Pets along Main Avenue are a common sight, greeting passers-by with a wag and a little sniff as their owners enjoy a cup of coffee or pint of brew inside.
What many owners don’t realize is this can earn them a violation for leaving pets unattended – and cost them $45.
While the law is not new, springtime brings out the violators, some of whom may be unaware.
“It’s something that we have always enforced,” said Jon Patla, animal-protection director for the city of Durango and La Plata County.
“In April, we tend to step things up because things are getting a lot busier. We had requests from the city to make sure that this law is being enforced, especially by the raft put-in at 32nd street and the central business district,” Patla said.
Patla said unattended dogs are a liability because they might bite someone while outside the supervision of their owners, and the city could be held accountable.
“It is considered an unsafe act, and an unattended pet is considered being at large if it is tied to public property without its owner around,” Patla said.
The ticketing process, which will result in a $40 ticket and a $5 surcharge, goes like this:
Initially, the animal-control officer will try to locate the owner, Patla said.
“If that doesn’t work, we’ll try to figure out the business that the owner may be in and remedy it that way,” he said.
If the owner is not located, the animal may be impounded and taken to the Humane Society, Patla said.
When this happens, owners of unattended animals will have to go through the “return-to-owner procedure,” Patla said.
There is an impound fee mandated by city and the county when animals are taken to the La Plata County Humane Society, and an owner will still have to deal with the $45 ticket for leaving their pet unattended, Patla said.
It was just such a situation that led to troubles for Gyzmo, a 6-year-old German shepherd-husky mix left unattended last September by owner Teresa Bush.
While Bush was inside Lady Falconburgh’s using the bathroom, Gyzmo bit passer-by James Paxton on the leg.
The bite caused Paxton, who lives in Arizona, to be hospitalized, and caused Gyzmo to be impounded. The dog was returned to Bush after she pleaded guilty to owning a vicious animal.
To prevent incidents such as this, the animal-protection agency has been encouraged by the city to enforce laws prohibiting unattended animals.
“We do extra patrols by foot and by vehicular patrol in the central business district along Main Avenue,” Patla said.
Leaving animals unattended on public property is illegal within city limits, but ticket citations are “subjective,” Patla said.
“Whether or not a ticket is issued is subjective to the officer and often depends on the situation,” Patla said. “We will be cracking down on Main Avenue and the put-in to the Animas at 32nd Street.”
There is a loophole, pet owners.
“There is a fine line: if a dog is inside the business or tied to the business and can’t access the public sidewalk, they are fine,” Patla said.
Many were surprised to hear of a ticket for pet parking, and, in fact, many local businesses place a water bowl in front of their business for pets to hydrate while owners shop.
“We try to do everything we can to give back to the community. We even have dog treats in our store,” said Pat Speno, a bookseller at Maria’s Bookshop, at 960 Main Ave.
At Maria’s, pets are permitted in the building alongside their owners.
Molly Moore, a barista at Steaming Bean at 915 Main Ave., said the same.
“We’ve had a water dish outside for over five years,” Moore said. “Even though pets aren’t allowed in the store, we provide water for pets walking by.”