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Pet owners need to take responsibility

Posted: May 12, 2012 - 11:09pm

Juneau residents are very fortunate to have well over 150 miles of varied, scenic, and enjoyable hiking trails easily accessible from the road system. We also have some outstanding recreation sites that include day use facilities, campgrounds, and parks. The majority of these trails and recreation sites, and the wild lands they adjoin, are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the state of Alaska, or the City and Borough of Juneau.

As trail, facility, and wildlife managers, we are the interface with the public, and, as such, we routinely field complaints regarding inappropriate dog behavior. It has been troubling that with increasing frequency we witness and receive reports of people being bitten, jumped upon, barked and snarled at, or in other ways threatened on our trails or at our recreation sites resulting in a ruined outing. Pet hair, saliva, and muddy paw prints have all been unwanted gifts to people’s clothing. Based on the volume of public complaint, this is an all too common occurrence on our trail systems and at our recreation sites.

Juneau law states that as a pet owner your animal must be on a leash unless it is under competent voice control. All federal, state, and city public trails and facilities within Juneau’s city limits are subject to this ordinance. If you have had to apologize for your dog’s behavior off leash while recreating on public land, you likely have violated this law.

Juneau’s animal control officers very professionally respond to complaints, however, it is a rare case where these brief and unpleasant encounters with dogs results in a citation. Usually the victim is not able to get the name or vehicle license plate of the violator in order to file a complaint. The result is the ordinance is not enforced in most cases.

Responsible dog owners have reported to us they have the same complaints about violators. They realize their efforts to train and/or restrain their animals are overshadowed by the actions of those who do not responsibly control their pets, and that this may lead to a loss of privileges for every pet owner.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game receives many reports of wildlife disturbance and harassment occurring on our public lands as a result of dogs running off leash. Disturbances range from flushing birds and attacking porcupines to killing large mammals such as deer. Alaska wildlife regulations make it illegal to allow your dog to harass wildlife.

The issue of domestic animal waste is also considerable. Mutt Mitts or other bags are found at many trailheads throughout the borough, yet there is not a single trail or recreation site in Juneau free of domestic animal waste.

If these situations do not improve we will have to consider management changes to protect the public and wildlife. Management options may include requiring dogs be on leash at all times, or some dog-free recreation sites and trails may need to be designated.

So, as we enter into our summer season please remember:

• Dogs always need to be under competent voice control, or they must be restrained.

• Pick up after your dog.

• Report violations to the proper authority.

• Be considerate of others.

Everyone deserves to have an enjoyable and safe outdoor experience while recreating on public lands. With a little forethought and effort we can achieve that goal.

• Grossman is recreation program manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Juneau Ranger District. Murphy is chief ranger for the Southeast area of Alaska State Parks. Schaaf is superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City and Borough of Juneau. Scott is an area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

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