First off, let’s set the record straight: pet owners in Boulder County aren’t labeled owners, but “guardians.” When City Council unanimously voted to make the change in July 2000 it wasn’t giving animals more rights, as “guardians” were defined as owners in the code. If anything it’s symbolic of BoCo residents.F
Just look at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.
“We have more than 700 active volunteers,” Lisa Borgmann, development supervisor, said. “People around here just love enriching the lives of animals in any way they can. To say that Boulder is pet centric would be an understatement.”
Borgmann, who has been at the humane society for more than two years, has seen more than 12,000 pet adoptions to residents in BoCo. In 2013, nearly 4,000 dogs and more than 1,500 cats were adopted out of the shelter. The average stay for a dog at the humane society is a week, while cats get to jump around in spacious, warm holding center for an average of 16 days. At any given time the humane society can house up to 40 dogs and 50 cats.
But the newly renovated shelter is more than a safe haven for these pets. It’s a place of enrichment, attention and focus. Every dog housed at the humane society gets three walks a day in addition to their regular diet, while cats get specialized socialization based on their personality. It’s as if they get a two-week stay at the finest pet resort. But this isn’t possible without the sheer number of volunteers that pass through the doors each day. The number of volunteers the humane society receives replaces 26 full time employees, all of which make it possible for the quick adoption rates and better lives for the animals.
Once the papers are signed and a BoCo resident becomes a guardian it falls on them to keep the dog or cat loved and cared for. For dog guardians, keeping them active is an obvious necessity and tying them to a tree or lamppost is not only cruel, but also illegal in BoCo. Luckily, the trails and vast amount of outdoor space and dog parks make the law almost impossible to break.
The grassless, fenced in Valmont Dog Park is arguably the busiest dog park in BoCo, and depending on who is asked, one of the nicest. The graveled park is littered with a multitude of balls, sticks, rocks for climbing and, of course, dogs.
As the dogs ran wild in packs on a warm February day, the guardians congregated in small groups throwing balls to the wind and talking in circles. But one man sat under a small pavilion in the center of the park picking at a mandolin sporting denim overalls, fingerless leather gloves and dark, round sunglasses. Mostly everyone knows who Richard Hartrick is, even if they don’t know his name.
Hartrick brings his Jack Russell, Franklin, and Chihuahua-corgi mix, Zelda, to Valmont Dog Park every day for at least two hours all the while picking at a stringed instrument and singing in a sometimes quiet, sometimes not so quiet voice.
“If [Franklin and Zelda] don’t leave the apartment they get neurotic just like me,” Hartrick said. “So we come out here and they get to run around and play, and I just get to jam.”
Before Hartrick, a self-proclaimed Arkansas hillbilly, moved to BoCo he had never stepped foot in a dog park. But moving from a house with a yard, to an apartment in Boulder he had to branch out from his old ways to make sure Franklin and Zelda get exercise. So armed with two leashes and a bag stocked with a mandolin, fiddle and on occasion an acoustic guitar, Hartrick sets up camp in the sun, rain or snow, and puts on a one man show as his dogs run through the park.
Of course he’s conscious of his surroundings, and never wants to impose on the other guardians who escape to the dog park for a relaxing time. Luckily, that’s an issue that has only risen a handful of times during his two-year stint at the Valmont Dog Park. Most of the reactions have been positive, and Hartrick is grateful.
As he plucked his mandolin, he sang under his breath as his two mall dogs sat underneath the bench away from the sun. Once he finished, a woman who stood nearby with her St. Bernard commented on the soothing sound.
“It’s a breath of fresh air when he’s here,” Mandy Dean said. “When I come out in the early afternoon, it’s like a little pick me up.”
Even if he wanted, Hartrick couldn’t abandon his post. Like clockwork everyday, his dogs start waiting by the door and whining right around 11 a.m. He knows they are waiting to drive past the prairie dogs on their way to Valmont Park, and spend two hours around fellow four legged friends. All Hartrick has to say is “prairie dogs” triggering both sets of years to pop up and Franklin and Zelda start running around the small apartment.
Valmont Dog Park | Boulder, CO
The two-hour retreat isn’t only for the dogs though; it gives Hartrick a chance to play music with other dog owners. He has had a few people bring their own instruments and jam. One girl came so often that they practices enough for a show the duo performed together.
“It’s a great way to meet other like minded people, or just brighten the day of someone or a few dogs,” Hartrick said as he packed away his mandolin. “Boulder is a lot different than Arkansas, everyone around here really love their pets. It’s nice to see.”
Hartrick isn’t the only one who recognizes how much BoCo guardians love their dogs. In 2013, the humane society brought in more than 2,500 animals from different shelters through the transfer program.
“It’s really a two way street, they need to send these animals to somewhere they will be adopted, and without the transfer program we wouldn’t have enough animals to adopt out,” Jennifer Grathwohl, communications and marketing coordinator for the humane society, said. “That’s how pet centric Boulder is.”
Valmont Dog Park | Boulder, CO
The humane society just got a new transfer vehicle that can carry up to 30 animals each transfer. The transfer program visits different partners both in Colorado and outside of the state that have animals, but not necessarily the resources to care for them. Once they arrive in BoCo, the animals are adopted out at a quicker pace.
The revamping of the transfer program is killing two birds with one stone.
“People are always looking for new animals. Or looking for ways to help animals find the home or help they need.”
Boulder Humane Society
“We have a need for more animals in this community,” Grathwohl said. “People are always looking for new animals. Or looking for ways to help animals find the home or help they need.”
One of those people is Dave Crawford. Crawford has been working with animals since 1988. During those 27 years he co-founded the Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, which has been fighting against the human-imposed suffering of animals, convened the first national conference on prairie dogs, successfully led a group to stop a Plexiglas zoo from building in Estes Park and produced the U.S.’s first video exposing inhumane conditions inside intensive egg facilities. All while helping any wounded or stranded animal he has come across in the past three decades.
“I used to carry a golf club with me in case I came across any mortally wounded animals while I was out hiking,” Crawford said.
In 2009, Crawford, along with a number of like-minded friends, developed Animal Help Now. Animal Help Now is a technology-based organization that connects people with location specific resources if they are experiencing an animal emergency. Nationwide, AHN covers wildlife emergencies, but also dive into domestic emergencies in Colorado and Texas. But it all started right here in Boulder County.
Crawford noticed the lack of resources for the millions of people who need emergency veterinarian service each year, or for the number of dogs that are lost or found. It started as a simple website, animalhelpnow.com, and moved on to the app world, which is available on both iPhones and Androids.
“The way the site works is simple,” Crawford said. “Say a bird crashes into a window of your home. Did you know nearly one billion die each year in window collisions? It happens a lot more than you think.”
So if a bird flies collides with a kitchen window don’t go full Alfred Hitchcock and run for the hills, but pull up the AHN website or phone app. The location services on the website automatically configures the address of the accident and starts working behind the scenes to compile a list of vets and emergency responders in the area who are open during the time of the emergency.
The site and apps are purposely easily navigated so anyone could use them. Almost as simple as Google, and unlike other emergency websites AHN keeps everything on the site including contact information and a map with directions from wherever the emergency is.
“It’s the first website of its kind,” Crawford said. “A lot of the time we get in a panic when something bad happens that we don’t think. We tried to build the website so there’s not a lot of thinking required. From the number of people who have gotten back to us about the site, it seems like we accomplished that.”
All of this wouldn’t be possible without the number of volunteers in BoCo who have dedicated their time to helping AHN a reality. From donating money, to building iPhone apps Crawford is incredibly grateful for the people he shares a community with.
“This may have never even started if it didn’t start here,” he said. “People around here just get it.”
This is something that Borgmann, Humane Society of Boulder Valley, agrees on. Whether it is volunteering time at the shelter, providing a little daily entertainment at the Valmont Dog Park or creating an organization that helps saves animal lives, the guardians of Boulder County are dedicated to their pets.
“I am so thankful for the support of the community we have here in Boulder,” Borgmann said with a smile stretching across her face. “We’re called guardians for a reason. These animals aren’t our property, but our companions.”