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The Case for a Civic Understanding of Outdoor Pet Etiquette


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What with distractions like partisan obstructionist politics, climate change and overseas hunger, the issue of outdoor pet etiquette isn’t often given its full due. But we ignore it at our own peril; the decision to lead our beloved, domesticated furry friends into the great outdoors via treacherous hiking trails should never be taken lightly, given the irreversible consequences that can result from improper decorum.

You might be asking yourself, “What could possibly go wrong? And what is outdoor pet etiquette?”

Well, to answer your first question, a lot could go wrong. Imagine running into your neighbor without your Whole Foods biodegradable wind power-manufactured poop bag for your Dachshund. Your neighbor has hers, of course, an embarrassment exacerbated by the smug look on her little Shih Tzu’s face. Or what if you forget your hemp rope leash, a faux-pas that remands you to shouting hoarsely at said Dachshund while perfectly trained pups—and their owners—stroll by, un-reprimanded. The horror. (There are less socially detrimental consequences, such as your spritely little puppy running off and stumbling upon a pair of nesting hawks, an encounter that usually favors the birds. But I digress.)

To answer your second question, outdoor pet etiquette is a crucial component of the code of conduct that characterizes life in an active, progressive county such as Boulder. It is an analog for other forms of civic engagement, and its successful utilization is symbolic of our success elsewhere.

If we lack the discipline to heel our pooch, then how can we parse political talking points before filling out a ballot? If we aren’t serious enough to pocket our gluten free non-GMO kale dog treats before a walk, then how will we muster the zeal for civil disobedience when the time comes? If we fail in this realm, how could we possibly be expected to focus in our Thursday night combined yoga and kombucha-making workshop?
So, how can we avoid this fate, this ever-deepening spiral of civic deprivation? Basic dog-on-the-hiking-trail etiquette is simple, if you take the time.

Each open space area and trail has different leash laws, so head to the Boulder Open Space website to see specifics. (The county has seven general dog pages and literally dozens of dog-related maps, in case you were wondering where your tax dollars go.) In designated areas dogs can roam free, if they have a Voice and Sight Tag. To get the tag, register with the city, watch a mandatory training video, pay $15, and allow 7-10 business days for delivery (a perfect incubation period, since after two weeks of moping around inside your newly-tagged dog will be ready to get as far from any leash-like restraint as possible).

Obviously, pick up droppings in a bag pulled from one of those clip-on cylindrical bag dispensers, which has the hipness equivalent of a fanny pack. (The County also has a compelling flick entitled “Scoop A Doop Poop Video” in case your Netflix queue has gotten a bit stale.) Finally, avoid confrontation with native wildlife. I’ll quote the County: “It is illegal for dogs to chase or disturb wildlife or livestock.” Heed their warning—the pound is a dangerous place, and so-called “Wildlife Disturbers” often get treated mercilessly by fellow inmates.

So get out and enjoy the sunshine, the trails, the loose gravel beneath your Birkenstocks. But above all, keep in mind proper outdoor pet etiquette, and always remember: it’s not just a walk in the park.

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