Yet another worry is that a dog that is allowed to roam is at more risk of encountering an animal - say a skunk or a bat - with rabies. So it's even more important that your dog be vaccinated against rabies, he says. He recalled a case several years ago where a couple of golden retrievers had a litter of eight puppies and a rabid skunk came in contact with the puppies. None of the dogs had been vaccinated; all had to be euthanized.
Dogs running loose in the county was a hot issue several years ago, says El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen. There were packs of wild dogs in the Ellicott area and a few "significant attacks" - livestock that was mauled or killed, and even some people endangered by the dogs, though no people were hurt. "There was a time I was out there to do a property check and couldn't get out of the car because there were wild dogs all around," she recalls.
But since then, there haven't been any significant issues, she says. "I haven't had a call about it in at least three years."
The Humane Society receives few complaints from "truly out in the country," Stafford says, referring to such places as Yoder and Ellicott.
"I think neighbors out in the country typically solve issues themselves," he says. "If you've got a problem with your neighbor's dog, you might go over and talk to them."
And so the Humane Society does commonly hear from people in the more populous Falcon area, Stafford says - complaints about a barking dog or dogs running through the neighborhood. "And they're kind of shocked that that is outside the area that we provide service in."
Other than worrying that some car-chasing dogs could end up under my tires, I haven't had a problem with the dogs that roam our neighborhood. (As a longtime runner, I have been bitten a few times by dogs; all those instances were in the city.) Still, we don't want our dog Hank, a red heeler mix that we rescued last fall, to be among the dogs that run free. While we'd love for him to hang out with the local "dog pack" and burn off some excess energy, we would worry about his safety when unsupervised. And we would be concerned that while he would be not a danger to others, he could be a nuisance. Frankly, he already has been: He has gotten loose several times (he has broken a chain twice and has learned to climb fences) and has tried to herd some neighborhood horses, jumped up on a jogger and bothered a woman pushing a baby stroller. And while we know he's harmless, those people can't know that.
So, no dog pack for Hank. We're looking into obedience training and the possibility of an invisible fence to keep him contained. But in the meantime, if you're in my neighborhood and a lean, red-and-white-furred, big-eared dope of a dog runs up and bothers you, my apologies.
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.