Spring has (finally) sprung, summer is right around the corner and, in Durango, that means people are getting outside, many with their four-legged friends.
As we all emerge from our winter dens to run with our packs, it is a good time to visit some of the dog-related laws in Durango and La Plata County, especially because the county just overhauled its dog-related ordinances in January and there is some new information on the books.
There are a lot of rules out there, so I’ll just touch on a few of the big ones: licensing, vaccinations, leash laws and barking.
First, let’s look at the license requirements for both Durango and La Plata County. Both the city and the county require dogs over 3 months old to be licensed through our local licensing authority, the La Plata County Humane Society. The city of Durango’s ordinance is codified in Section 4-56 of the municipal code. La Plata County’s is codified in Section 10-21 of the county code.
Durango requires an owner to license their dog within 10 days of moving to town, while La Plata County requires an owner to license their dog within 30 days if the dog will spend more than 30 days per year in the county. Both Durango and La Plata County require dog licenses to be renewed on either an annual or tri-annual basis depending on the duration of the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine administered to the dog, which brings us to our next topic.
Both the city and the county require all dogs (and cats) to be vaccinated against rabies. The city has codified this in Section 4-76 of the municipal code, while the county has codified it at Section 10-20 of the county code. In the city, any dog (or cat) over 3 months old must be vaccinated and receive appropriate boosters for its vaccine. In the county, all dogs (and cats) must be vaccinated by 4 months of age, although the county allows for a written waiver from a veterinarian pursuant to state statute. Both the city and the county require a 10-day rabies observation period after a dog (or cat) has bitten a person.
This next topic might be the most contentious on the list. Regardless of your thoughts, the law is clear on this: It is unlawful for a dog to be off a leash in Durango off private property. The only exception to off-leash laws are areas officially designated for off-leash activities, like the “dog park” at the base of Smelter Mountain.
Otherwise, a dog that is away from its owner’s premises and not controlled by a leash no more than 6 feet long is considered by the municipal code in Section 4-41 to be “running at large.” There are a few exceptions to this rule: for law enforcement and service animals in performance of their duties, and those in possession of a special events permit for dog shows and agility demonstrations.
The county, on the other hand, only requires dogs to be on a leash within the Durango city limits (whether or not the land is city or county land) or on the Animas River Trail. Outside those areas, a dog must either be leashed or be under the immediate command of its owner. If not, it is considered to be “at-large” under Section 10-30 of the county code.
Finally, with warm weather and more time outside, dogs tend to bark. Both the city and county codes have regulations for barking dogs when the barking goes on so long as to become a nuisance or disturbance. At Section 4-13 of the city code, it is unlawful for a dog owner to allow their animal to disturb any person by unreasonable barking, howling, yelping or vocal sound.
Similarly, the county code, in Section 10-30, prohibits “nuisance barking,” which means loud, habitual and persistent barking, howling, yelping or whining that disturbs the peace of a reasonable person.
While the city does not appear to have a precise standard of what constitutes unreasonable barking, the county has determined that 20 minutes of continuous barking is unreasonable by definition.
Both the city and the county have detailed codes that attempt to balance the rights of dog owners and non-dog owners alike. For dog owners, the spring is an excellent time for us to refresh our understanding of those codes to help us ensure a safe and harmonious summer among residents and visitors whether of the two- or four-legged variety.
Graham Smith is an attorney with Newbold Chapman & Geyer PC in Durango. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Law is a monthly column written by members of the Southwest Colorado Bar Association.