Escalating complaints about loose-running dogs weighed heavy in the decision by the city of Salem, Oregon’s capital city, to hire its first city parks ranger.
In announcing the position this year, city officials said the ranger eventually would be writing tickets for violations of the leash law.
“That alone got some people’s attention,” said Ranger Mike Zieker, who has years of experience with Colorado State Parks.
“Signs have been ignored for years an volunteer educators have had limited success. We wanted to get the word out that there is a ranger now and citations are possible if necessary.
“The city didn’t create any new rules or regulations. They’ve been on the books for a long time, but nobody really enforced them.”
Zieker says his main emphasis will be educating the public about controlling their pets, “but the added element of a potential citation, from what I can see, has had some effect in changing behavior.”
One thing’s certain, he said: “Most people I meet are pretty excited that there’s a ranger to help with off-leash dog and other enforcement issues.”
Some people latch on to the misconception that leash laws apply only if other people are around, he said.
“I have to explain that keeping dogs on leash protects wildlife from being disturbed,” he said. “That’s for the sake of the wildlife and the people who want to enjoy them.
“Also, it puts you in control of your dog if someone unexpectedly comes around a corner. Having a leash in your hand doesn’t do any good if your dog already has taken off running at someone or their dog.”
Before Zieker resorts to writing any citations, Salem officials want to change the ordinance to reduce the fine for off-leash dogs.
“Right now a ticket would be $250,” said Pat Dodge, city policy administrator. “It’s been that much forever,” he said, noting that the high fine may have been more of a deterrent to writing the ticket than changing public behavior.
The proposal to the city council is a $150 fine for violating the leash law with the option for the court to reduce it to $75 for first offenses, Dodge said.
“There’s a awful lot of dogs around and dog waste is a problem,” he said. “It’s not a laughing matter. It’s not just about the times we step in it. There’s the potential for kids to get worms and water quality issues, too.”
“At some point you have to write tickets,” Zieker said. “You can only tell some people to put their dog on a leash so many times before they don’t hear it anymore. Eventually there needs to be a consequence to change behavior.”
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