In Taos County, more than 100 reports of dogs biting humans or other dogs are made each year. The sheriff's office staff said that about 20 of those incidents happen on public lands.
In March, I wrote about being bitten by a dog on a trail near Taos in the Carson National Forest ("What to Do When Loose Dogs on Public Trails Become Dangerous," March 21). Since I wrote that article, everywhere I go people have shared stories about their own experiences. Judging by these conversations and the many comments received regarding the online version of the article, dog bites and dog behavior are big topics in Taos.
I've been asked some questions in follow-up to the story and wanted to provide a bit of additional information, especially about dog issues on public lands.
Carson National Forest
One question was regarding the number of dog incidents reported on the Carson National Forest. Typically, reports of dog bites on the Carson are reported to Taos County.
The Carson National Forest requires dogs to be kept on a leash in developed recreation areas. There were no reports made to the Carson staff last year regarding dog bites or issues in these areas. If the law enforcement officer who works for Carson receives a report of a problem, he would be most likely to educate the person involved and request that the dog be put on a leash, according to Denise Ottaviano, public affairs officer. "We do have signage at recreation areas and plan to install more," she said. "We appreciate it when people do the right thing and keep their dogs on a leash when out on trails where there might be other dogs and people and in the wilderness, to prevent wildlife from being harassed."
The majority of other public lands near Taos fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and people wondered about how dog bite incidents were treated on BLM lands. Justin Dean, BLM law enforcement officer, said, "My job is to make sure the public is safe on BLM lands; this is my priority. After that, I focus on resource protection. Dogs off leash can have a direct impact on the feeling of security of people on the land."
He follows a sequence of steps, using the least amount of law enforcement action possible to resolve a situation. If he sees people with dogs off leash, he will approach them and let them know about the regulations that require dogs to be on leash. He explains the that the regulation is for everyone's safety and that can be enough to resolve the situation.
If there is a more serious offense involved, he may issue an official warning or a federal citation. In extreme cases, he can arrest someone and take them to federal jail, although this seldom happens.
If the complaint comes from a developed recreation area that has signs prominently posted specifying dogs must be on a leash, he will write a citation, especially if the dog is creating a problem by biting other dogs or getting into people's camps. "If there is clearly a significant impact, I will not hesitate to write a ticket," he said.
Out on the trail, Dean looks to see if a person has her or his dog under voice control and is able to direct the dog to avoid the temptation to chase other dogs or wildlife like bighorn sheep. Dogs off leash can have an impact on the land and wildlife, including ground-nesting birds and game that can be chased, such as deer, elk, sheep and rabbits.
The fine is $80 for an off-leash violation and the process creates a paper trail, in case the dog/person continues to be a problem. Dean said that if someone wants to recover medical expenses, it is best file a complaint with the Taos County Sheriff's Office.
"Keeping dogs on leash is a small price to pay to make sure everyone feels safe. We may believe that our dog is so well balanced that they won't cause trouble. We each have a bias about our own dog. We need to be realistic and responsible," said Dean. "Public land belongs to us all. Let's cooperate so everyone can enjoy it."
If you are bitten by a dog anywhere in Taos County, the best thing to do is call dispatch at (575) 758-3361 and ask to speak to the animal control officer. In the online comments on last month's article, there were a couple of questions about why I did not choose to pursue having a citation written for the dog owner whose dog bit me.
I did file a report with both the Carson National Forest and Taos County, so if the dog is involved with further problems, this incident will be documented. The Taos County Animal Control Officer contacted the dog owner, who lives in Taos part time, and the owner agreed to keep her dogs on a leash.
When a formal citation is issued, the dog owner goes to court. A judge decides the fate of the dog. I was uncomfortable with the possibility that the dog owner might lose her dog or that the dog might be ordered to be put down, so I didn't pursue the next step.
In Taos County, more than 100 reports of dogs biting humans or other dogs are made each year. The sheriff's office staff said that about 20 of those incidents happen on public lands. Many bites go unreported and the staff estimates that there are 50-100 more dog bites that happen each year beyond those that are reported.
I appreciate everyone who has voiced their concern for me and my dog. The nasty bruise on my thigh has healed but the scars of the puncture wounds remain. I expect that they will fade over time, but I may always carry the reminder of the dog bite. My dog didn't appear to be injured and continues to play well with other dogs when he goes to doggy day care.
We get outside most days to walk, usually on nearby public lands. I allow a little more room between me and other dogs, especially if they are off leash, but I don't plan ever to give up walking in the forest and on the mesa. I make sure to be aware of everything around me and am prepared to defend myself and my dog, if necessary. I'm following the advice of my wise tai chi teacher, Pearl Huang, who recommends that we walk through the world in a state of relaxed vigilance.
Previous article can be found at taosnews.com/stories/when-loose-dogs-on-public-trails-become-dangerous,55830?
Cindy Brown is the hiking columnist for The Taos News and the author of "Taos Hiking Guide," available at local retailers or nighthawkpress.com.
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