Pet owners must leash their animals in El Paso County regional parks or face fines, county commissioners decided Thursday.

The officials also approved closing the parks at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

The leash law, which doesn’t apply to dog parks, will result in a $50 fine for first-time violators, $100 the second time and $150 the third time.

It takes effect in Bear Creek, Fountain Creek, Falcon, Fox Run, Black Forest and Homestead regional parks.

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“Unfortunately, sometimes rules have to be made because not everyone is a responsible dog owner,” said Commissioner Cami Bremer, who voted for the changes with three other commissioners. Commissioner Stan VanderWerf was absent and excused.

Dogs still can run free at the Bear Creek and Fox Run dog parks, and off-leash areas are to open this spring at Fountain Creek and Falcon.

But some said dog parks aren’t optimum for every dog.

“I can no longer take my dog to the Bear Creek Dog Park because he ends up with a G.I. problem, and that’s a $170 vet bill,” said Sharon Post.

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The county rescinded its leash law years ago for owners who maintained voice command over their dogs. But nearly 80 people told parks staff last year that the leash law is needed, said Tim Wolken, county director of community services.

A few people said dogs bit them at Fox Run Regional Park, and others expressed concern about off-leash dogs attacking other dogs or causing trouble for equestrians, Wolken said.

Officials have also found that the voice control rule can be subjective, making it difficult for county staff, law enforcement and the Humane Society to enforce it, Wolken said. Plus, cleaning up pet waste is harder when unleashed dogs leave trails, he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to see hundreds and hundreds of tickets given out because of dogs not on a leash,” Wolken told commissioners. “We’re looking for the extreme cases. So if you’ve got a dog that’s very well-controlled and you’re out in the middle of a park systems some place and there’s not anybody near you, the odds of you getting a ticket, frankly, for a dog not on a leash, is quite slim.”

Commissioners also directed park staff to research potentially allowing pet owners to use electronic collars instead of a leashes.

E-collars are training tools that let pet owners to send signals to their dogs, via wireless technology, to help the animals understand good and bad behavior.

Resident Richard Sullivan asked that e-collars be permitted as an alternative to leashes. He told commissioners he uses an e-collar to summon his German shorthaired pointer, Dutch, when they’re walking at Bear Creek Regional Park.

“My dog is a high energy dog. He moves around a lot,” Sullivan said, holding his e-collar and accompanying signaling device. “I push this button, and he’s right there.”

More than 300 people provided input on the leash law since the county announced it was considering the rule change. About 180 supported it, and nearly 125 opposed it, the staff reported. The county Park Advisory Board endorsed it.

The shortened park hours were proposed because of increased vandalism in parks at night, costing about $10,000 last year.

“The bottom line is we’re looking for a safe and enjoyable experience for all park users,” Wolken said.

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