As the Town of Mammoth Lakes continues to focus on quality-of-life measures in the aftermath of the great Summer Overrun of 2020 and the anticipated Summer Overrun of ‘21, some Town residents, particularly dog owners, wonder whether the negligent actions of a few will impact the serenity and enjoyment of the many.
Specifically, they are wary of a law scheduled to go into effect beginning in April which will require all dogs to be on leash within Town limits.
The law comes in the wake of a significant uptick in dog-related attacks (on other dogs, as well as people) and even a death a few months ago, where a leashed dog escaped his owner and attacked an on-leash dog, a tiny little Sheltie, apparently puncturing its heart.
As Police Chief Al Davis observed, “We’re not the Mammoth of 10-15 years ago … as Dan Holler observed about Horseshoe Lake in the summer, it’s “full-contact recreation.” And every new person/new dog we introduce into the mix is a variable, he added.
According to data provided by MLPD Records Supervisor Krystle Stewart, there were 44 documented dog bite incidents between 2018-2020. More than half of those incidents involved dogs biting human beings who were unknown to them – the unluck of the draw, so to speak.
The message from Mammoth Trails Coordinator Joel Rathje is pretty succinct. “People need to take personal responsibility for their pets. Bottom line … I don’t say this mean-spiritedly. Quite the contrary. It’s our basic responsibility as pet owners in developed recreation sites.”
And if Rathje can get a bit frustrated when speaking about pet-owner responsibility, you can forgive a guy his frustration when he’s spent the past several springs hauling hundreds of pounds of dog waste out of Shady Rest Park.
Each spring, he and other volunteers spend two whole days out there.
And his description of the “water” pooling at the Shady Rest Volleyball court in late spring (a mixture of snow runoff and melting dog feces) will make you swear off volleyball for life (at least at Shady Rest).
Rathje was among ten or so people The Sheet contacted on and off the trail this week to ask their opinion of then new leash law.
Three people interviewed said they or their dogs have previously been subject of a dog attack.
One of those, Lesley Blanco, nevertheless said she is more concerned about the dog waste issue than the out of control/aggressiveness issue.
She also questioned whether a leash law might have the unintended consequence of exacerbating problems by limiting dog socialization.
Two pet owners who asked to remain anonymous were frustrated at the prospect of a good walk spoiled, a phrase normally attributable to a round of golf.
“Until they give us a dog park or something where a dog can be off-leash, this is bullshit,” said one.
“For me, it sucks. I have a happy dog who gets along with everybody. And most people out here are good dog owners who pick up after themselves,” said another.
On Wednesday, The Sheet struck up a conversation with Randy Fransway, a 20-plus year local, throwing a stick to his dog Buddy on one of the softball fields. Fransway was holding a leash in one hand.
“I knew it was coming,” he said when asked about the imminent leash law. “People get out of control. Bring their dogs out and let ‘em run.”
While he agrees with reining things in a bit, he said, “ I don’t see how they’ll enforce it fairly … I disagree with going straight to ticketing.”
At Wednesday’s Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting, MLPD’s Krystle Stewart proposed a program to help the Town keep a better database of its pets – a partnership with a company called DocuPet.
The Town, back when it employed an Animal Control Officer some 15 years ago, maintained a pretty decent dog-licensing program – it literally issued thousands of licenses.
Now, there are perhaps 180 active licenses. Why? Stewart literally featured a photo of a shoebox in her PowerPoint presentation.
Yup. That’s the Town’s animal license file.
DocuPet will offer a way to automate renewals and establish a database and provide electronic tags for the dogs for easy identification. “We get quite a few dogs in the station,” said Stewart, who says the dogs often have to be brought to Whitmore because there’s no other option.
And Stewart said she negotiated a favorable deal with the company because this would be a pilot program of sorts for DocuPet targeting a smaller community.
When put on the spot to guess the size of the Town’s dog population, Stewart figured between 2,000-4,000.
Mayor Bill Sauser said he believes dog ownership has been shrinking over the past few years because landlords are less enthused to rent to those with pets.
*But how Sauser came up with this theory from his home Barcalounger is anyone’s guess.
Council was in unanimous support to give DocuPet a try.
Joel Rathje said at the most recent Trails Meeting, a volunteer announced that for the first time ever last weekend, he made a swing through Shady Rest and didn’t spot a single dogshit pile.
Progress. And a byproduct of a really focused effort by Rathje’s Ambassador program to target dogshit at Shady Rest.
“Having shit all over the place is not a good reflection of our community,” he says.
As for the leash law, the goal, said Davis, is education. “If we threaten enforcement, maybe we can get people to comply.”